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This is a question I have always had a hard time getting an answer for and I was hoping somebody would be able to explain it.

Honoring your parents is one of the most basic mitzvah in all of Judaism. It's famously one of the original ten which was given to the Jewish people.

How exactly does this work for somebody who comes from an abusive household? Is a person excused from their responsibilities of honoring this Mizvah if they come from a background where the obligations of parenthood were never actually met and honored on their parent's end of things?

In the worst examples, Hashem obviously isn't going to hold a child to the law if they come from a background of physical/sexual/emotional abuse, right?

I was curious as to what the Torah and Rabbis had to say on this subject.

5

I found an issue which addresses not directly your question but regards the right behavior regarding the kibbud av vaem when the parents have an inappropriate way of life concerning the halacha, or when they did not behave righteously in the past and repented.

Shulchan Aruch YD 240, 19:

A bastard has a duty to honor his father and to fear him. Even if his father was a miscreant and a sinner, one should honor him and fear him.

Annotation (from the RMA) Some say that one has no duty to honor him if his father is miscreant, only if he is repented (Tur and Mordechai in chapter "Ketsad', annotations on Maimonides sixth chapter of" mamrim")

Tur (above cited):

Rambam wrote: A bastard has a duty to honor his father and his mother, despite that he is exempt from punishment for blows and curses unless they repent. Even if his father was miscreant and sinner, one should honor and fear him. It seems to me (the author of the Tur says this) that because he is miscreant, one has no duty to honor him. We see this from the Gemara Baba Kama 94: "'Where the father left them a cow or a garment or anything which could [easily] be identified, they are liable to restore [it], in order to uphold the honour of the father the earlier clause similarly spoke of them. But why should they be liable to restore in order to uphold the honour of the father? Why not apply to them [the verse] 'nor curse the role, of thy people', [which is explained to mean.] 'so long as he is acting in the spirit of 'thy people'?!  - As however, R' Phinehas [elsewhere] stated, that the thief might have made repentance, so also here we suppose that the father had made repentance." The Gemara answers that the sons have a duty to honor their deceased father because he repented. Thus, if he did not repent, there is no duty to honor him.

Bet Yosef:

The Bet Yosef explained that the root of the difference of opinion comes from the understanding of a Mishna in the second chapter of Masechet Yevamot (Mishna 5). The Gemara asked why is the bastard punishable of death for blowing and cursing his father? this father is not acting as his people acts. The Gemara answered that the father already repented. The Rif clarified that the son is exempt from punishment, but the prohibition to hit and curse remains even when the father is miscreant or sinner. The Rif gives a proof from the Gemara Sanhedrin 85a, there, the Gemara said that the son cannot be dispatched by the tribunal to make use of force against his father. The Rif deduced from this Gemara that despite the fact that the father is a sinner, the prohibition to blow and curse remains. The Bet Yosef rejected the proof of the Tur in a short Pilpul.

Bait Chadash:

The Bach gives a proof for the Rambam view from the Midrash which says that Tora gives account of the death of Terach before she tells us the loss of Avraham, contrary to chronogical order. The Midrash says that it was intentional in way to mask the lack of honor from Avraham to his father. Indeed, Terach was a miscreant. The Bach made the Tur's opinion less extreme than it seems by a simple lecture, he said that The Tur allowed to skip the mitsva to honor and fear when this is only by inaction. But finally the Bach conclusion is to follow the stringency of the Rambam.

Conclusion: two views in halacha concerning the honor of bad father and mother, everybody stated that the fact that one parent does not behave righteously, the duties toward him are weaker. Everybody stated that if he did repent the duties of the son come back.

whole answer

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A relevant story in the Talmud (Kiddushin 31b) is the case of Rav Assi, who honoured his senile mother to the best of his ability, but left her when she made inappropriate advances towards him.

Without getting into an analysis of the agada, the Rambam uses it as a basis for his ruling on 'confused' parents:

מִי שֶׁנִּטְרְפָה דַּעְתּוֹ שֶׁל אָבִיו אוֹ שֶׁל אִמּוֹ מִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִנְהֹג עִמָּהֶם כְּפִי דַּעְתָּם עַד שֶׁיְּרֻחַם עֲלֵיהֶן. וְאִם אִי אֶפְשָׁר לוