After learning that his son Yosef was still alive, the Torah tells us that Yaakov Avinu brought offerings “to the G-d of his father Yitzchak” (Bereishis 46:1). Rashi questions the mention of Yitzchak: Surely it is appropriate to refer to “the G-d of Avraham,” and not just to Yitzchak?
Citing the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 96:6), Rashi explains that the obligation to honor one’s father is greater than the obligation to honor one’s grandfather. Yaakov’s referring to Yitzchak, and bringing the sacrifice to the “G-d of Yitzchak,” was an act of honoring his father, giving his father precedence over Avraham, his grandfather.
From the words of Rashi it seems that while it may be a lesser obligation than one’s father, there is a full mitzvah to honor one’s grandparents. Is this the case? What are the parameters of the obligation to honor a grandparent? Is there a difference between paternal and maternal grandparents? Does the obligation to honor grandparents apply even after the relevant parent’s death? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Sources for the Grandchild-Grandparent Connection
Two principle sources in Chazal note the relationship between a grandfather and his grandchild.
One source is a Gemara in Kiddushin (30a), which teaches (citing a baraisa) that a grandfather is responsible to teach his grandson Torah. The Gemara bases this responsibility on the verse, “You shall make them known to your children, and your children’s children” (Devarim 4:9). Rabbi Yehoshua b. Levi extols the virtue of teaching a grandson Torah, stating that “one who teaches his grandson Torah is considered as though he received it [the Torah] from Sinai.”
Based on this principle, the Torah Temimah (Bereishis 46:1) says that a grandson is obligated to honor his grandfather. If the relationship between the two obligates the grandfather to educate his grandson, it should, all the more so, obligate the grandson to honor his grandfather.
A second source mentioning the special connection between grandson and grandfather relates to the mitzvah of procreation. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) teaches that even if a person’s children die (Heaven forbid) in his lifetime, he nonetheless continues to fulfill the mitzvah of peru urevu by means of his grandchildren—provided a grandson and granddaughter were born of a son and daughter. The reason for this, as the Gemara writes, is that “children of children are considered children.” This halacha is ruled by the Rambam (Ishus 16:5) and by the Shulchan Aruch.
The fact that grandchildren are considered as children seems sufficient grounds to obligate them in the mitzvah to honor their grandparents.
Yet, the proofs noted above can be deferred. Although a grandfather is required to ensure the education of his grandson, this obligation can be explained by the need to guarantee the continual Torah study of future generations. It does not prove the obligation of a grandson to honor his grandparents.
Even the statement that a grandchild is considered a child can be explained as a local statement regarding the mitzvah of procreation, and not a sweeping statement that applies to all aspects of the relationship between the two.
Indeed, authorities are divided over the obligation of a grandson to honor his grandparents. According to Shut Maharik (no. 30) no such obligation exists. Answering the question of whether a grandchild should recite kaddish in honor of his grandparents, Maharik writes that there is no difference between a grandchild and a non-family member, since grandchildren have no special obligation to honor their grandparents.
The Maharik mentions the statement of the Gemara whereby “grandchildren are considered children,” and explains that this is a specific ruling concerning the mitzvah of procreation, and can not be applied beyond this limited context.
The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 240:24) cites the ruling of Maharik, but does not concur: “Some say that there is no obligation to honor one’s father’s father. This does not seem to me correct; rather, a person is more obligated in his father’s honor than that of his grandfather.” The obligation to honor a grandfather will of course apply also to a person’s grandmother (Charedim, no. 12; see also Shut Shevus Yaakov, vol. 2, no. 94).
The source of the Rema, which he notes in Darkei Moshe (no. 14), is the Midrash quoted by Rashi, as cited at the outset of this article. Based on the Midrash, the Rema expresses wonder at the Maharik’s ruling. The Taz (as the Shach explains) likewise wonders how Shut Maharik failed to mention Rashi’s comment on the honor that Yaakov gave his father Yitzchak.
The Gilyon Maharsha (annotations to Shulchan Aruch 240:24) explains why the Maharik might have been unfazed by Rashi’s quotation of the Midrash. For one, we generally don’t derive halacha from midrashic sources (see, for instance, Rama of Fano, no. 36). Though this is not always the case, he adds that since sources in the Gemara (see below) appear to confirm the ruling of Maharik, is stands to reason that the Midrash will be deferred from halacha.
Moreover, the Ikrei Dinim (“Laws of Mourning,” no. 26) notes that the Midrash itself notes several solutions to the question of why specific mention is made of the G-d of Yitzchak, rather than the G-d of Avraham. Based on the other opinions mentioned by the Midrash, there is no proof that a grandson has an obligation to honor his grandfather.
Paternal and Maternal Grandchildren
The Rambam (Mamrim 5:3) rules that a grandson who curses his grandfather is comparable to cursing a stranger, meaning that the special stringency of cursing a parent does not apply. The Kessef Mishnah explains that this is derived from a Gemara (Makkos 12a) which teaches that a grandson can become the go’el hadam (avenger) for his father, even when the inadvertent killer is the father’s own father—the son’s grandfather. This implies that there is no special obligation of honor to grandparents.
