Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students and Senior Lecturer at Diaspora Yeshiva, is not only a popular speaker and teacher, but also a dynamic thinker and writer. A student of Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Harav Gedalia Schorr, Rabbi Sprecher was granted smicha (rabbinical ordination) by Torah Vodaath Yeshiva. Prior to his current position, Rabbi Sprecher was a professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York. In addition to his duties at Diaspora Yeshiva, Rabbi Sprecher writes a regular column on various Judaic topics in the Jewish Press, and lectures regularly at the OU Israel Center in Jerusalem.
Must One Honor Abusive Parents?
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 08:45:31 PM
Number of views: 2777
"Honor your father and your mother" (Shemot 20:12) and "Your mother and father shall you respect" (Vayikra 19:3) are the Torah sources for children's responsibility to their parents. Parents are due this respect because, "There are three partners in a person, G-d, the father and the mother. When a person honors his father and mother, G-d says, 'I consider it as if I had dwelt among them, and they had honored Me also."  (Talmud Kiddushin 30b) 
 
What is respect and what is honor? Respect means that the child must neither stand nor sit in the parent's place, may not contradict the parent's words, nor call a parent by their first name. Honor means that a child, when mature,  must give a parent food, drink, clothing and provide transportation when necessary. (Kiddushin 31b). 
 
Must a child honor an abusive parent? Opposing positions that require either unqualified or qualified duties of respect are advocated by the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:18) maintains that "Even if one's parent is a Rasha (a wicked person) and a Violater of the Torah, one must still honor and show respect for that parent." Rema disagrees stating, "One is not obligated to honor one's wicked parent unless that parent has done Teshuvah." 
 
The Shulchan Aruch's position, requiring respect in all circumstances, is based on the Rambam who ruled that a child must unequivocally honor parents even if they are wicked.  This ruling that mandates unconditional honor may be based on the assumption that parental respect is a function of the biological relationship between parents and children and is independent of the nature of their personal relationship. The Radbaz explains that one must show respect to wicked parents, because those parents may, in the future, do Teshuvah, so that the child retroactively violates the Mitzvah of honoring parents. 
 
Rema's position, exempting children from honoring wicked parents, is supported by a number of Talmudic passages. In Sanhedrin 47a the Talmud reports how King Chezkiyahu deprived his father of a proper burial and had his corpse dragged on a pallet made of ropes. Rashi explains that Chezkiyahu did not transgress the Mitzvah of honoring his father, as there is no such Mitzvah for a parent who is wicked. King Chezkiyahu's purpose in dishonoring his deceased father was to show contempt for his father's wickedness in spreading idolatry. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 85 and Yevamot 22 assumes that parents who do not conduct themselves according to the standards of decent society are not deserving of parental honor. Thus, respect and honor for parents are not automatic, but they are earned by merit, and only if parents show signs of Teshuvah and have made amends to their children.   
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