Divergent Family Customs Between Husband and Wife by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



The obligation to abide by the Halachic practices of our parents is best illustrated by the following Talmudic passage (Pesachim 50b):

The Bnai Byshan did not travel from Tyre to Sidon on Friday to avoid detracting from their preparations for Shabbat.  Their children posed the following question to Rav Yochanan:  “Our fathers were able to abide by this stringent practice because they were wealthy.  We, however, find it economically cumbersome to abide by this stringency.  Are we obligated to maintain their practice?”  Rav Yochanan answered that they must follow their fathers’ customs, as Sefer Mishlei teaches, “Listen, my son, to the teachings of your father, and do not abandon the Torah of your mother.”  (1:8).

There are many customs for Pesach that we may have inherited from our ancestors.  These might include Kitniyot or Gebruchts, depending on one’s origins.  Questions often rise in modern times when husband and wife have divergent family customs.  In this issue, we will review both published and unpublished responsa on this topic.


The Tashbetz’s Responsum

There is only one responsum on this topic that was published before the twentieth century, as in those days people rarely married someone who lived far away from them.  Hence, there was little likelihood of divergent family customs between husband and wife.  The development of modern means of transportation and the mass movements of the past century facilitated marriages between Jews of different backgrounds.  Therefore, many twentieth century authorities addressed this issue.

The Tashbetz (3:179) wrote the classic responsum on this topic.  He presents two reasons why the wife should adopt her husband’s customs.  First, it would be highly disruptive if both the husband and the wife were to maintain their respective conflicting family practices.  For example, if the husband is Sephardic and the wife Ashkenazic, the husband would eat Kitniyot on Pesach and the wife would not.  It is difficult for husband and wife to abide by two different standards of Kashrut.  Second, the Tashbetz invokes the Talmudic principle of אשתו כגופו (see Sanhedrin 28b and Encyclopedia Talmudit 2:300-301).  The Gemara considers husband and wife as one person.  Hence, the Gemara states that one is disqualified from testifying about his wife’s relatives just as one is disqualified from testifying about his own relatives.  The Tashbetz invokes this principle to teach that the wife should adopt her husband’s family traditions.

The Tashbetz also writes that even after the husband dies, the wife should continue practicing her husband’s family customs if the couple has children and she has not remarried.  The Tashbetz bases this assertion on the Torah’s laws regarding the eligibility of a woman whose father is not a Kohen to eat Terumah (Vayikra 22:11-13).  If her husband is a Kohen, she may eat Terumah even after his death if the couple had children and she has not remarried.


The Responsa of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Ovadia Yosef, and Rav Gedalia Felder

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:158), Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 5:37), and Rav Gedalia Felder (Yesodei Yeshurun 6:239-240) rule that the wife must adopt the Halachic customs of her husband.  They cite the following Halachic principle as the basis for their ruling.  The Mishna Berura (468:19, and see Biur Halacha 468:4  s.v. \Haholech) rules that if one permanently relocates to a community whose Halachic practices differ from the community that he left, he should adopt the new community’s customs.  This rule applies whether the new community’s customs are stricter or more lenient than the old communities.

These authorities argue that Halacha views a woman who marries as moving to a new community — her husband’s home.  Rav Moshe cites a number of biblical verses that demonstrate that the Torah views marriage as a woman moving into her husband’s home.  For example, regarding divorce the Torah (Devarim 24:1) describes the husband as sending his wife from his home. Accordingly, the wife must accept the customs of her husband’s family.  Rav Ovadia and Rav Felder cite the Tashbetz as a precedent for their ruling.

Common practice reflects the rulings of Rav Moshe, Rav Ovadia, and Rav Felder, that wives accept the family traditions of their husbands.


Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Major Limitation of this Rule

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Or Torah Iyar 5761) imposes a major limitation on the rule that the wife must adopt her husband’s Halachic practices.  He writes that this rule applies only to practices that her husband’s family has practiced for generations, such as Kitniyot or Gebruchts.  However, the wife is not obligated to adopt the stringent practices that her husband accepted upon himself.  Rav Ovadia presents the following illustration of this ruling:  If the husband accepted the stringent level of Shemittah observance — avoiding reliance on the Heter Mechira — the wife is not required to abide by this stringency.  Rav Ovadia writes that if the husband is unable to maintain his strict practice due to his wife’s lack of cooperation, the husband should request his Rav to release him from his Neder to follow the stringency. 

