Shabbat Parashat Balak| 5764
Refusal of a Wife to Live With her In-laws - Based on Piskei Din Rabbani’im X, pp. 355-362
Case: A couple got married with the agreement that they would live with the husband’s sick mother and his sister. After a year and a half, the wife left the joint apartment and demanded that her husband should rent a separate apartment for them and, in the meantime, pay for her support. The regional beit din had ruled that, since the wife had agreed to the arrangement prior to their marriage, and since some complications were to be expected, she would have to prove that the difficulties of living with her in-laws were out of the ordinary. In the meantime, she could not demand support as long as she refused to stay in domestic residence with her husband. Harabbanim Yisraeli, Kapach, and Eliyahu sat as a court of appeals.
Ruling: The first question is whether a wife has to prove the grounds for her objection to living with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law or whether her claim of difficulties is sufficient. At first glance, this is a clear machloket between the Shulchan Aruch, who says that no proof is necessary, and the Rama, who says that she must convince beit din, possibly with the help of an external observer to determine who is responsible for the conflict (Even Haezer 74:10). The Beit Meir (cited in Pitchei Teshuva, ad loc.) concedes that the Rama is logical in regard to some relatives. However, he sides with the opinion that no proof is needed in regard to a mother-in-law and sister-in-law, about whom there is a mishna (Yevamot 117a) that assumes that they are likely to harbor antagonism toward each other. The likely response of the Rama is that, given the antagonism, there is still a question in each specific case whether the wife or the relatives are the main culprits. If that is so, then we can distinguish between the cases. The Rama deals with a wife who wants to remove the relatives, while we are discussing a case where the relatives will stay where they are, and the wife just demands of the husband to rent another apartment for them. In such a case, it is likely that the question of how much each side is to be blamed is less relevant, as Chazal foresaw that problems are to be expected.
There are sources that infer from the Teshuvot Harif that if a wife agrees before her wedding to living with relatives that she cannot force her husband to act otherwise by claiming that she was unaware how difficult it would be. However, both parties agree that they did not set a specific time span to live with his family. There are two opinions in the Rama (Choshen Mishpat 60:3) whether open-ended obligations are forever (as long as the obligation is applicable) or for a year. There are different ways to understand the opinions and to rule, leading to a case of sfeika d’dina (uncertainty how to pasken). In a case like this, where there is a definite responsibility of the husband to provide reasonable lodgings for his wife and a question as to the extent of the relaxation of this responsibility, the burden of proof is on him (based on Ketubot 83b). Since the wife’s claim that she intended to agree to a year of living together is a plausible one, the husband must now find an apartment for them. In the meantime, he must pay her expenses, as she has justification to live separately under these circumstances.
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