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The In-Laws and Kibud Av V’Eim

The Pele Yoetz is a classical work, a compilation of traditional Jewish concepts and practice written by the great ethicist, Rabbi Eliezer Papo (1785-1828). First published in Constantinople in 1824, its influence continues due to its scholarly advice and direction on all aspects of day to day Jewish living. Topics are presented in the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Following is an adaptation found under the letter “ches” – chomiv v’chamoso – father-in-law and mother-in-law.

 Q: is there a difference in status between how one treats one’s parents vs one’s in-laws?

It is a well-known rabbinic teaching that one is obligated to render  respect to his father-in-law and mother-in-law (See Samuel I 24:12; Medrash Tehilim 7:4; Tur Yoreh Deah 240. King David refers to  his  father-in-law,  Shaol as avi, my father). While everyone is diligent in this regard as  with  one’s own parents, the principle obligation occurs after their passing: They should be given honor upon their demise and it is appropriate to render greater honor when living. This is especially true if the in-laws have no son of their own. Who might care for them, show compassion for them, if not the son-in-law? It is therefore befitting to demonstrate respect and care for them  while  they are living. Should they feel that they merited a good son-in-law, they will feel that their circumstances are even better than if they had given birth directly to a male progeny.

The case can also be made that in- laws are deserving of more respect than one’s own parents. Through them you have been presented with a lifelong companion, a means for channeling physical drives to  fulfilling mitzvahs and to building a Jewish home. There is a moral obligation of the highest order upon the husband not to be ungrateful and to exhibit gratitude to them for their raising their daughter. How many challenges needed to be overcome by the wife’s parents, hard work and diligence, until they reached the point of walking her down the  aisle  to  marry?  How can they possibly be fully repaid? It is therefore a great obligation not to be thankless and to relate to in-laws as a son to a parent.

Moreover, a husband needs to encourage his wife to be diligent and attentive  to   honoring   her   father- and mother-in-law for yet another reason. Our Sages observed  (Tana D’Bei Eliyahu Raba 27) that the Scripture places  the  Commandments of not being an adulterer immediately adjacent  to  honoring   one’s   parents to teach us that if someone is indeed married to a woman who is contentious and quarrelsome towards her in-laws, especially in their latter years when they are frail and needing assistance, it is as if he has committed adultery throughout his life time, as  this  woman  clearly was not intended as the  proper  wife for him. After overcoming the great hurdles and challenges of raising their son, how hurtful it assuredly becomes should their son marry someone who is the cause of such family discord. The son himself will become argumentative with his parents in defending his wife’s behavior and ultimately their own children will leave the household as the bantering and bickering will become unbearable.

Q: in that case, what is the daughter-in-law’s obligation to her in-laws?

a: The praiseworthy, G-d fearing woman should rather treat her in-laws like a king and queen. Her entire  focus should be on learning their wants and assisting them in every way possible. Should the wife, on the other hand, cause rancor – while the parents  were so yearning for tranquility but received instead misfortune – the wife will be repaid in kind for such misbehavior. [The son-in-law’s obligation were already noted above.]

Q: What if the in-laws are contentious and dictatorial?

a: It is a well known teaching of our Sages (Kiddushin 31a) that one can be wealthy and provide a parent with delicacies such as pheasant, yet nonetheless be destined to Gehinom, if he is resentful and rough in the presentation. On the other hand, the support can be minimal, but if rendered in a pleasant tone and with a respectful demeanor, he is destined to Gan Eiden.

Even if the in-laws are difficult and cantankerous, as if often the case with the elderly, following the mitzvah is only truly accomplished when done with a smile. One who does so, despite the difficulties, will be repaid many times over.

It is incumbent upon the husband to guide and direct his wife, placing great effort to her being accepting, patient and especially sensitive to his parents. Should  he  observe  that  she  seems  to be disrespectful, takes this obligation lightly, or even if in his view she is in the right, he should reprimand her in deference to his parents. Privately, he needs to appease his wife and maintain shalom bayis.

Q: What are the obligations of the in-laws themselves?

a: We know that true wisdom emanates from our elders. They need to serve as role models of common sense, tolerance and relate calmly to children’s spouse. If there is need to provide them with direction, it should be done privately. They should praise them publicly. Never publicly berate them. Certainly they should not share or reveal their disappointment to their own children, lest their children will come to  despise  their  spouses. Woe onto parents who generate such contentiousness. HKB”H allowed His very name to erased in order to preserve family unity and peace between husband and wife (See Tractate Shabbos 116a: G-d commands that His name become erased and dissolved in water to exonerate the Sota, Numbers 5:23).

It is far better that parents  withstand a thousand instances of being wronged by their child’s spouse than to cause one moment of machlokes between husband and wife.

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