This week we shall present an important Teshuva authored by the eminent Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv of Jerusalem. A man whose non-observant Sephardic parents raised him in an Ashkenazi environment approached Rav Eliashiv with the following dilema. The parents sent him to Ashkenazi religious schools and synagogues. Despite his Sephardi background, the man fully integrated into his Ashkenazi environment and practiced Judaism following Ashkenazi tradition. When the son was approximately thirty-five years old, the father returned to his roots and became a fully observant Jew in accordance with Sephardic tradition. The father then insisted that the son return to his Sephardic roots as well, but the son found this very difficult after following Ashkenazic practice for so long. When the son was planning a wedding for his eldest child, the father insisted that the wedding be conducted in accordance with Sephardic practice. The father threatened to boycott the wedding if it was not conducted according to Sephardi practice.
The son approached Rav Eliashiv with two questions. One, is he permitted to continue observing the Torah in accordance with Ashkenazi tradition. Second, does Halacha require him to obey his father’s demands due to the Mitzvot of Kibud and Mora Av, honoring and revering one’s father. This essay will outline Rav Eliashiv’s response, which addresses many fundamental issues that we often encounter in today’s socially integrated Am Yisrael.
Rav Eliashiv begins by emphasizing the importance of abiding by one’s family Minhagim. For example, he writes that an Ashkenazi Jew may not change his method of pronunciation to Sephardi or modern Israeli pronunciation. He writes that one is obligated to recite his prayers with the pronunciation of his ancestors. The Gemara (Pesachim 50b) insists that one abide by his family customs even when it is difficult to do so.
Not all authorities agree with Rav Eliashiv on this specific point. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (in a shiur at Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1983) recounted that Rav Kook zt”l ruled that one may not change his family pronunciation, but that Rav Yehuda Amital reports that his wife’s grandfather, the great Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, permits changing to modern Israeli pronunciation. Indeed, when Rav Amital serves as the Shliach Tzibbur at Yeshivat Har Etzion on the Yamim Noraim, he uses modern Israeli pronunciation (see Teshuvot Seridei Eish 2:5). Common practice among Ashkenazi students and graduates of Yeshivot Hesder is to follow Rav Isser Zalman’s ruling.
Rav Eliashiv, though, cites an important Teshuva written by the Chatam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat 188). The Chatam Sofer was approached by members of a community where there used to be two Kehillot functioning, one Sephardic and one Ashkenazic. However, because of a pogrom, most of the Jews left and the two communities had to combine into one functioning synagogue, as there were insufficient people left in the town to sustain two separate Minyanim. The Chatam Sofer ruled that the remaining members of the community should choose which of the two synagogues would continue to function, and then follow the Minhagim of that synagogue. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6:O.C. 10 ) cites numerous Teshuvot that concur with the Chatam Sofer’s ruling.
The Chatam Sofer explains that one may change from practicing Ashkenazi traditions to Sephardic traditions, and vice versa. He reasons that just as a non-Jew converts to Judaism and fully integrates into the Jewish community, so too an Ashkenazi may fully integrate into a Sephardic Kehilla and vice versa. Similarly, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Edut Leyisrael p.162) rules that if an Ashkenazic Jew decides to permanently join a Sephardic community, he may change his Nusach Tefilla to the Sephardic practice. He notes that, historically, Chassidim changed from Nusach Ashkenaz to Nusach Sefard. The intentions of the Chassidim were noble; they wished to pray in accordance with the mystical direction of the Ari zt”l. See Rav Ovadia Yosef’s Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6:O.C. 10 for a summary of the rich Teshuva literature regarding of the legitimacy of the change the Chassidim made from Nusach Ashkenaz to Nusach Sefard. Some “Mitnagdic” Poskim wrote that the change was not legitimate and violates the obligation “not to abandon the teachings of one’s mother” (see Pesachim 50b). These Poskim include Teshuvot Shoel Umeishiv (3:1:247) and Teshuvot Maharam Schick (O.C.43). Many Poskim (especially Chassidic Poskim such as Teshuvot Divrei Chaim 2:O.C.8, though, defended the change and this opinion has emerged as the accepted view as noted by Rav Henkin. Rav Henkin cautions, though, that it is forbidden to make such a change arbitrarily. One should consult with a Rav before deviating from any family practice.
This also explains the rulings of twentieth century authorities (for example, Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:158 and Teshuvot Yabia Omer 5:O.C. 37) that a wife should follow her husband’s traditional family practices. One might ask why the wife is permitted to deviate from her family tradition. The answer is that the Poskim follow the Chatam Sofer’s assertion that a Jew may fully integrate into the practices of a different Jewish community. Similarly, Rav Eliashiv rules that the son may continue to practice Torah in accordance with Ashkenazi tradition, despite his Sephardic ancestry. Similarly, Rav Hershel Schachter rules (as recounted by Rabbi Michael Taubes) that if someone was raised in a “Mitnaged” environment, he need not practice Chassidic Minhagim even though his paternal grandfather was Chassidic. Indeed, many of us pronounce Hebrew differently than did our fathers or paternal grandfathers.
