When there is a conflict between "siding" with one's spouse vs. one's parent - is there a Jewish view on marriage vows vs. obligation to respect parents? How does one balance these two obligations when they seem to conflict?
Apparently at first glance, respect for one's Parents should trump respect for one's spouse, after the "TEN COMMANDMENTS" tells us to Honor our Father and Mother! What could be more direct than that?
Yet, Scripture is actually a bit more ambiguous as we see in
Genesis 2:24 - "Therefore a man shall leave [abandon] his Mother and Father and cleave to his wife.."
The husband's commitment to his mate apparently supercedes his commitment to his parents. Note - This may apply all the more so for a wife who is traditionally deemed to have to put her spouse first.
Our Holy Oral Law takes a more nuanced view.
While cursing or striking a parent is a more severe transgression than doing the same to one's spouse, one may disregard one's parent's wishes with regard to several issues including
1. Choice of Spouse
2. Choice of Place to learn Torah
Also see the narrative re: Jacob, Rachel, and Leah Genesis 31:14-17
It's difficult to quantify the totality but the sources seem to indicate that
When it comes to honor, respect, reverence, etcc. it seems that Parents command more. EG one mourns a spouse for a month - like a sibling while Parents are mourned for a full year
When it comes to commands, life-decisions, and actual performance issues, spouses seem to come first.
Yet in all cases Obedience to Torah Trumps [see Rashi on
So I would presume based upon my read of the sources that siding with one's spouse typically trumps.
Your question is an interesting one because it recognizes that as a spouse you have obligations to your partner but if you are fortunate enough to still have living parents, you are still their child, and therefore you and they, might assume that you have obligations to them. So let us first look at the relationships between children and their parents, and then between spouses, so we can see how to deal with a potential conflict.
We know that one of the “top 10” commandments is to honor your father and mother. Written in Exodus this commandment teaches us the importance of doing positive things for our parents, especially when we are adults, such as providing food and clothing for them, if necessary. Additionally, in Leviticus we are taught to revere our mother and father, which implies that we should avoid negative acts, like sitting in their place or contradicting their words. Both of these however, especially the second example of contradicting one’s words, is an act that can be on a continuum. If parents and adult children have a healthy relationship where they can dialogue than one can agree to disagree. Additionally, there are pieces of tradition which demonstrate that there are obligations that the parents have as well which might have an impact on your question. For example, Maimonides teaches that it is forbidden for a man to impose too heavy a yoke upon his children by being overly insistent on his due honor and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that in so many cases, it is the parent who makes it impossible for the young to obey the 5th commandment.
Then, if we look back at our tradition, it is clear from the beginning that there is a transition in a person’s relationship “status” when they get married. We read Genesis 2:24 “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” This shows that our tradition understands that new obligations and a new center of gravity are formed and are apparent once a person gets married, and it is exemplified in the Talmudic dictum “Love your wife as yourself.” (Yevamot 52b). However, this new relationship doesn’t exempt you from honoring and revering your parents because the assumption is made that there are living parents when needing to revere them.
Thankfully, it is generally easy to uphold both sides of this tradition, except of course when there is a direct conflict between the parties. It is at that point that you need to not worry about taking sides but worry about how you view the situation so that you can have a reasoned approach and answer to the conflict. You need to be able to be honest with yourself, with your spouse, and your parents about why you feel a certain way. That way, regardless of who you agree (or disagree with) you can do so in a way that shows it is not about the side but about the content area itself. If you can reasonably explain in a way that is respectful, open, and shows that you care about the person with whom you now might have conflict, ideally, you will be able to resolve the issue.
To begin with, the term “marriage vows” has no basis in Jewish ritual. This is a term that comes directly from the standard Christian wedding ceremony. That having been said, we should note that while there is a contract between husband and wife, and there is a statement to “Honor your father and your mother”, the two relationships are totally different in nature. Honoring ones parents does not necessarily mean agreeing with them on all issues. Being consecrated to one another similarly does not mean agreeing on all issues. Therefore, each issue of contention needs to be considered on its own merits.
Answered by: Rabbi John Sherwood, Deceased (z"l)
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