Shabbat Parashat Shoftim| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Regarding a machloket (disagreement) on a halachic matter, do older children, at least those living at home, have to follow the decision that their father follows?
Answer: In this response, we assume that the father is following a legitimate opinion and that the family is not bound by a local ruling. We can address only a few principles and applications.
The topic begins with a gemara (Pesachim 50b). The people of Beishan had the practice not to travel to market-days in Tzidon on Fridays. Their sons approached R. Yochanan, hoping to end this practice, which they found difficult. R. Yochanan said that since their fathers had already accepted the stringency, the pasuk “… do not forsake your mother’s Torah” (Mishlei 1:8) applied and they must continue the practice.
The Rivash (399), Chavot Yair (126) and others say that the fathers of Beishan did not have the authority to individually obligate their sons but, as a community, to create a minhag hamakom (local practice). The Chavot Yair reasons that people raised in Beishan who moved elsewhere ceased to keep the minhag, whereas newcomers to Beishan without ancestors from there would be obligated. The Zichron Yosef, cited by the Pitchei Teshuva (YD 214:5) and many others, makes the following distinction. A stringency that a father accepts is binding on his son only if the son began keeping the minhag, which was the situation in Beishan. So what difference do the fathers make, if the sons were bound by their own actions? The Korban Netanel (Pesachim IV,3:5) cites an opinion that because the minhag stemmed from the fathers, it was not possible to stop the practice with hatarat nedarim (absolution of oaths). Other answers are given, as well.
We have discussed cases where a father accepted stringencies that went beyond halachic requirements. Do the same rules apply to our case, where the father’s practice relates to ruling on a machloket whether something is objectively permitted or forbidden? Recent poskim discuss a parallel case that includes both types of practices, namely, a marriage between Ashkenazic and Sephardic spouses in a place where no local standard exists. (The question was rare centuries ago, because couples followed the minhagim and rulings of the place they lived; now, most cities have separate communities based on edah (ethnic subgroup)). The Tashbetz (III, 179) and most recent poskim (see Yechave Da’at I, 12; Noam, vol. 23), who say that the wife takes on the practices of her husband’s edah, make little or no distinction between minhag and halachic rulings.
Should the wife’s following of her husband’s practices serve as a precedent for children living at home? We cannot delve into a full explanation (see Techumin XV), but it appears that the level of interconnectedness, the potential for conflict, and the prospect of staying under one roof for many decades regarding spouses qualitatively exceed those of children. Thus, one cannot conclude that children are automatically “pulled after” their father’s practices. On the other hand, numerous sources assume that children follow their father’s lead under normal circumstances, even in the absence of a community-wide practice. For example, the Maharam Shick (OC 249) says that the fact that a young adult living by his father refrains from the same things as his father is not a sign that he has accepted these practices indefinitely. Actually, one is expected to conform when possible, for leniency or stringency, even with the halachic practices of one’s unrelated host in order to avoid acrimony.On the other hand, there are times that children act differently from their father in his presence (compare Rama YD 112:15 and Shulchan Aruch, OC 168:5). Much depends on the father’s tolerance and other circumstances (see V’aleihu Lo Yibol, I, pg. 64).
In summary, a father need not determine halachic rulings for his children who are mature enough to choose their own path. However, his approach is the assumed point of departure and his feelings should be considered, especially in his presence.
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