| Halachah |

Prioritizing Parents

As a general rule, the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents doesn’t require children to pay any money toward the performance of the mitzvah


Prepared for print by Faigy Peritzman

I’ve never stood up when my parents came into the room, and they’ve never asked me to. Must I specifically make sure they don’t need this? I’d feel so weird jumping up every time they come in.

It’s a Torah obligation for a child to stand up to his or her full height as soon as the child spots a parent entering a room, even if the parent is still quite a distance away. The obligation to stand remains in effect until the parent is seated or is no longer visible. Practically speaking, this mitzvah isn’t widely observed, since it’s generally assumed that parents forgo this honor, which exempts the child from standing to their full height, but still requires them to rise up a bit when a parent enters the room. In addition, while most parents forgo this honor, there are some parents who don’t, so it’s important that the parents discuss this matter with their children to let them know their expectations on this matter.

Since coming back from seminary, I’ve wanted to start keeping chalav Yisrael, but my mother gets offended when I bring it up. What should I do?

You have a right to accept upon yourself legitimate halachic stringencies and upgrades even if your mother objects to them. But as long as you’re living in her house, you have no right to tell her how to run her kitchen, where she should go shopping, or what she should pay for. You’ll have to take care of your halachic choices on your own.

My brother is getting married across the country and my parents expect us to bring all our kids to the chasunah, yet they haven’t offered to pay for the traveling expenses or the wedding clothes. Are we obligated to pay for this ourselves?

You’re not at all obligated to pay for the traveling or wedding expenses. As a general rule, the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents doesn’t require children to pay any money toward the performance of the mitzvah. On the other hand, if one’s parents are “poor” and are halachically eligible to accept tzedakah, then children have the obligation to support their parents, and if they can’t afford to do so, then they’re obligated to dedicate their maaser funds toward their parents’ needs.

My husband really doesn’t like it when I’m away from home, including when I visit my parents. While I know I’m technically exempt from visiting them, I want to go!

While it’s true that a husband has the halachic right to restrict his wife from visiting her parents on a regular basis if he feels that those visits contradict his own needs, he doesn’t have the halachic right to completely ban his wife from visiting her parents infrequently — at least once or twice a month and during every Yom Tov. It’s also true that a husband in a healthy marriage will do whatever he can to allow his wife to take care of her parents, even if it somehow affects his daily routine or comfort level.

Do I have the same obligation to honor my in-laws as I do my parents?

You have a rabbinic obligation to show respect and honor to your in-laws, but it’s not on the same level or scope as honoring your parents, which is a min haTorah obligation. The halachos of honoring in-laws are similar to the halachos of honoring distinguished or elderly people, which includes speaking to them (and about them) with respect, allowing them to sit at the head of the table, and serving them first. But the specific halachos of kibbud horim, such as rising to full height in their honor, or the specialized halachos of mora horim, fear and reverence toward parents, don’t apply to in-laws.

Often, my husband’s mother calls when I’m finally sitting down to supper with him. He always answers the phone and I’m left without that time with him. Who comes first in my husband’s life, his mother or I?

From a halachic perspective, a husband is required to take care of his wife’s needs and sensitivities, and that takes precedence over honoring his parent. But since most men aren’t mind readers, it is your job to notify your husband that it bothers you that he picks up the phone to speak to his mother when you’re supposed to be having some private time together. If you don’t let him know your feelings, he might assume that it doesn’t bother you, and he will then feel obligated to pick up the phone for his mother.

I’m going for a biopsy, and I really want to share that with my mother so she can daven for me. Yet I know this will worry her. May I share anyway?

Unless your mother is physically or emotionally unwell, you would be well advised to share the news with her. She’s liable to find out anyway, and then will be hurt that you didn’t share your situation with her.

My mother is a very negative person, and is constantly scolding and arguing with me in front of my children. I don’t like bringing them to visit my mother, but she insists. Am I still obliged to visit her when I feel it is impacting the chinuch of my children?

You need to tell your mother, respectfully and softly, that if her negative behavior continues, you’ll regretfully no longer be able to regularly visit her with your children. If the situation doesn’t improve, then limit your children’s visits with her to the bare minimum.

The doctor told my mother that it’s important for her health to get up during the day and take care of herself, yet she prefers to lie on the couch and ask me for things. May I refuse her since I’m really interested in her good?

In this case, where the doctor explicitly said that her lack of movement will negatively impact her health, you’re allowed to refuse her requests. You should do your best to explain to her why you’re ignoring her demands.

My parents are getting on in years and I’m constantly running errands for them or driving them to and from appointments. While I know this is important, it’s taking over my life. Am I allowed to ask them if I can  hire someone to help them, or must I be the one doing all this?

Although it is preferable that the mitzvah of kibbud horim is fulfilled directly by a child, if and when the mitzvah becomes too difficult to perform personally, it’s permitted for a child to hire another person (even a non-Jew) to assist in their care. But since taking care of parents is the child’s obligation and the hiring is being done to make things easier for the child, he may not, in most cases, deduct the payments from his maaser funds.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 891)

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