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Do I Need To Honor My Mother-In-Law?

Do I Need To Honor My Mother-In-Law?

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Question:

Hi, I had a quick question. Is there somewhere where the halachah discusses the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in law? I was just wondering to what extent the law of "honor you parents" holds true in this case.

Answer:

You're right in assuming that there is an obligation to honor the in-laws, and that it may differ from the honor we must show parents.

The obligation to honor parents comes straight from the Torah—it's one of the Ten Commandments. But are your spouse's parents also considered your parents?

It seems that King David thought so. And his father-in-law, King Saul, wasn't exactly the easiest customer. In fact, Saul was out to kill David. When Saul walked into a cave where David was hiding, David had the opportunity to kill him first. Instead, he simply cut off a piece of Saul's skirt. When Saul left the cave, David ran after him. He presented the piece of cloth as evidence that he could have killed him but refrained from doing so and said, "See, my father, see again…"1

That's the verse from which we learn that a father-in-law is also a father. The law is codified in the Code of Jewish Law, therefore, that father-in-laws are to be honored.2 It logically follows that a mother-in-law is also a mother so that she too must be honored.3

But are they exactly the same as parents, or only sort of the same?

Rabbi Yoel Sirkes contends that David meant "my father" as an honorific title. He points out that elsewhere in the Torah the title "father" is used to address one's master or teacher and concludes that while one must honor his in-laws, the degree of honor due to them is not the same as the honor due to parents. He also points out that this appears to be the contention of the Code of Jewish Law.4

Hopefully, your mother-in-law is kinder to you than Saul was to David. Yet David taught us that no matter what the case, she deserves at least the sort of respect that is due to a wise teacher or an elderly person.

Footnotes
2.

Yoreh Deah 240:24.

3.

Bach to Tur ad loc.

4.

Ibid.

By Chabad.org Staff
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Simcha M Bart for Chabad.org February 14, 2016

Elderly in-laws There are similar issues with elderly parents who may be mentally ill - how do we treat them with respect, yet protect them as well? Here is an excerpt from the Laws of Kibbud Av Va-Em about this:
"If the mind of his father or mother is affected, one should make every effort to indulge the vagaries of the stricken parent, until G‑d will have mercy on the affected. But if the condition of the parent has grown worse and the son is no longer able to endure the strain, he may leave his father or mother provided he delegates others to give the parent proper care."

Personally, I have found getting a third party to speak to them, for example, their personal physician, can accomplish much more than the child. Reply

Anonymous New Rochelle February 8, 2016

I would love if you could address mentally ill mils? Mine has schizoaffective disorder and is not "plugged in" fully to reality. Also, where is a wife's place when it comes to dealing with very elderly in-laws who refuse to accept help and are still driving well into their 90's despite countless attempts to make them give it up. My frustration with them is never-ending. Reply

Rachel Florida April 1, 2014

To Karen Joyce in Riverside You describe what makes a bad mother in law: someone who curses and insults you (and attacks you). Well, you have described my mother in law. I am just fortunate that I have a kind and loving mom and dad. My husband is also thankful too because he had been looking for a nice and normal family to marry into after a lifetime of abuse from his own mother. Now he has my mom and he is healing quite nicely. We have asked his mom many times to stop attacking me and just to behave normally. She believes she has a right to behave the way she does and will not listen to input. It is no surprise she has no friends and has been fired from every job she ever held. I just feel terrible for my father in law who is held hostage to a loveless marriage with an emotionally abusive woman. Ladies, if you have a mother in law like mine, there is no need to "honor" her even though you are both Jews. Best you go "no contact" before she has the opportunity to inflict even more emotional harm. Reply

Maggie Eaddy suitland Md February 25, 2014

my mother-in-law My mother -in-law is a beautiful person but she's always wanted her son to please her. And I always thought that he was a mama's boy. But he passed away and thinking back maybe he was trying to honor mother as the bible teaches us. Which I did my mom. But she was in a nursing home but she will be getting out soon i am going to be mindful of things I say or dislike because I know she is 100 years old and we know we have to have patient with her. My two sons have helped me a lot to understand better about avoiding situations that lead to stress in your life I ask to help use their advice more in life about a lot of things. Reply

oppy Mamaroneck, N.Y. November 30, 2012

I have to admit, I've heard and seen some awful situations with in-laws. I am really fortunate... I absolutely adore my Mother and Father in Law. They're are extremely kind, loyal and good people. And yes, I truly love them and enjoy spending time with them. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA July 29, 2011

