ג׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ה (March 23, 2015)

Ketubot 49a-b: Must a Father Support His Children?

Must a father support his children?

Strange as this may sound, of the Mishna seem to be in agreement that there is no obligation for a father to support his children, although it is certainly a mitzva for him to do so. This agreement notwithstanding, our Gemara quotes Rabbi Ilai who quotes Reish Lakish in the name of Rabbi Yehuda bar Hanina as teaching that a Rabbinic ordinance was established in Usha that obligates a father to support his children while they are minors. The Gemara goes on to relate a number of stories of Sages who employed various methods of public embarrassment to force reluctant parents to support their children.

When Rav Hisda was faced with such a situation, he forced the father to stand up publicly and announce “even a raven desires children and supports them, but I do not.” When Rav Yehuda had to deal with a case like this that was brought before him, he turned to the father and said, “Yarod fathered the child and now expects the community to support it!?”

The yarod invoked by Rav Yehuda is the subject of some disagreement among the commentaries. The Aramaic translation of tannin (jackal) is yarod but it is not clear that the tannin always refers to the same animal. In fact, Rashi offers different translations in different contexts, sometimes saying it is a bird, other times that it is an animal. In our case, some say it is a bird that does not care for its children; however most commentaries maintain that it refers to the jackal, which is cruel to its young. The Ritva points out that, according to this approach, Rav Yehuda is arguing that this parent is even worse than a yarod, which does not neglect to feed its own young despite its cruelty.