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Shabbat Parashat Eikev| 5763
Ask the Rabbi
Question: My spouse and I come from different backgrounds and customs. I am Sephardic and my spouse is Ashkenazic. A divisive issue has arisen whether to name a future son after my living (until 120) father. This is important to us and taboo to my in-laws. What can be done?
Answer: The phenomenon of marriages between Ashkenazic and Sephardic families is positive and enriching for individual couples and the Jewish community. Related emotional issues, like this, are often handled best through education, which can moderate feelings.
Many sources discuss names, in general, and the significance of naming after relatives. The issues are primarily of “hidden secrets” of Judaism, in which we do not delve, and custom, not halacha. However, there are some rules that all should follow.
Both parents should be involved in choosing names, although this may consist of spouses alternating choosing names. There are different minhagim about who begins choosing (see Otzar Habrit, vol.1, 6:3). In the time of Tanach, there was little naming after relatives, but the practice of naming after relatives is already mentioned and explained in the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 37:7). Several positive elements are found in the sources: 1) We heighten the consciousness of lineage; 2) It is a segula for transferring positive traits of the one named after (apparently, negative ones are not as easily transferred); 3) It brings nachat to the deceased’s neshama; 4) It is a form of respect for the one named (see Otzar Habrit ibid.:4). Most of the elements apply even during the life of the grandparents.
The Ashkenazic minhag posits that, since much of the naming’s effect is to continue the forebear’s legacy after his death, it could seem that we await his death, Heaven forbid (ibid.: (3)). Since it is not a bad omen for the baby, Ashkenazi spouses and in-laws have no reason to object if a Sephardi grandfather wants the honor in his lifetime, as is traditional. If it is the Sephardi parent’s turn to choose a name, it may not even be proper to pass on the right to honor his/her parent.
If education fails to solve the problem, all should use great care and wisdom in choosing the steps and timing to resolve the matter, with a minimum of hard feelings.
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