Maintain a Relationship with Your Divorced Father

It is forbidden for a divorced mother to separate her children from her ex-husband, even if he hurt her, and considers him evil * The mitzvah to honor parents, even if they are evil, is disputed among the poskim, but by all accounts, it is forbidden to hurt them * A son whose mother separated him from his father is duty-bound to get in touch with him and honor him, despite his mother’s wishes * At the same time the son must also maintain his mother’s honor, express appreciation for her, and make clear that the move is not directed at her * It is also forbidden to sever children’s ties to their grandparents * A mother’s account of her ex-husband’s exploits should be taken into consideration, but it is forbidden and immoral to accept them as absolute truth

A Painful Question from a Son of Divorced Parents

“When I was ten my parents got divorced, and since then I’ve been raised by my mother along with my brother and sister. We almost never met our father. We don’t even know his new wife and children, who in essence, are our half-brothers. Currently I am twenty-three years old, and considering trying to make contact with my father. A number of times he sent me hints of interest, but this would be very upsetting for my mother who claims that he is an evil person, and that any contact with him would be detrimental and have a bad influence, and that there is absolutely no mitzvah for us to honor him since he is evil.”

“To make the entire picture clear, I must point out the few times I met him, he treated me nicely. His parents – in effect, my grandparents – were also pleasant and nice, but we really didn’t have any relationship with them. My mother harbored serious allegations against my father and his parents. She said he had been unfaithful while they were married, and that his parents, who should have denounced him, continued backing him. My mother also claims he is violent. I remember from time-to-time she would complain that he did not pay child support on time and tried to make it conditional on visitation rights, but that since he is a dangerous and violent man, he does not deserve to see us.”

“Presently, I am debating: On the one hand, I want to get in touch with my father and my grandparents (whom I have no idea how they’re doing). I want to live a normal life like others who have a father to accompany them to the wedding canopy, and I want my future children to have grandparents. On the other hand, I know that if my mother hears about this she will get angry and extremely hurt, leading to her becoming genuinely sick.”

The Obligation to Make Contact

This question is difficult and painful, but from the outset, should never have arose at all, because the mitzvah of ‘kibud horim’ (honoring one’s parents) forbids a son from severing ties with his father, and it is also forbidden for a mother to cut-off her son from his father, causing him to continuously violate the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents.

Therefore, you are obligated to make contact with your father, and the sooner the better, because the mitzvah of honoring parents requires a relationship based on honor and a willingness to help when necessary, and cutting off contact demonstrates absolute disrespect, and is a blatant violation of the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. And even if it was clear that a father is considered a totally evil person, according to the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 240:18), his sons are obligated to honor him, i.e., to help him in all his needs. Even though according to the Rema (R. Moshe Isserles) sons are not required to honor an evil father, nevertheless, it is forbidden for them to offend him, and cutting-off ties with a father is considered a fatal blow to his honor.

While indeed in exceptional cases when a relationship with one’s parents constantly leads to clashes and difficult quarrels it is best to distance oneself a bit from them so as not to succumb to the serious prohibition of causing them physical harm, but even then, we are not talking about severing ties. In your case, however, there is absolutely no reason to assume that getting in touch with your father will lead to serious clashes.

Do Not Listen to Your Mother in Opposition to a Torah Mitzvah

Even if your mother asks you expressly not to contact your father, it is forbidden for you to listen to her. As the Torah says: “Every person must respect his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths. I am God your Lord” (Vayikra 19:3). From this we learn that if one’s parents told him to desecrate the Sabbath, he should not listen to them, because both he, and his parents, are commanded to honor God (Yevamot 5b). Thus, our Sages learned (Baba Metzia 32a) that this also holds true for all other mitzvot from the Torah, that if a person’s parents told their son to transgress a mitzvah – even a mitzvah of rabbinic status – it is forbidden to listen to them (S.A. Y.D. 240:15).

All the more so when it comes to the mitzvah of honoring parents, which, owing to its greater virtue, was included in the Ten Commandments as one of the first five commandments dealing with the relationship between man and God. As our Sages said (Kiddushin 30b), Scripture compares the honor due to parents to that of God, as it is written: “Every person must respect his mother and father” (Vayikra 19:3); and it is also written: “Remain in awe of God” (D’varim 10:20). In addition, our Sages said: “There are three partners in man, the Holy One, blessed be He, the father, and the mother. When a man honors his father and his mother, the Holy One, blessed be He, says: ‘I ascribe to them as though I had dwelt among them, and they had honored Me.”

Placate Your Mother

Nevertheless, it is a mitzvah for you to dispel your mother’s fears that ties with your father will harm your relationship with her. You need to tell her most convincingly how much you appreciate her dedication towards you and your siblings, and for that, you will always be indebted. Try to describe in detail beautiful memories from your childhood days, and all the time and effort she has invested in you, and list the positive things you have learned from her. Repeatedly emphasize that your connection with your father is not an expression in any way of distancing yourself from her, and not a justification for any of his supposed bad behavior.

