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31b: Honoring Parents (1)

Rav Michael Siev

A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

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Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.

This week, we will continue with the gemara on daf 31b. This does mean that we are skipping about a daf or so of Gemara, but I think that doing so will make our learning more productive and rewarding.

Recall that our mishna on 29a discussed the obligations of a father toward his children, which are exclusive to the father as opposed to the mother. On the other hand, the mishna ruled that obligations children have toward their parents apply equally to sons and daughters. The gemara expounds on this and discusses the laws of kibbud av va-em, honoring one's father and mother, which is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. In the interim, the gemara also explains the importance of this mitzva, and brings some famous passages in this regard. The gemara on 30b teaches that a father and mother are considered partners with God in the creation of their children, and on 31a the gemara relates the story of Dama ben Netina, the non-Jewish man who gave up a chance to earn a fortune because it would have involved his inconveniencing his father.

We begin at a later stage of the gemara's discussion, on the second long line of 31b.  


The rabbis taught: [A child must] honor him (=his father) in his life and honor him in death.

In his life how?

That which is heard of his father's words in a place (if his father is respected in a place),

he should not say: "Send me for myself, hurry me for myself, let me take leave for myself,"

rather all of them because of (for the sake of) father.


In death how?

[If he] was saying a teaching in his name (lit. from his mouth),

he should not say: "Thus said Father,"

rather: "Thus said Father my master, [may] I atone for his resting place."

And these words - within twelve months;

From there and on, he says: "His memory is a blessing for life in the World to Come."

ת"ר (=תנו רבנן): מכבדו בחייו ומכבדו במותו.

בחייו כיצד?

הנשמע בדבר אביו למקום,

לא יאמר: שלחוני בשביל עצמי, מהרוני בשביל עצמי, פטרוני בשביל עצמי,

אלא כולהו בשביל אבא.

במותו כיצד?

היה אומר דבר שמועה מפיו,

לא יאמר: כך אמר אבא,

אלא כך אמר אבא מרי, הריני כפרת משכבו.

והני מילי תוך שנים עשר חדש;

מכאן ואילך, אומר: זכרונו לברכה לחיי העולם הבא.     

The beraita here teaches that the mitzva of kibbud av va-em applies both while one's parents are alive and after they have passed away. If one is in a place where one's father, for example (the same would presumably hold true regarding one's mother), is respected, one should request assistance on their merit rather than one's own merit. If people are quick to help when one induces the merits of one's father, that itself is an honor to one's father. Thus, instead of saying "let me take leave for my own sake," one should request that he be allowed to take leave for the honor of his father.

The particular example of honoring parents after their death is with regard to how one refers to them. One should not simply quote one's father; one should call him "Father, my master," and add: "I am an atonement for his resting place." This expresses the son's devotion in that he would like to atone for his father's misdeeds by receiving punishment for them in this world, so as to spare his father the experience of punishment in the spiritual world. Such punishment only extends for a maximum of twelve months; therefore, this addition should no longer be recited at that point. Instead, one should add that "his memory is a blessing for life in the World to Come." This addition is generally abbreviated to zikhrono li-vrakha, which is further abbreviated to z"l (pronounced "zal").

Back to the Gemara

We are seven lines from the bottom of 31b.


The rabbis taught: A sage changes the name of his father and the name of his teacher,

a spokesman does not change the name of his father or the name of his teacher.

The father of whom?

If you say the father of the spokesman,

do you think that the spokesman is not obligated?


Rather, Rava said: the name of the father of the sage and the name of the teacher of the sage;

like that of Mar bar Rav Ashi, when he would expound at the lecture,

he would say "Father, my master,"

and his spokesman would say, "So said Rav Ashi."

תנו רבנן: חכם משנה שם אביו ושם רבו,

תורגמן אינו משנה לא שם אביו ולא שם רבו.

אבוה דמאן?

אילימא אבוה דמתורגמן,

אטו תורגמן לאו בר חיובא הוא?

אלא אמר רבא: שם אביו של חכם, ושם רבו של חכם;

כי הא דמר בר רב אשי כי הוה דריש בפירקא,

איהו אמר אבא מרי,

ואמוריה אמר הכי אמר רב אשי.

The beraita here introduces another law that reflects the honor that one must show one's parents and teachers. If a rabbi teaches a lesson and quotes his father or teacher, he should not mention them by name. The spokesman (turgeman), however, need not "change the name," and may say the name of the person quoted by the lecturing rabbi. The turgeman was a position that existed in Talmudic times. The rosh yeshiva would typically deliver a lesson to the assembled students; instead of raising his voice to lecture to everyone assembled, he would explain the lesson in a lower voice and the turgeman would then repeat the lesson for all the students to hear. The beraita teaches that while the lecturing scholar should not mention his father or teacher by name when he teaches, the turgeman is permitted to do so.

