The sensitivity that one must have in performing the mitzvah of kibbud av
v'eim, honoring one's parents, is expressed in our Sages' comment on the
verse quoted above. The Rabbis criticize Yosef for not objecting to
hearing his revered father described as “your servant, our father.” Even
though Yosef was not at liberty to reveal his identity at the time, he is
nevertheless faulted for not being offended by the desecration of his
father's honor. This teaches us that it is not enough to merely honor and
fear one's parents in their presence. Even when they are not physically
present, we are commanded to see that their honor is not compromised in any
way. Let us explain:
There are two major categories under which the halachos of conduct towards
parents are subsumed: kibbud, honoring them, and mora, revering them.
Kibbud Av V'eim—Honoring Parents
Kibbud is accomplished in three different ways:
1. Through the children's thoughts—children are supposed to view their
parents as being honorable and respected people, even if they are not
considered as such in the eyes of others. This attitudinal aspect of the
mitzvah is the main part of kibbud.
2. Through the children's actions—this includes feeding, dressing and
escorting them, and generally assisting them in all of their needs as a
servant would do for his master. These actions must be done b'sever panim
yafos, pleasantly and enthusiastically. The manner in which one assists
parents is a crucial aspect of the mitzvah. Even if the child is in the
midst of learning Torah, he must stop to assist his parents.
3. Through the children's speech—e.g., when a child is honored, he should
credit his parents for the honor bestowed upon him. When a child asks others
to grant his request or to do him a favor, he should not request it in his
own merit, but rather, in the merit of his father or mother (when
Parents may excuse their children from the mitzvah of kibbud. In fact,
it is advisable for them to do so. A parent who constantly exacts respect
from his children will surely cause his children to be punished on his
account. Consequently, although according to the halachah a child
should rise to his full height when a parent enters the room, in
practice this halachah is not widely observed. It is safe to assume that
most parents excuse their children from demonstrating this honor towards
them, and since they do, the children are not obligated to rise in
their honor. It is required though, that children ask their parents
explicitly if they excuse them from demonstrating this kibbud.
Reciting Kaddish after a parent's death falls into the category of
kibbud. Consequently, some poskim rule that a parent may excuse his
child from saying Kaddish after his passing. But other poskim hold that
the son should ignore his father’s request and recite Kaddish.
The twelve-month mourning period in which children mourn their parents is a
form of kibbud. Parents may, therefore, absolve their children from
keeping the laws of the twelve-month mourning period.
Mora Av V'eim—Revering Parents
The second category of the halachos governing the conduct of children to
parents is mora, reverence, or fear. It means that one should act towards
his parents as he would towards a sovereign with the power to punish those
who treat him disrespectfully. Specifically, this commandment prohibits
a child from sitting in his parents’ set places at home or in shul,
interrupting them, contradicting them (in an abrupt or disrespectful manner)
and calling them by their first names.
Most poskim maintain that parents may also excuse their children from the
mitzvah of mora. Consequently, some parents permit their children to
sit in their father's place in shul, since parents are not particular about
this show of respect. Similarly, if a parent solicits his child’s
opinion, the child may express his honest opinion even if it differs from
the parent’s, since by soliciting his child’s opinion the parent waives
his right not to be contradicted.
Parents may not, however, allow themselves to be degraded, hit or cursed by
their children. Such actions are never excusable.
Even if a parent is, G-d forbid, insane and has embarrassed the child in
public, it is still forbidden for the child to shame or degrade the
parent. He may, however, take steps to ensure that his parents do not
cause him or themselves public embarrassment, e.g., one may arrange to have
his parents barred from a public gathering, etc.
When an elderly father lives with his son, the son is not required to give
up his seat at the head of the table, although the custom in many homes
is to do so. In any case, the son must allow his father to wash his
hands first and to be served first, etc.
A son should preferably not daven Shemoneh Esrei within four amos
[approximately eight feet] of his father.
If her husband objects, a married woman is not required to honor her parents
by performing the physical acts that constitute “honor,” such as feeding
them, escorting them, etc. She is, however, obligated to revere them and to
avoid demeaning them.
In general, children should honor a parent’s wish even if the parent does
not “benefit” from the child’s compliance. For instance, a mother
disapproves of a certain article of clothing and asks her daughter not to
wear it. By honoring her mother’s request the daughter gives her mother no
tangible, material benefit, so the laws of kibbud do not apply. But if
the daughter disobeys and insists on wearing that article of clothing, she
is violating her mother’s wishes which may be forbidden under the obligation
of mora, reverence.
