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Law Abiding Citizen
“That Which Is Crooked Cannot Be Made Straight …”
(Yevamos 22a-b)



Wounding or cursing a father is subject to capital punishment (Shemos 21:15,17).

The Mishna says that every son, without exception, is subject to this penalty, even one who is a mamzer, whose birth was the result of an illicit union.

However, the Gemara derives from this verse that the prohibition of cursing a father applies only if the father is “oseh ma’aseh amcha,” lit. one who follows the laws of our people [the laws of the Torah]. (Rambam – Hilchos Mamrim 6:12 – rules that the son is obligated to honor his father in any event whereas the Tur, Yoreh De’ah 240, disagrees.) Consequently, the Gemara explains that a son born from an illicit union is not subject to a penalty for cursing his father unless the father repented for his immoral acts and is thus no longer considered a sinner.


Nevertheless He Repented

The Gemara wonders how it is possible to achieve atonement for this sin, for Shimon b. Menassiah says (Chagiga 9a) that fathering a mamzer through an illicit union is labeled “Me’uvas lo yuchal liskon – That which is crooked cannot be made straight” (Ecclesiastes 1:15); namely, it is a misdeed that cannot be remedied.

The Gemara answers that even though fathering a mamzer is called a misdeed that cannot be remedied, if the father repents, he falls into the category of one who is observant of Torah laws, and cursing him is forbidden.

There are several approaches to understanding the Gemara’s conclusion.


Suffering: A Constant Reminder

Rabbeinu Chayyim (Tosafos, Bava Bathra 89b) maintains that the immoral father who does teshuvah is considered to be observant of Torah laws because repentance fully eradicates all sins (even if a mamzer was produced). When Shimon b. Menassiah says that this type of sin is referred to by King Solomon as a misdeed without remedy, he simply means that the sinner will suffer endless humiliation since the effect of his act (the mamzer) is a constant reminder of his immoral deed (Tosafos, Chagiga 9a. s.v. “zeh”).


‘Sufficient’ Teshuvah

Rashi (above 21a s.v. “arayos” and Chagiga 9a s.v. “ve’holid”) indicates that even according to the Gemara’s conclusion, the sin of immorality cannot be entirely eradicated if a mamzer was produced, since the effects of the sin are present in the world. The Gemara explains, however, that although teshuvah for such a sin is not entirely effective, it is sufficient to remove the stigma of classifying the father as a sinner, thus making the son liable to a penalty for cursing him.


Two Aspects Of Teshuvah

Kovetz He’aros (end of siman 21) explains that the novelty of teshuvah is that Hashem does not merely cleanse one’s sins, He usually eradicates all traces of the sin retroactively so that it is considered as though the sin was never committed. However, Shimon b. Menassiah teaches that in the instance where the sin produced a mamzer, the sin cannot be eradicated retroactively since a visible trace of the sin still exists. The Gemara explains, nevertheless, that if the father repents, then the son may not curse him because the father is not considered a sinner from that point onward.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.