Dear Dr. Yael,
My husband and I are having a major disagreement. He says that halacha requires me to afford his parents the same kavod I afford mine. However, he says that he does not have the same obligation when it comes to my parents.
Let me give you some background: My parents are loving grandparents, but are not financially well off. His parents are very well off and very generous to us financially. My parents are wonderful with our children and spend lots of quality time with them. His parents have no patience for them. I am very respectful to his parents. He is somewhat disrespectful to my parents at times since he is angry that his parents help us out more financially. He often makes fun of my parents in front of our children who are beginning to understand that Abba does not like Bubby and Zaidy. I am really upset with my husband. My parents are good people who never meddle in our lives and are very hurt by how he treats them.
I remind him that one day our daughters will grow up and, G-d willing, marry. I ask him how he would like his perspective sons-in-law to treat him. He says that he is a person that people respect much more than my parents; thus, he is sure that his future sons-in-law will love him and treat him differently.
I hope that you can help me.
May years ago I released a video called “Chutzpah is Muktzah” and “Chutzpah is Muktzah 2”. I had the opportunity to acquaint myself with Project Derech which recently published a booklet entitled, “Honor Your Parents (-In-Law)” in consultation with Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Lowy. The following information is excerpted from it.
When Yisro came out to the desert to join the Jewish nation, Moshe Rabbeinu went out to greet him. Moshe bowed to him, kissed him, inquired about his welfare, and then invited him into his tent (Shemos 18:7). The Mechilta learns from this that one must honor one’s father-in-law.
Dovid HaMelech called his father-in-law, Shaul, “my father” (Shmuel I 24:11). Yalkut Shimoni cites this as proof that one must honor a father-in-law.
Yehuda, the son of Rabi Chiya, would visit his father-in-law every erev Shabbos and inquire about his welfare.
Honoring one’s father-in-law and mother-in-law is a mitzvah. The stringent opinion is that parents-in-law are like parents and must be treated as such. According to most opinions, however, the kavod one must show parents-in-law is of a lesser degree than that shown one’s parents. Nevertheless, one must rise (to full height) in their honor when they come within 4 amos (6.2-7.7 feet) and honor them with words and assistance. One should show them the same kavod and deference as one would show prestigious elders. One must speak to parents-in-law in a humble and respectful fashion.
In a letter to his son, Rav Shlomo Eiger writes: “If your father-in-law voices a request or opinion and you disagree, express your opinion tactfully and humbly as if you are merely inquiring. If, nevertheless, he is not moved by your arguments, yield to his opinion for the Torah warned you regarding the honor of your in-laws.”
“Fulfilling a person’s will is his honor – Retzono shel adam, zehu kevodo” (Y. Peah 1:7). It is meritorious to ask one’s father-in-law to sit at the head of the table and to make kiddush and “hamotzi” first. Similarly, it is meritorious for a husband to ask his wife to serve her father first. One is not obligated to financially support one’s parents-in-law. Yet, a son-in-law with adequate means must support his parents-in-law from his discretionary charity funds if neither they nor their sons have the resources to do so. The extent of honor and reverence is described as “unlimited” (see Yoreh Deah 240:3.
The obligation toward parents-in-law is limited to honor; one is not obligated to revere them. However, those precepts of reverence that are perceived as manifestations of honor should be observed nonetheless. Rav Y. S. Eliyashiv advised that one should not call parents-in-law by name, sit in their places, and so forth, for this, too, is a form of honor. Moshe Rabbeinu, after conceding to Hashem to deliver the Jews from Egypt, would not leave without first asking his father-in-law’s permission. Even if one’s parents-in-law are extremely unpleasant and act maliciously, one must honor them (unless they are halachically deemed resha’im). 5 Since the mitzvah is derived from Dovid HaMelech calling his father-in-law “my father,” although the latter wanted to kill him, we conclude that even such a father-in-law must be honored.
Concerning lashon hara, the Chofetz Chaim writes: “Many stumble… due to our many sins, and see it permissible in their eyes to speak disparagingly about their wives and in-laws… According to halacha, there is no exception in this case, unless his intention in doing so is to correct something in the future and not to lower their reputation. Likewise, even if one feels that one’s in-laws are stingy or remiss in fulfilling their financial commitments, one must nonetheless honor them.”
The Rema writes: “One who was promised financial incentives in order to marry should not renege or be quarrelsome if the promises are not kept. One who does so will not succeed… Rather, whatever one’s in-laws give should be graciously accepted. If he does so, he will succeed.”
As the halachic details regarding spousal and parental obligations are complex, and as people are noge’ah b’dovor (subjective), a husband and wife should jointly consult a rav in cases of serious conflict of needs.
All these examples point to the importance of honoring one’s in-laws. Your husband is erring in more than one area. Children learn more from what we do than from what we say. The example that we set for our children is of paramount importance. If he shows disrespect to your parents, your children will learn that it is not so important to respect parents or in-laws. These are not the lessons that you want your children to learn. I hope with all this information is helpful. If the situation continues I would suggest you consult with a rav. Hatzlocha!