I understand your frustration, You feel very hurt, still, and are missing your mother. Also, the double standard your husband is showing you is like a slap in the face. You didn't say who told your mom she had to move, but I'll bet it was on your shoulders. If that was the last conversation you had with her before she died and it so hurt her feelings, you must feel so torn up inside. My opinion is that you need to go to a Rabbi whom you trust with your life, and pour your heart out to him. Also, find a psychologist and a marriage counselor (lucky if you find one person who is both) and pour your heart out to that person. They will help you know your options, but you have to be prepared for the consequences of any action or decision you make. Staying in your situation without making some change is NOT an option, because you are under stress. When I say "suck it up" it doesn't mean just do nothing. It means, be strong in faith and courage. Realize, too, it's not your mom in law you hate. It's the situation. Reply

Anonymous West Palm Beach, FL July 29, 2011

To Karen Bell from Anon in West Palm Beach First of all she is living with us and has no place to go, and doesn't want to support herself in her late 50's. Second when she and I have a disagreement she refuses to watch my daughter so she is really unreliable depending on her mood. Third when my mother was alive and living with us my husband told me that if I wanted to save our marriage she needs to go, even though she was older then his mom, and sick( we didn't know how sick)she moved to NY to be near her sister but died a year later alone in the hospital. Now I have a lot of guilt that my mother could not live with us but his mom is.Plus we don't have a spare room and she is sleeping on the livingroom couch. Do you still think that I have to suck it up even though I am in my early 40's and need my self respect and dignity! Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA July 28, 2011

What is a "bad" mother in law? 1. Someone who hates you, curses you out, insults you constantly, takes out her angers on you.
2. Someone who physically hurts or attacks you.
Other than that, it's all in the personalities. A difficult personality is not a bad mother in law. A son who loves and respects his mom is not a momma's boy. Suck it up, let go of your own need to be controlling. Learn to communicate. Respect begets respect. Usually. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI July 28, 2011

Honor Your Mother-in-Law? If you have a "bad" mother-in-law, you need to talk to your husband about. Even if HE thinks his mother's a pain, he won't love you for it - some husbands divorce their wives for not getting along with their mothers.

You need to know if your husband is a "mama's boy." Don't tell him to choose betweeen you and his mother, but you need to let him know that you married him, NOT his mother, and if he can't or won't stand up to his mother, tell him you will!

It's not enough to demand respect - it also has to be earned, and your mother-in-law needs to recognize that, If she won't, ban her from visiting. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA April 10, 2011

Dear Anon in Palm Beach, From how you described your mother in law, my advice would be to suck it up and be GRATEFUL you have her, and then just adjust to the situation. After all, you ARE in need of working, and she is doing all she can to support you and back you up. I remember that I took in my son and daughter in law, and she had the need to be in control, since she was a new wife and wanted to decide all sorts of things. It's a natural feeling, as a wife. Instead of being grateful to me, she cursed me out, insulted me, and ordered me around. She also felt as you do. Guess what? If you are not in the position of being the female head of the house because of financial necessity to work, you HAVE to accept your mother in law's ways and also her control. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy. You won't have her always. At some point, she'll become to OLD to do all those things, and need YOUR help. Then, she'll die. so, suck it up and say "Thank you" to her. Try ASKING her to help you adjust your feelings. Reply

Anonymous Palm Beach , Fl/USA April 7, 2011

mother in law My mother in law is currently staying with us, watching our daughter and is making me misearable. She tries to help but takes over and rearanges everything in the house. She also tries to contoll me by telling me when and how to do things, like prepare meals. Now I am afraid my husband will never let her go since he is used to her doing the cooking, the cleaning and watching our daughter when I work. I want to be respectfull but since my mother past a way 2 years ago I feel like I am betraying her and also loosing controll of my own home and self respect. Please tell me what to do in this situation. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA October 18, 2010

