Question: I am seriously dating a girl who has a similar name to my mother. My mother’s name is Pischa and the girl’s name is Pesha. Since both names arguably derive from the word Pesach, would it be a problem for me to potentially marry this girl?
Answer: The rule that a man should not marry a woman who has the same name as his mother – or a girl marry a man who has the same name as her father – is based on Tzava’at Rabbi Yehuda HeHasid, the Testament of Rabbi Judah the Pious (a prominent scholar and mystic in Germany, 1150-1217).
The Pit’chei Teshuva(Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 2:6; see also Yoreh De’ah 116:5) cites it in connection with the mitzvah to “be fruitful and multiply” and the rules of whom one should/should not marry. (He quotes the Chochmat Adam [123:13], however, who argues that the rule only applies if both the girl’s father’s name as well as her maternal grandfather’s name are the same as the man she is being set up with.)
Otzar Haposkim (Even HaEzer loc. cit.) cites many authorities who find ways around this rule in Tzava’at Rabbi Yehuda HeHasid. The Mekor Hesed, for example, quotes the gaon Rabbi David Oppenheim who notes that if the father-in-law is called Shmuel Sabba (while the prospective son-in-law is referred to simply as Shmuel), there is no problem.
The Noda BiYehuda (Teshuvot Tanina, Even HaEzer siman 79), as quoted by the Pit’chei Teshuva, states that the Testament of R. Yehuda HeHasid was only intended for his own descendants; and even for his descendants the rule only concerns names given at birth, not names added later due to illness.
The third Lubavitcher Rebbe states in his She’elot U’Teshuvot Tzemach Tzedek – in the name of the Mechaber – that we are stricter in the case of a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, since it is mentioned in Mishnat Hasidim. The same is evident from the halachic decisors listed by Otzar Haposkim.
Commenting on the likely reason for this rule, Otzar Haposkim cites the Chida, the Heishiv Moshe, and the Pri Hasadeh, who all argue that since such a situation is somewhat out of the ordinary, it attracts attention and may therefore cause the casting of ayin ra’ah, an evil eye.
The Maharil offers a different reason (siman 17): the son will not be able to honor his mother after her death by naming a child in her memory. The Minchat Hakometz (siman 96), however, states that the problem of kibbud em can be resolved if either the mother or the daughter- in-law has more than one name. (The Maharil argues the problem can be side-stepped only if the mother has two names.)
Otzar Haposkim also lists the Even HaRoshah (siman 31) who quotes the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 240:2; see also Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 6:3) to the effect that a man can marry a woman with the same name as his mother if he calls her by a different name. By doing so, he avoids violating the halacha that prohibits uttering the given name of one’s parents even not in their presence.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, quotes the above-mentioned passage in the Rambam in his Sha’arei Halacha U”Minhag (p.88), noting that it only applies to unusual names, not to commonly used names such as Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, or Moshe, and the like. Even so, he indicates (p.85) that one should add another name.
Finally, Otzar Haposkim quotes the Beit Yitzhak (Even HaEzer vol.2 siman 72) who gives a most compelling reason (which might have been particularly relevant when several generations in a family used to live in close quarters): a man might call out his wife’s name and his mother respond, possibly resulting in a sinful situation.
This explanation is alluded to in an answer the Rebbe gave somebody who asked about such a problem in a suggested shidduch (op. cit. p.86). He allowed it to proceed, “but only if they do not live in the same place.”
The gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (Iggrot Moshe, Even HaEzer siman 4), introduces another element. While he does not discount the stringent opinions found in the Divrei Chayyim, among others, which are quoted in the name of the Ari, z”l, he points out that there is no clear decision on this matter. He remarks that today, since the Hebrew name is at least slightly different from the secular name used in the country of residence, we do not pay particular attention to this rule. He also dismisses the suggestion of adding a name, for the bride will most likely not be called by that name henceforth, and all it might do is cause problems in case of a get.
He then discusses the possibility of adding another English name (so as to avoid any difficulty in case of a get) but dismisses this option as well, for she will probably not be able to establish a new English name for herself. Her friends might laugh and refuse to call her something different, or she herself might be embarrassed to ask her friends to call her by a different name.
Rav Feinstein concludes that if the groom and the bride are not particular about the problem of the name, the opinion of the mother should have no bearing on the matter. In such a situation we rely on the principle that if the interested parties do not care, neither should we, and therefore the mother should not insist.
Interesting is the story that my good friend and colleague, the late Rabbi Yaakov Simcha Cohen, zt”l (who passed away in July of 2014), related to me regarding his own personal situation. When he was introduced to the daughter of the late great scholar, Rabbi Yaakov Nayman, zt”l, Shoshana Nayman, tibadla l’chayyim – may she live until 120 – she was adamantly opposed to the prospect of calling her husband by her father’s name. Thus, though most people knew him as Yaakov, he agreed to be addressed henceforth as Simcha (since he had two names).
Now, turning to the particular names you raised – Pischa and Pesha: The Aruch Hashulchan (Even Ha’ezer 129) does not associate these two names in his discussion of spelling names on gittin. They sound the similar, but they don’t necessarily come from the same root. Furthermore, as we noted from the ruling of Harav Feinstein, today there is room for leniency, especially if one the mother or wife (or both) is commonly called by her English name.
If the two of you choose to proceed, we convey our best wishes to you and may you build a bayit ne’eman beYisrael.