Nevertheless, if you are certain you will be unsuccessful in allaying her fears, and that she is liable to fall ill if she hears about the relationship with your father, presently you are allowed to deviate from the truth and hide from her your relationship with your father, for as we have learned, one is permitted to deviate from the truth in the interest of peace, (Yevamot 65b). When the appropriate time comes, you can tell her about it.

In any event, however, even if it is clear she will find out, get upset, and even become ill – you must contact your father and honor him, as the Torah says: “Honor your father and mother” (Sh’mot 20:11; D’varim 5:15). Your mother bears the responsibility for her own grief for improperly cutting you off from your father.

Honoring Grandparents

Severing ties with grandparents is also prohibited, since a derivative of the mitzvah to honor parents is honoring one’s grandparents. First, because one’s grandchildren are considered as his own children, and also, because included in the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents is to honor their parents.

However, among the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) there is disagreement about the requirements of the mitzvah: according to most authorities, the main obligation towards grandparents is to treat them with great respect, but grandchildren are not required to assist them with all their needs, in contrast to helping their parents. For example, if a grandfather is sick and needs help eating and getting dressed, even though by taking care of him grandchildren fulfill a great mitzvah, nevertheless, they are not obligated to stop working in order do so; rather, this obligation rests solely on the sons. Other authorities are of the opinion that the duty of honoring grandparents is exactly the same as honoring parents, only that regarding the order of priority, parents come first.

In any case, all poskim are in agreement that grandchildren are obligated to maintain a good relationship with their grandparents and respect and learn from them; but your situation of withdrawing from them – to the point where you don’t even know how they’re doing – is a terrible situation, in total contradiction of the mitzvah. Who knows? It could be they’ve been hoping you would get in touch with them for years, but by now, they are already old and forgetful, and will never be able derive pride and joy from a relationship with you.

The Mother’s Version: Loshon Ha’Ra

Regarding what you wrote about your mother saying that your father was cheating on her, and that his parents refused to condemn him but rather backed him, and that he’s violent – all this falls under the category of loshon ha’ra (derogatory speech) which is forbidden to believe. Namely, it is forbidden for you to believe the account is true, as the Torah says: “Do not accept a false report” (Sh’mot 23:1), and our Sages said (Mekhilta, ibid.): “This is a warning against believing loshon ha’ra” (Chafetz Chaim, Laws of Loshon Ha’ra 6:1). However, it is permitted to be concerned that perhaps it is true; consequently, if someone were to tell you that your father is liable to steal your money, it would be permissible for you to be careful about granting him a loan, etc. However, it is forbidden to believe loshon ha’ra, and decide that indeed, it is true (ibid, 6:10).

The Logic and Morality in the Prohibition of Believing Loshon Ha’Ra

Many people mistakenly believe that despite almost certainly the mother and her relatives are telling the truth, and that the father actually did commit adultery, nonetheless, the Torah commands us to hermetically seal our thoughts – in contradiction to all logic and rationale – and deny the story. However, if we delve deeper and examine the prohibition of believing loshon ha’ra, we will find its logic and morality.

First of all, every story has numerous details, and sometimes altering one detail can change the entire story. Therefore, in Beit Din (Jewish court of law), no story is believed to be true without hearing all versions and a thorough investigation of the witnesses. It could be, for example, that the person who testified the father betrayed his wife, meant that he was in a relationship with another woman, and perhaps even had physical contact with her, but did not actually commit the sin of adultery. Or perhaps there was evidence of contact with another woman during or after the divorce, but according to the assessment of those close to your mother, the relationship started even before that; in truth, however, it began only after the divorce. It is also clear that your mother’s hurt is likely to lead her to harsh conclusions about him.

Secondly, even if there was adultery, you do not know what type of tests and trials your father had to cope with. Some people’s yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) is so strong that it’s extremely difficult for them to fight it, and ‘Bochain Levavot’ (God, the examiner of hearts) judges them favorably, and punishes them leniently. Likewise, a person forced to cope with extremely difficult tests that only few are able to overcome, cannot be compared to someone who willfully sins.

Third, even if adultery was committed under severe circumstances, perhaps in the meantime your father did ‘teshuva‘ (repented), and as a result, is no longer the same person. As our Sages have said: “Great is repentance, for because of it, ‘zadanot’ (premeditated sins) are accounted as ‘shgagot’ (unintentional errors)” (Yoma 86b), and if it is done completely and out of love, repentance also turns ‘zadonot’ to ‘zechuyot‘ (merits); and in the place where penitents stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand (Berachot 34b).

Consequently, the prohibition in believing loshon ha’ra is logical and moral.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

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