Shabbat Parashat Behar Bechukotai| 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Must a child obey if parents disapprove of his choice of a spouse?
Question: Must a child obey if parents disapprove of his choice of a spouse?
Answer: The basic answer to the question is that he or she need not obey, as the Rama (Yoreh Deah 240:25) rules, based on the Maharik (166), and later poskim accept apparently unanimously. We will see the Maharik’s reasons and briefly consider if there are exceptions to the rule. If an actual case tragically arises, one should ask according to all the particulars.
The Maharik has three main reasons: 1) If a child does not have to give up his money for kibud av va’em (honoring his parents), he certainly does not have to accept the mental anguish pain of parting from the woman he wants to marry. 2) A parent may not tell his child to violate even a rabbinic prohibition. Since one may not marry a woman we have reason to fear he will not love (Kiddushin 41a), they cannot make him give up the woman he loves and possibly marry one he will resent. 3) The sacrifices one must make for his parents relate to things to benefit his parents, not things his parents want him to do for his welfare. The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 240:45) says that there is a general matter that a parent cannot force a child to perform a mitzva other than the way he sees fit. Most poskim seem to think that all of the reasons are valid individually, although it is difficult to determine that conclusively. This is an important point because in some cases, some reasons apply but not all of them. We do find different opinions in some of those cases.
A minority opinion holds that a daughter has to obey her parents’ refusal of her choice of a husband, based on the (questionable) assumption that she does not have a mitzva to get married. However, the great majority of poskim reject this opinion (see Noda B’Yehuda II, EH 46; Yabia Omer VIII, YD 22). A more serious issue is when the parents not only disagree with the choice, but it will cause them disgrace. The Netziv (Meishiv Davar II, 50) says that this does impact them directly and that the disgrace overshadows the other considerations. The Tzitz Eliezer (XV, 34) asks from the fact that the Maharik discussed a woman about whom there were serious, publicly known questions of morality. He says that the Netziv’s distinction applies only in the case where the disgrace is recognized by Chazal or classical sources. Otherwise, the parents should try to make their viewpoint conform to their child’s choice, not vice versa. For example, parents’ bigotry toward a certain type of fine Jew should not be rewarded by being considered an objective disgrace.
The Divrei Yatziv (EH 3) cites the Netivot Lashevet who says that if the choice of spouse will curtail the child’s ability to perform kibud av va’em (e.g., he will have to move away), then it affects the parents, and they can object. The former disagrees because the Maharik’s other reasons still apply. It seems, though, that those reasons apply only when a decision to marry has been or is almost made. However, if one is considering a “shidduch” idea (before there is an emotional connection) which will negatively impact his or her parents, their feelings or interests should be considered. This is not an absolute rule, as one should consider the child’s range of dating partners, age and dating history, and whether this is an unusually promising idea.
We would also urge a child, who hopefully values his relationship with his parents, to not only be right but be smart and look at the “fifth Shulchan Aruch,” the ability to apply halacha wisely. Parents are very often right and when they try to protect their child from a horrible mistake, the child should not only consider their motive but also the possibility that parents have picked up on what he overlooked due to the excitement of the relationship. He or she would do well to discuss the matter with a wise advisor. That being said, the same reservations apply to the parents, who may make the moral or tactical mistake of their lives by getting improperly involved.
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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R' Meir ben