Does it matter how old the child is?
Whether they are living independently?
If they are married?
The Mechaber (Yoreh De’ah 240:8, citing Kiddushin 32a) states:
“How far must one go to accomplish the commandment of Kibud Av V’Em – Honoring ones father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16)? Even should they [the father or mother] take a purse laden with (the son’s) gold coins and throw it into the sea in his presence, he shall not humiliate them nor shall he display grief or anger in their presence. Rather, he shall accept the gezerat hakatuv, the Scriptural decree [of Kibud Av V’Em] and be silent.”
The above-cited halacha delineates the extent to which a child must honor his/her parent even if the parent displays behavior that seems irrational. It appears that this commandment thus overtakes any other commandment, should there be a conflict between the two. Yet we find that such is not always the case. Indeed, the Gemara (Kiddushin, ad. loc. 32a) deals with situations where honoring one’s parents conflicts with the observance of other mitzvot.
Indeed, Rambam in this regard states (Hilchot Mamrim 6:13), “Even though we are commanded to honor parents, it is nonetheless prohibited for a parent to overburden children by demanding [excessively] meticulous observance of his or her honor and needs, so that it will not become a stumbling block [whereby the children may be forced to choose between seeing to their parents’ unreasonable needs and the performance of other mitzvot, and thus, pleasing such parents may at times cause the children to violate Torah commandments]. Rather, a parent should release the child in situations of conflict, for when a parent relinquishes the honor due to him, that honor may be considered relinquished.”
Surely, parents want to see their children established in their own marriages and productive endeavors in society. Thus, if one seeks to have a good and loving relationship with adult children [and their spouses] it is best not to be overburdening in their regard. Perhaps we might add that in such instance the child will be even more respectful and loving to his/her parent.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu, Flatbush, Brooklyn; is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; he also serves as chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].
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This is a very complex topic, but I will try to provide some general guidelines. The gemara in Kiddushin 31b defines the mitzva of “kibbud” (respect) as providing material needs for the parent (e.g., providing him or her with food and drink) and “mora” (reverence) as not acting in a disrespectful manner towards the parent (e.g., not sitting in the parent’s designated place or contradicting him or her). According to the strict definition of the gemara, we have no halachic responsibility to lead our own lives based on the desires of a parent. For example, the choice of community, marriage partner, level of religious observance and profession is our choice, even if the parent disagrees with us.
That being said, the Chazon Ish (Yoreh De–ah 149:8) argues that if the parent has a strong desire for a child to do something that doesn’t materially benefit the parent but it would cause tremendous pain to parent if the child doesn’t listen to the parent, then the child certainly must listen to the parent. In this instance, listening to the parent would be included in the obligation of “mora.” However, the child need not listen to the request of the parent if the request is not reasonable. Rav Asher Weiss (Breishit 21:4) characterizes this obligation as “ratzon ha-Torah,” the will of the Torah, because it is not explicitly commanded but it is inferred by the Torah.
These rules should apply no matter the age of the child, although a child’s responsibility towards a spouse generally takes precedence over the child’s responsibility towards his or her parent (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De–ah 240:17). In an ideal world, a strong spousal relationship is one where spouses can effectively balance their own needs while taking care of the needs of their parents when necessary.
– Rabbi Jonathan Muskat is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside, a rebbe at Shulamith High School, and a pastoral health care liaison at Mount Sinai South Nassau.
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Although generally a child is obligated to listen to their parents, there are certain situations where halacha allows a child not to abide by a parent’s decisions. These circumstances each have to be visited on a case-by-case basis and a sheilah should be asked. However, the one thing that is especially important to keep in mind is that in our day, the concept of respecting our parents, respecting elders, as well as respect for authority has seemed to have vanished from our landscape.
What was once considered reprehensible or considered out of bounds even one generation ago, today passes as normal civility, even though it is not normal, or civil. This is something that a person needs to be constantly aware of. Even if the halacha allows the person not to obey a parent or listen to a parent’s direction, the concept of respect, the concept of dignity, the concept of feeling a sense of whatever I can do to honor my parents I should be doing, should always be there. Unfortunately, in our time, with many falling prey to the concept of severing relationships that are not servicing them or relationships that they consider to be toxic, or so curtail them that they view the people that brought them into this world and who they owe their very life to, as if they are utter strangers.
This concept almost never existed before; the idea of treating your parents as if they are toxic and need to be avoided or largely ignored has no basis in halacha and no basis in Judaism and needs to be avoided at all costs. If there is a situation where a child is truly damaged and the child truly cannot enjoy their mental health or emotional well being while maintaining a relationship with their parents, this is something that needs to be directed very carefully by a halachic authority, because in most circumstances it is wildly exaggerated and the child is guilty of not honoring their parents appropriately. This is something that should always be kept in mind and always be watched and monitored.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier is founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).