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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5771

P'ninat Mishpat: Does a Mother Have an Obligation to Support Her Children?

(based on Shurat Hadin, vol. IV, pp. 66-72)

A father has an obligation to support his children after the age of six at least as an obligatory form of tzedaka, and giving to his children who are in need has precedence over supporting people who are further removed (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 251:3). The Rashba (cited in Beit Yosef, YD 151) says that he can be forced before we ask the tzedaka disbursers to give them. The Maharach Algazi posits that even one who is not wealthy enough to be expected to give large amounts of tzedaka might be wealthy enough to have to support his children before communal funds are used.

In contrast, the Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 82:8) says that if a woman who can have custody does not want it, she can thrust the children upon the community. The Maggid Mishneh (Ishut 21:18) says that there is no basis upon which to build an obligation for the mother. Interestingly, when the Rama (EH 82:5) says that when the mother is the only one who can nurse, she can be forced to do so, the Beit Shmuel wonders why the community would not be obligated to pay her if she asks for pay. The Beit Meir (ad loc.) answers that she is obligated as a form of tzedaka in a case where the father and his relatives cannot afford it and she can. He holds that she does have a status of obligation that puts her before non-relatives of the same level of wealth. It is possible to explain the mother’s obligation to nurse differently − that it is the fact that she is uniquely qualified to nurse her own baby that creates the obligation.

Based on the assumption that the mother does not have a specific obligation to her child, the Gilyon Maharsha says that a maternal grandfather does not have an obligation to support, for it is not logical that he should be obligated more than his link to the child. The Shach (YD 251:1) is uncertain on the maternal grandfather’s obligation regarding the child’s education. One can demonstrate that this obligation does not follow the status of relative regarding testifying together.

The Gilyon Maharsha’s thesis regarding a maternal grandfather is difficult because even a paternal grandfather is not obligated as an extension of the middle generation but by virtue of his status of relative. It does not have to do with the ability to inherit (which does not go through a mother) because a brother through the mother does have a special mitzva of tzedaka despite the fact that he does not inherit. It is possible to obligate the mother and her relatives not under the obligation of relatives, which might have to do with inheritance, but as no less than the obligation towards neighbors before non-neighbors, as there is certainly closeness. Then they would be obligated only if they were wealthy enough to be obligated toward neighbors.

In conclusion, a mother only has a general obligation of tzedaka towards her child.

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This edition of
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