Dear Anon. Why would there be a difference? A parent is a parent. When you marry, you become one, and that makes your spouse's parents your parents. The only "obligation" is to make sure they never go without a roof over their head and go hungry (or without medical necessities). There is no other obligation. As far as "putting up with" verbal abuse? You're not obligated. However, 2 wrongs don't make a right. Don't escalate it. Avoidance is better. To which house do you go for each Holy Day? Those things are up to you guys. Please don't leave elderly seniors alone, however, on any holiday. My opinion, at least visit once a month? Shouldn't be too much to ask. One day, they may die. (May?) Then, you'll be wondering if you could have done more. Reply

Anonymous i October 18, 2010

isn't there a difference between a son-in-law's obligation and a daughter-in-law's obligation? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA October 17, 2010

Yes, it is important to show respect, EVEN when Even when you don't LIKE the mother in law. There are ways to get AWAY from the screaming and blaming, if that is what's happening. You always can have to suddenly go to the restroom, or rush out for something you forgot at the store. Or, you can say, "Thank you so much for visiting. I hope you can come another weekend" and then walk to the door and open it. Reply

Victor Mena Peralta Stockhom, Sweden October 17, 2010

Kindness and in-laws. Respect comes naturally from a kind heart. But for that to happen, you must first form yourselves with an attitude of doing good and forbidding evil. It is important to keep oneself clean inside the self. One way is to not say evil words or use foul language and to guard oneself from plotting evil things. It is easy to get creative regarding evil things, rather try to be creative regarding goodly things, things that are kosher. Things like helping the poor, the needy, the hungry, and all of that we kindly do for the cause of our Lord who made us upright.
Honesty and kindness strengthen our purpose in life and that enables us to live in harmony with our in-laws.

If some in-law yells at you or uses foul language, then don't let yourself be dragged down into the same behaviour. If this is the case then it is truly someone that has not reached yet to a higher level of intellectual development. We have a whole lifetime to learn and develop, don't let us waste that valuable time. Reply

Anonymous Riverside, CA, USA September 13, 2010

I have had problems with both daughters in law. The first one my older son married stole money from my bank after I got home from the hospital and she offered to care for me. All I had to do was give her my credit card and pin code so she could get money to buy food. She also yelled and cursed at me. When I bought her a dress for a gift, she said I was controlling what she wore. She left my son for a boyfriend she met on the internet, and left the girls behind. My son wanted a mom for the girls, so quickly re-married. This woman screeches at me and at him, and you can't communicate with her. She hates where she lives, hates the girls, and is very insulting. Unfortunately, they have a little boy together now. I tried to be nice to her and she put me down quickly saying she doesn't go for all that "nicey nice" warm and fuzzy or huggy stuff. She now is saying I'll never see her son because I don't like that she verbally abuses the girls. So much so one of the girls left to go with her bio mom. My son is AFRAID of her. Reply

Ms. Cheri Tamman via jewishbellingham.com August 24, 2010

"our purses" Thank you anonymous from Dallas, TX... I needed to hear that. As a new grandmother my purse has run dry..... Reply

Rocky L Stone Tulsa, OK August 23, 2010

If a person is forced to show respect Is it really respect if you show it, out of duty or are forced to act a certain way. I am not sure that the example of David not killing, was an example of respect or simply restraint. Scripture is filled with things done out if obligation. Respect is given, it is earned, but it is not something that can be forced. If in your heart you do not want to respect a mother in law, you may go through the motions, but....it that really respect? Reply

Steve northville, mi via novijewishcenter.com July 10, 2010

If one respects one's spouse Then how can one not respect the in-laws?
If you do not tend to the tree and roots how long will you derive pleasure of the fruit.

A good technique that one may consider is allow no one else to dictate what is right and wrong or the way it "should" be. Make an agreement that you do not speak in an ill manner about your in-laws and your spouse do the same with your parents.

Do not allow any seeds of discontent be implanted into your mind from other folks and especially thru childish jokes about in-laws.

If I respect myself, I respect my wife, then I must respect the source from which she originated from.
Not easy, but keep in mind that when the friction arises it is absolutely necessary to elevate the relationship to another level.
For it is impossible for any Genesis-generation to occur without friction. So it may be quite useful at times for our in-laws to "rub" us in such a way that feels uncomfortable.
"If you get irritated by every rub how will you get polished? "Rumi Reply

Randy H. Farb Flint, MI via chabadgn.com July 8, 2010

In-Laws Also, King David was descended from Ruth, who as we know, treated her mother-in-law Naomi as a mother. Reply

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