A common application of this ruling is that if the husband accepts upon himself to avoid relying on communal Eruvin, the wife is not bound to follow this stringency.  Similarly, if the husband accepts the stringency to observe Shabbat according to Rabbeinu Tam’s standards of assessing when nighttime begins, she does not have to abide by this stringency. 

It appears that common practice reflects Rav Ovadia’s ruling on this matter.  For example, according to family tradition this author’s great grandfather (Rav Gershon Adler, one of the leading Halachic authorities of late nineteenth century Galicia) observed Shabbat according to Rabbeinu Tam’s standards, while his wife (Rebbetzin Tzipora Adler, who was renown for her piety) did not follow this stringency.  Rav Moshe Snow (a student of Rav Moshe Feinstein) told this author that although Rav Moshe adopted the strict approach to the Chalav Yisrael issue, Rebbetzin Feinstein did not.


Rav Yehuda Henkin’s Responsum

This author asked Rav Yehuda Henkin if there is any flexibility regarding the practice of wives adopting husband’s rulings.  Rav Henkin (Teshuvot Bnai Banim 3:29) responded that although the common practice is for wives to accept their husband’s family practices, there is some room for flexibility.

Rav Henkin acknowledges that common practice is to follow Rav Moshe’s, Rav Ovadia’s, and Rav Felder’s rulings.  However, Rav Henkin challenges the fundamental assumption of their ruling.  They assume that the Torah believes that, metaphysically speaking, a wife moves into the home of her husband.  Rav Henkin, though, notes the dispute between Rabbeinu Tam and the Maharam of Rothenberg regarding when husband and wife come from different places whether a wife must move to the husband’s town or vice versa (see Tur and Bait Yosef Even Haezer 75).  The Rama (ibid. 7) and Bait Shmuel (E.H. 75:7) rule that the Halacha accepts Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling that the husband must move to the wife’s town.  If the husband must move to the wife’s town, observes Rav Henkin, then he will be required to observe the local Halachic practices — those of the wife’s family. 

Rav Henkin also asserts that Devarim 24:1 does not constitute a Halachic norm that the marital home belongs to the husband in a metaphysical sense.  It could be that the Torah merely reflects the sociological norm of the time that the marital home belonged to the husband, and upon divorce he sent her from his home.  Rav Henkin argues that the Torah does not preclude the joint ownership by husband and wife of the marital home both in an economic and metaphysical sense. 

Moreover, Rav Henkin argues that the responsum of the Tashbetz does not constitute a legitimate precedent because it runs counter to the ruling of the Rama.  Rav Henkin observes that the Tashbetz (1:97 and 3:87 s.v. Vehasomech) rejects Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling that the man must move to the wife’s town.  The Rama rules that Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling is not rejected. 

Rav Henkin concludes that we should not abandon the accepted practice for wives to follow their husbands’ family traditions.  However, he rules that a wife may continue to follow her family’s traditions regarding a matter that does not impinge on her relationship with her husband and does not impose a hardship on her.  Rav Henkin requires that she stipulate with her fiancée before the marriage that she wants to continue to practice her own family’s traditions.  For example, this author’s wife stipulated that she wished to continue to practice her family tradition to wait five hours between eating meat and milk rather than accepting this author’s family tradition to wait six hours between eating meat and milk.


Three Other Rulings

Rav Henkin wrote to this author (in an unpublished responsum) that if the husband is a convert or a Baal Teshuva and the wife’s family has an unbroken chain of Halachic observance, the husband may adopt his wife’s family traditions.  He writes, though, that it might be more appropriate for the husband to follow the prevalent traditions of the community to which he belongs.  Rav Henkin counsels that the husband should seek the guidance of his Rav in choosing the most appropriate approach to this issue.

Rav Chaim David Halevi (Techumin 6:84) writes that in a marriage where the wife is Halachically observant and the husband is not, the family should practice the wife’s family’s traditions.  Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg told this author that he agrees with this ruling.

It seems common practice for women to practice certain aspects of Hilchot Nidda in accordance with her mother’s family traditions.  This refers to matters that do not directly impinge on the husband.  An example is whether the wife should immerse twice or three times in the Mikva. 



Generally speaking, a wife should follow her husband’s family traditions, such as regarding Kitniyot or Gebruchts for Pesach.  Nevertheless, there are certain limited circumstances where a wife may continue to follow her family’s traditions.



            Geirim and Baalei Teshuva and their children should consult their rabbi regarding which Minhagim they should follow.

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