The gemara questions the meaning of this ruling: whose father are we talking about? It does not seem to make sense to assume that the beraita permits the turgeman to pronounce the name of his own father or teacher. After all, the foundation of the beraita's ruling is that Halakha deems it inappropriate for one to refer to one's father or teacher by name. Why should the turgeman be exempt from one of the rules of honoring parents and teachers? Rather, Rava explains, the beraita must refer to mentioning the name of the scholar's father or teacher. In support of this thesis he brings the precedent of Mar bar Rav Ashi. When he would deliver lectures, Mar bar Rav Ashi would not mention his father by name, instead referring to him as "Father, my master." However, his amora (similar to turgeman), when repeating the lesson to the other students, would quote Rav Ashi by name.


Why would we have thought that the turgeman may not refer to the scholar's father or teacher by name?

And why does the beraita choose to teach us a general law, that one may not refer to one's father or teacher by name, with the specific, unique situation of a scholar and a turgeman?

It seems to me that the beraita takes it for granted that people must not mention their fathers or main teachers by name. The case of the sage and the spokesman is unique in that the spokesman may be viewed as simply amplifying the words of the sage. Thus, whatever he says may be deemed as coming from the mouth of the sage himself. This being the case, there is room to say that if the turgeman mentions the name of the sage's father or teacher, it may look as though the sage himself mentioned those names. Similarly, we would entertain a possibility that the turgeman can say the name of his own father or teacher, since he is not speaking on his own behalf but rather on behalf of the lecturing rabbi. The beraita therefore teaches that although the turgeman's role is to publicize the teachings of the lecturer, he is in fact considered to be speaking as his own person. He therefore is bound by his own obligations to honor is parents and teachers, which are not identical to those of the lecturer.

With regard to the issue of calling one's father (or mother or teacher) by his name, the issue is taken so seriously by the posekim (halakhic authorities) that the Rambam (Hilkhot Mamrim 6:3) rules that one may not even refer to someone else by name if he has the same name as one's father. This applies in the presence of the father, or if his name is uncommon, even when he is not around. The Rama (YD 240:2) rules in accordance with this Rambam. Later authorities note that the potential problem seems to be that one's father will assume that his son is referring to him, which would be disrespectful. Therefore, in a situation in which the father would have no reason to make this assumption, there is room for leniency. Based on this, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe YD 1:133) rules that in a social context in which sons never refer to their fathers by their first names, a father would have no reason to assume that the son was referring to him, and the prohibition does not apply; unless the name is so uncommon as to cause confusion in this regard.

Back to the Gemara

We are three lines from the bottom of 31b.


The rabbis taught: What is awe and what is honor?

Awe - he doesn't stand in his place and doesn't sit in his place


and does not contradict his words and does not decide him (a matter in which his father is involved).

Honor - he gives him to eat and drink, dresses and covers him,

takes him in and out.

ת"ר (=תנו רבנן): איזהו מורא, ואיזהו כיבוד?

מורא - לא עומד במקומו, ולא יושב במקומו,

ולא סותר את דבריו, ולא מכריעו;

כיבוד - מאכיל ומשקה, מלביש ומכסה,

מכניס ומוציא.

The beraita quoted here frames its fundamental question in a direct way: what exactly is included in the obligations of kibbud (honoring) and mora (lit. "fearing," or being in awe of) one's parents? The question assumes that there are in fact to separate mitzvot of honoring and fearing one's parents. This is apparent from the Chumash, which contains separate commands for each of these two elements of the parent-child relationship. In Shemot (20:11, and again in Devarim 5:15) the Torah commands children to honor their parents. In Vayikra (19:3) the Torah commands that children fear their parents. Our beraita wonders what exactly is required based on these obligations, and what the differences are between the two.

The beraita explains that mora prohibits one from standing or sitting in one's father's (or mother's) place, from contradicting him, or from even expressing a clear opinion or judgment about a discussion in which his father has taken part. Even if the child confirms his father's opinion in the matter, the very fact that he expresses an opinion indicates that he considers himself worthy of judging his parents, and this compromises the mora that he is supposed to feel toward them.

The beraita also explains the requirements of kavod: One must give one's parents to eat and drink, dress and cover them, and help transport them as necessary. 

It is instructive to note that the list presented in the beraita of things included in kibbud av va-em exclusively relates to services that a child can do for his parent. There no mention, however, of a blanket obligation to listen to what one's parents tell one to do. This issue is the subject of considerable debate. Some authorities maintain that this is included in the obligation of kibud av va-em despite its omission from our beraita while others disagree. Some suggest that it is not part of the obligation of kibud, but that disobeying one's parents may be a violation of "contradict[ing] his words," which is part of the mitzva of mora. The Chazon Ish suggests that it is not officially covered under kibud or mora but that these mitzvot teach us the type of relationship one should have with one's parents, and that one ramification of that relationship is that one should listen to what one's parents say in a general sense. In a practical sense, it seems that one should listen to one's parents, or at least not publicly disregard their instructions; however, parents do not have the power to control their children's lives or to make unreasonable demands on them.

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