Still, the poskim are in agreement that when the parent’s request will cause
the child a financial loss, significant pain or anguish, or will interfere
with the child’s Torah studies, the child need not obey. A child is not
considered to have violated his parent’s wish when he does so for a
legitimate reason (and the parent does not stand to gain any material
“benefit” from the child’s compliance). Thus there are many cases when
children may not be halachically required to follow a parent’s directive.
Some of those include when and where to study Torah or daven, whom
to marry and whether or not to live in Eretz Yisrael.
Obviously, though, a child should realize that it is invariably in his best
interest to heed the wise and loving advice of his experienced parents. A
decision not to abide by a parent’s wishes should be made only after much
thought and after consultation with a competent halachic authority.
1. Sotah 13b.
2. Chayei Adam 67:3. See explanation in Sichos Mussar (5731, Ma'amar 22).
6. The parents may change their mind and revoke their dispensation;
Maharam Shick, Y.D. 218.
7. Y.D. 240:19. See Alei Shur, pg. 261 for elaboration.
8. This is a Biblical obligation; Rosh, Kiddushin 1:57. There are various
views in the poskim as to how many times per day this obligation applies;
see Chayei Adam 67:7; Aruch ha-Shulchan 240:24; Shevet ha-Levi 1:111-4;
Avnei Yashfei 1:185.
9. According to some poskim, the obligation to stand up for a parent
begins when the child hears their footsteps; see Gilyon Maharsha, Y.D. 240:7
and Aruch ha-Shulchan 240:24. But many other poskim rule that the obligation
begins only upon seeing them; see Chayei Adam 67:7; Chazon Ish, Y.D. 149:10;
Shevet ha-Levi 2:111-4.
10. Y.D. 240:7. This is an obligation of kibbud; Aruch ha-Shulchan 240:24;
Chazon Ish, Y.D. 149:4; Gesher ha-Chayim 20:9.
11. See Sefer Chasidim 152 and 339.
12. Even when parents have exempted their children from honoring them, if
the children honor them they are fulfilling a mitzvah; Rav Akiva Eiger and
Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 240:16.
13. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, quoted in Avnei Yashfei 1:185 and in Mora ha-Horim
v'Kibbudam, pg. 49.
14. Chayei Adam 67:6.
15 Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 344:1, quoting Even Shoam.
16. See Shoel u’Meishiv 3:259, Even Yaakov 47 and Yabia Omer 6, Y.D. 31-4.
17. See Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:255.
18. Shach, Y.D. 244:9; Chochmas Adam 155:10; Gilyon Maharshah, Y.D. 240:9.
Sedei Chemed, Aveilus 1. See Divrei Malkiel 4:96 who disagrees.
19. Rambam, Sefer ha-Mitzvos 211.
20. Y.D. 240:2.
21. Birkei Yosef 240:13. See also Igros Moshe, Y.D. 1:133.
26. Aruch ha-Shulchan 240:32. See Tzitz Eliezer 12:59.
27. Aruch ha-Shulchan 240:11.
28. She'arim ha-Metzuyanim B'halachah 143:2. Rav S.Z. Auerbach, Rav Y.S.
Elyashiv and Rav C.P. Scheinberg are quoted (Mora ha-Horim v'Kibbudam, pg.
19; Kibbud v'Yiras Horim K'hilchasam, pg. 62) as ruling that it is proper
for the son to offer his seat to his father. If the father declines, then
the son may sit there.
29. Aruch ha-Shulchan 240:11; Rav Y.S. Elyashiv and Rav B.Z. Abba Shaul
(oral ruling quoted in Mora ha-Horim v'Kibbudam, pg. 19).
30. O.C. 90:24 and Mishnah Berurah 73, 77, 78. See Beiur Halachah, s.v.
vaf al pi.
31. Y.D. 240:17, Shach 19 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 38. See, however, Tzitz
32. This is the position of most poskim; see The Fifth Commandment, pg.
126, for the entire list.
33. Based on Hamakneh, Kidushim 31b and Teshuvos Rav Akiva Eiger 1:68.
34. Y.D. 240:13 and Pischei Teshuvah 8. See Minchas Yitzchak 5:79 and
Koveitz Teshuvos 3:139.