We emphasize that it is important to follow the practices of one’s community (see, for example Mishna Berura 68:4). We also note that Rav Ovadia Yosef would likely disagree with Rav Eliashiv’s ruling, especially if the son lives in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Ovadia laments the fact that Ashkenazim in Israel have chosen to maintain their Ashkenazic practices instead of acknowledging that the Rambam and Rav Yosef Karo are the Halachic authorities of Eretz Yisrael (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6:O.C. 10:4 and Teshuvot Yechave Daat 5:33). Rav Ovadia reluctantly yields to the practice of Ashkenazim in Israel to maintain their traditional customs. However, he probably would most likely instruct someone of Sephardic origin who lives in Israel to follow Sephardic practice.
Kibud and Mora Av
Rav Eliashiv proceeds to address the question whether the son must honor his father’s demand that he follow Sephardic practice. This question hinges on a classic debate concerning the character and scope of the Mitzva of Kibud Av Vaeim. The Ramban (Yevamot 6a s.v. Mah Lehanach), Rashba (Yevamot 6a s.v. Mah Lehanach) and Ritva (Yevamot 6a s.v. Yachol) define the Mitzva of Kibud Av Vaeim as providing service to one’s parents. These Rishonim do not define the Mitzva as obeying the will of a parent. Thus, one is not obligated to obey a parent’s demand if the activity does not benefit the parent. The Vilna Gaon (Biur Hagra Yoreh Deah 240:36) notes that Tosafot (Yevamot 6a s.v. Shekein and Kiddushin 32a s.v. Rav Yehudah) agrees with this definition of the Mitzva of Kibud Av Vaeim. The Ramban, Rashba, and Ritva base their assertion on the Gemara’s description of the parameters of the Mitzva of Kibud Av Vaeim. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) describes the Mitzva as “providing food and drink, clothing them, and helping them enter and leave a building.” Accordingly, the Mitzva involves providing service to the parent.
The Vilna Gaon (op. cit.) asserts that the Shulchan Aruch and Rama accept Tosafot, Ramban, Rashba, and Ritva’s definition of the Mitzva of Kibud Av Vaeim. The Shulchan Aruch codifies a ruling of the Terumat Hadeshen (number 40) that if a son wishes to study in a particular Yeshiva he does not have to honor the request of the parent that he not study at that Yeshiva because it is located in a dangerous area. The Rama codifies a ruling of the Maharik (number 167) that a son is not required to honor a parent’s demand that he refrain from marrying a particular woman. The Vilna Gaon explains that these rulings are based on the Rishonim’s definition of the Mitzva of honoring parents as servicing of parents and not obeying parents. Rav Eliashiv notes that according to this approach, the son is not obligated to honor the parent’s demand that he practice the Sephardic tradition.
The Sefer Hamakneh (Kiddushin 31b s.v. Tanu Rabbanan Eizehu) rules, however, that the Mitzva of revering parents (Morah Av) requires one to obey a parent’s request even if the request is not intended to benefit the parent. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) states that the Mitzva of Morah Av Vaeim forbids a child to contradict his parent’s words. The Sefer Hamakneh believes, unlike the Vilna Gaon, that the Rama supports this approach. The Rama presents a specific situation – when a parent demands the child not marry a specific woman – that the child is not required to abide by the parent’s demand. Had the Rama agreed with the Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, and Tosafot, he would have presented a general rule that one need not obey a parent’s request if it is not intended to benefit the parent. Rather, his ruling is specific to the marriage situation for the reasons that Maharik outlines in his Teshuva (such as the fact that the demand causes the child to neglect his obligation to marry and have children).
According to the Sefer Hamakneh, it would seem that the son must obey his father’s demand that he abide by Sephardic tradition. Rav Eliashiv notes, however, that even the Sefer Hamakneh does not require obedience in case where it causes a loss to the child. Rav Eliashiv explains that only ignoring a parent’s request when no loss is involved constitutes a lack of reverence for the parent. However, ignoring the request because of concern for loss does not constitute a lack of reverence since he is not frivolously ignoring his parent’s demand. Accordingly, Rav Eliashiv rules that the son is not required to honor his father’s request that he change his Halachic lifestyle. Rav Eliashiv rules that honoring this demand involves loss because it would be very disruptive to the son’s family to make such a significant change.
Rav Eliashiv’s ruling has important ramifications for parents and educators. We see that a child enjoys a Halachic prerogative to join a legitimate Orthodox group that differs from his parent’s practice. If the child feels more comfortable living a more Chassidic lifestyle or a more “Centrist Orthodox” Halachic lifestyle than his parents, the parents do not enjoy a Halachic right to veto the change. If the child acts in accordance with Halacha (i.e. the practices of his new group are endorsed by a least one recognized Torah giant), then the child is not required to heed a parent’s objections to his new Halachic and Hashkafic lifestyle. Of course, it is necessary for the child to consult with a recognized Halachic authority to determine if his actions are appropriate. Moreover, Poskim (see for example, Moed Katan 17a and Teshuvot Seridei Eish 3:95) urge parents of grown children to refrain from imposing unnecessary and burdensome demands on their children. Parents should help their children by not making it too difficult for them to fulfill the Mitzvot of Kibud and Morah Av Vaeim.