The Yad Avraham (discussing the proof itself, without mentioning the Rambam) defers the proof from the Gemara, making a distinction between honoring a grandparent in a parent’s lifetime, and after the parent’s death (see further below). Yet, there is no indication that the Rambam endorses this distinction. Shut Teshuvah Me-Ahava (178) thus states that the Rambam sides with the opinion of the Maharik, whereby a grandson is not obligated to honor a grandparent.
In his glosses to Shulchan Aruch (no. 34), the Vilna Gaon adds a proof from a Talmudic source to the opinion of Maharik. The Gemara (Sotah 49a) records how Rav Yaakov, the grandson of Rav Acha b. Yaakov [the son of his daughter] told his grandfather: “I am not your son,” based on which he refused to bring him water. Rashi explains: “I am your grandson, and I do not have to honor you like a son.” This indicates that a grandson is not obligated to honor his grandfather (the proof is noted by the Maharsha, Sotah 49a).
However, after pointing out the seeming proof, Vilna Gaon suggests a refutation: “It seems to me that there is no obligation to honor one’s mother’s father, as the Midrash states.” The Yad Avraham (in his annotations) explains this short statement at greater length, writing that we can differentiate between a son’s son, who is considered the son of the grandfather, and a daughter’s son, who is not considered the grandfather’s son. This distinction emerges from the words of the Midrash itself, which states that “daughters of sons are considered children, and sons of daughters are not considered children.”
This understanding gives rise to an important halachic distinction, whereby the obligation to honor grandparents applies only to paternal grandparents, and not to maternal grandparents.
However, the distinction is not mentioned by the Rema and by most authorities, and the Ben Ish Chai (Second Year, Ki Teitzei) rejects it explicitly, writing that all grandchildren are included in the obligation. The Aruch Hashulchan (240:44) likewise rejects the distinction.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (responsa, volume 1, no. 68) makes a fascinating statement concerning the obligation of a grandchild to honor his grandparents. Quoting from Levias Chen, he writes that the obligation applies only in a parent’s lifetime; if the parent (who links the grandchild to the grandparent) dies in the grandparent’s lifetime, the mitzvah is no longer incumbent on the grandchild.
The distinction of Rabbi Akiva Eiger is grounded in the teaching of a Gemara in Kiddushin (31a), whereby a son is obligated to heed the instruction of his father over that of his mother, because both he and his mother are obligated to honor his father. Since the mother is also obligated to honor her husband, the honor of the father takes precedence over that of the mother.
Based on this reasoning, it is possible that the obligation to honor one’s grandparents is based on the obligation to honor one’s parents: A parent’s obligation to honor his own parents forms an obligation on him to also honor his grandparents. Of course, according to this rationale, the obligation applies only during the parent’s lifetime.
This rationale presents an elegant explanation for why a person is required to honor his father more than his grandfather. The obligation to honor one’s parent is a direct Torah instruction. The honor of one’s grandparent, however, is an indirect obligation, derived from the obligation to honor one’s parent. Accordingly, the direct mitzva is greater than the indirect mitzvah of honoring a parent’s parent.
Note that based on this rationale, there is no room to distinguish between paternal and maternal grandparents; the obligation to honor grandparents will apply to all, equally. Also, Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s rationale is not consistent with Rashi’s citation of the Midrash: Yitzchak was no longer alive at the time Yaakov brought his offerings. Thus, it seems that authorities who cite that Midrash will not concur.
Parents v. Grandparents
Based on the above Gemara, Shut Shem Aryeh (no. 1) writes that if a parent instructs his son to do something, and a grandparent (the same parent’s parent) instructs him to do the contrary, the grandchild should follow the grandparent’s instruction. Just as the case of a father and mother, the parent is required to honor the grandparent.
Accordingly, Shut Teshuva Me-Ahava (no. 178) writes that the statement of Rashi and the Midrash, whereby a person has a greater obligation of honor towards his father than towards his grandfather, applies only when the three are not simultaneously present. If both father and grandfather are present, the son/grandson would be obligated to honor his grandfather before his father, for his father is obligated to honor his own father.
However, based on the statement of Rabbi Akiva Eiger (above) there is room to differentiate between the cases. The grandchild’s obligation of honor is derived from his parent, so that there is only actually one obligation of honor—the parent’s obligation to honor his own parent. This is different from the case of father and mother, in which the two obligations of honor (the mother’s and the child’s) are independent of each other.
Yet, not all cases are the same. For instance, if both father and grandfather ask the son/grandson for a cup of water, it seems that even Rabbi Akiva Eiger will concede that the grandfather should be served first, since in any case the father would stand obligated to pass the cup of water to his own father, the grandfather.
- Shut Maharik and the Rema dispute if a grandchild is obligated to honor his grandparents. The Rambam appears to side with Maharik, but most authorities side with Rema, who obligates honoring one’s grandparents.
- The Midrash suggests a distinction between one’s paternal and maternal grandparents. However, this distinction is not generally mentioned by authorities, and does not apply if the obligation to honor grandparents is based on the obligation to honor parents.
- According to Rabbi Akiva Eiger, a person is only obligated to honor his grandparent’s in the lifetime of the respective parent. This is because the obligation to honor one’s grandparents is derived from the obligation to honor one’s parents.
- However, many authorities cite the Midrash concerning Yaakov Avinu (as quoted by Rashi) as a source for honoring grandparents. Since the episode took place after Yitzchak’s death, this indicates that we do not make Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s distinction.