Must a father support his children?
Strange as this may sound, there does not seem to be a clear source in the Torah obligating a father to support his children, although it is certainly a mitzva for him to do so. In fact, the Mishna in Ketubot (52b) that is quoted in our Gemara teaches that if an agreement to support the children was not clearly written into the ketuba nevertheless the husband’s estate will be forced to support them after his death, because it is a tenai beit din – it is a required condition of marriage.
The Gemara quotes Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya who taught before the Sages in Kerem beYavne that the parallel language in the ketuba that guarantees that the sons will inherit and the daughters will be supported by his estate indicates that the promise to support the daughters comes into being at the same time as the inheritance, i.e. only after the man’s death. Thus during his lifetime there is neither a biblical, nor a rabbinic obligation for a father to support his children, even though the local court will place sanctions on a parent who does not do so (see Ketubot 49).
The Sages of Kerem beYavne were those who learned in the great yeshiva in Yavne, which was the seat of the Nasi after the destruction of the second Temple. According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the gathering was not called Kerem beYavne because of a vineyard that grew there (kerem = vineyard), but rather it was because the students sat in a series of long rows that were reminiscent of the standing vines of a vineyard. Since this was the gathering place of the majority of the Sages of that generation, it became known as the beit ha-va’ad – the gathering-place of the committee (of scholars). This is the place where the most serious issues of halakha – those that would impact on the future of the Jewish community in a particularly difficult period in history – were raised for discussion; therefore the decisions that were made in Kerem beYavne were treated with the greatest respect by all.