The verse (Bereishis 46:1) describes Yaakov Avinu‘s having brought offerings before the G-d of his father, Yitzchak. Rashi questions; why did the Torah mention his father Yitzchak, and not his grandfather Avraham? Quoting from the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 96:6), Rashi answers that the obligation to honor one’s father is greater than the obligation to honor one’s grandfather.
We learn from the words of Rashi that although it is a less important obligation than the commandment to honor parents, there is a full Torah-obligation to honor one’s grandparents. As we will see, this obligation is far from obvious, and its definition and laws are worth reflecting upon.
Are Grandchildren like Children?
There are two principle sources in Chazal that stress the special relationship between a grandfather and his grandchild, and from which it could be possible to deduce a grandson’s obligation towards his grandparents.
One source is a Gemara in Kiddushin (30a), which teaches that a grandfather is responsible to teach his grandson Torah, quoting the verse, “You shall make them known to your children, and your children’s children.”
From this principle, Torah Temimah (Bereishis 46:1) derives that a grandson is obligated to honor his grandfather. If the relationship between the two obligates the grandfather in the education of his grandson, all the more so should the relationship obligated the grandson in honoring his grandfather.
A second source that mentions the special connection between grandson and grandfather relates to the mitzvah of procreation. The Gemara teaches us that even if chas v’echalila, a person’s children die in his lifetime, he nonetheless continues to fulfill the mitzvah of peru urevu through his grandchildren—provided that 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.”
The mere fact that grandchildren are considered as children would seem to be sufficient grounds to obligate them in the mitzvah of honoring their grandparents.
The Obligation of Honoring One’s Grandparents
However, these proofs are not conclusive, and can be easily 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 erudition of future generation, and does not prove the obligation of a grandson to honor his grandparents.
Even the statement whereby 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, we find that authorities are divided over the very obligation of a grandson to honor his grandparents. According to Maharik (no. 44) no such obligation exists. Answering the question if 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, as grandchildren have no special obligation of honor towards their grandparents.
That which the Gemara states that grandchildren are considered children, continues Maharik, is a specific ruling concerning the mitzvah of procreation.
Rema (Yoreh De’ah 240:24) cites the ruling of Maharik, and proceeds to differ: “Some say that there is no obligation to honor one’s father’s father. This does not seem to me to be correct; rather, a person is more obligated in his father’s honor than that of his grandfather.” The source of Rema, as he mentions in Darkei Moshe (no. 14) is the Midrash quoted by Rashi, based on which he expresses wonder at the opinion of Maharik, who seemingly overlooked the Midrash.
Several commentaries explain that Maharik was not disturbed by the presence of the Midrash. One reason for this is the principle whereby halachic rulings are not derived from midrashic sources (see Rema of Fano, no. 36). Gilyon Maharsha explains that this is all the more in the case at hard, where Talmudic sources appear to confirm the opinion of Maharik, as will be seen below.
Another reason, as noted by Ikrei Dinim (Laws of Mourning, no. 26), is that the Midrash itself notes a number of solutions to the question of why the verse makes specific mention of the G-d of Yitzchak, rather than the G-d of Avraham. According to the other opinions mentioned by the Midrash, there is no proof that a grandson has any obligation of honor towards his grandfather.
Paternal and Maternal Grandchildren
We thus find a dispute among authorities as to the mitzvah of honoring one’s grandparents. According to Rema, a person is obligated to honor one’s grandfather—an obligation that would also apply to one’s grandmother (Charedim, no. 12; see also Shevus Yaakov, vol. 2, no. 94)—whereas according to Maharik, no obligation applies. The opinion of Rambam, corresponds to that of Maharik.
In his glosses to Shulchan Aruch (no. 34), the Vilna Gaon brings a proof from a Talmudic source to the opinion of Maharik. The Gemara records how the grandson of Rav Acha b. Yaakov [the son of his daughter] told his grandfather, “I am not your son.” Rashi explains: “I am your grandson, and I do not have to honor you like a son.” This seems to indicate that a grandson is not compelled to honor his grandfather, in accordance with the ruling of Maharik. This proof has already been noted by Maharsha (Sotah 49a).
However, after pointing out the seeming proof, Vilna Gaon continues to suggest a deferral of the proof: “It seems to me that there is no obligation to honor one’s mother’s father, as the Midrash states.” The Vilna Gaon’s short words are written at greater length in the annotations of Yad Avraham, who explains that there is room to differentiate between a son’s son, who is considered the son of the grandfather, and a daughter’s son, who is not considered his 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 would give rise to an important halachic distinction, whereby the obligation to honor grandparents applies only to paternal grandparents, and not to maternal grandparents. It is noteworthy that Ben Ish Chai (Second Year, Ki Teitzei) rejects this distinction, writing explicitly that all grandchildren are included in the obligation.
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (pesakim, 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.
This distinction is grounded in the teaching of a Gemara in Kiddushin (31a), whereby a son is obligated to heed the instruction of his father before that of his mother, because both he and his mother are obligated to honor his father. Because 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, one could suggest that the obligation to honor one’s grandparents is based on the obligation to honor one’s parents: The parent’s obligation to honor his own parents forms an obligation on the son to honor the grandparents. Of course, according to this rationale, the obligation would only apply during the parent’s lifetime.
According to this rationale, there is no distinction between paternal and maternal grandparents; the obligation to honor grandparents would apply to all, equally.
Parents v. Grandparents
Based on the above Gemara, Shem Aryeh (no. 1) writes that if a parent instructs his son to do something, and a grandparent (the parent’s parent) instructs him of the contrary, the grandchild should follow the grandparent’s instruction, because his parent is required to honor the grandparent.
Accordingly, 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 the grandfather before his father, for even the father is obligated in his own father’s honor.
This rationale also 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, which is 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.
A further practical ramification of the above rationale is the requirement of honoring a person’s great-grandfather. Based on parents’ obligation to honor their own parents, we would assumedly follow the chain upwards (the grandparents are also obligated to honor their parents), thereby compelling all generations to honor the previous generations, however far removed. Concerning this question, see Yosher Horai (chap. 16, no. 24).
- Maharik and Rema dispute as to whether or not a grandchild is obligated to honor his grandparents. 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 would 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; a rationale that has a number of additional ramifications.
 This would imply that the obligation only extends to grandparents, and not to great-grandparents. See further, where we have expounded on this matter.
 Taz similarly expresses wonder at how Maharik ignores the explicit teaching of Rashi. As Shach explains, Taz was more bothered by Maharik’s failure to note Rashi’s commentary on Torah, than his failure to note the Midrash—for the commentary of Rashi is known to all.
 This is derived by Teshuvah Me-Ahava (178) from the ruling of Rambam (Mamrim 5:3) that a grandson who curses his grandfather is comparable to cursing a stranger. Kessef Mishnah explains that this ruling is derived from a Gemara (Makkos 12a) which teaches that a grandson can become the go’el hadam for his father, against his grandfather (if the grandfather inadvertently killed the father), implying that there is no obligation of honor to grandparents. Yad Avraham defers the proof from the Gemara itself by making a distinction between honoring a grandparent in a parent’s lifetime, and after the parent’s death (see below). Yet, Rambam does not appear to endorse this distinction.