This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.
At the beginning of this week’s parshah the Torah says that when Yisro, Moshe Rabbeinu’s father-in-law, joined Bnei Yisrael in the desert, one “ish” (man) bowed to the other and kissed him. The pasuk does not specify who bowed and kissed whom. The Mechilta says that since the pasuk refers to Moshe as an “ish” elsewhere, we should assume that Moshe bowed and kissed Yisro. The Mechilta concludes that this is the source in the Torah that one must honor his father-in-law.
The Tur, in Yoreh De’ah 240:24, quotes another source for this halacha. The medrash in Tehillim says that we derive this halacha from Dovid HaMelech, who called his father-in-law, Shaul HaMelech “avi” (my father). The Aruch Hashulchan writes that he does not understand this source, since we find that the title “father” can be added as a sign of respect for individuals who are not related at all. However, he suggests that perhaps since Dovid referred to Shaul as his father while he was chasing him, he would not have done so merely out of respect – if not for the fact that one must honor his father-in-law.
The Bach (Yoreh De’ah 240:24) says that this halacha applies to one’s mother-in-law as well. But he adds that the obligation to honor one’s in-laws differs from the obligation to honor one’s parents. The obligation to honor one’s in-laws is merely the same as the obligation to honor an elderly, important person, i.e. to stand up when they walk into a room (presumably one must perform this honor even if his in-laws are not elderly or important people). However, one is not obligated to perform for one’s in-laws the other obligations that one must perform for his or her parents, e.g. feed them, dress them, etc.
The Pischei Teshuvah, in Yoreh De’ah 240:20, agrees with the Bach that the obligation to honor one’s in-laws differs from the honor that one is required to show parents. He offers proof from the following halacha: the Gemara in Kiddushin 30b says that a married woman is exempt from honoring her parents because she is not available to perform the necessary actions. A single woman is required to honor her parents whether she never married, is divorced, or is widowed. (This halacha appears in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 240:17.) If a man has the same obligation to honor his in-laws as he does his parents, why then would his wife be exempted from honoring her parents when she gets married? Since her husband must bestow honor upon her parents as if they were his own, that should not interfere with her obligation to honor her parents.
He continues by saying that whenever a situation arises whereby one person is obligated to honor two people and one of those people is obligated to honor the other (e.g. a child must honor both of his parents, and his mother must honor her husband), when both parents command a child to perform different actions he must first adhere to his father’s command since his mother is obligated to honor her husband as well (Yoreh De’ah 240:14). Therefore, if a man had an obligation to honor his in-laws we would say that if her father and her husband both command her to do two different things, she should listen to her father since she and her husband are both commanded to adhere to her father’s command. Since we pasken that she is exempt from honoring her father, we can infer that her husband does not have an obligation to honor his in-laws; rather, he must merely show them the respect that he would show an elderly, important person.
Reb Reuvain Grozovsky, in Yevamos, siman 4, asks a question on the proof of the Pischei Teshuvah to the Bach, that one is not obligated to honor one’s in-laws in the same manner that he is obligated to honor his parents. The basis behind the Pischei Teshuvah proof is based on the assumption that the reason why a married woman is exempt from honoring her father is because she is obligated tohonor her husband. He therefore concludes that if a man would be obligated to honor his father-in-law that should not exempt his wife from honoring her father, since he too is obligated to do so. However, although a woman is obligated to honor her husband (as the Rambam says in Hilchos Ishus 15:19), this is merely mi’derabbanan and would not exempt her from her mitzvah mi’de’oraisa of honoring her father.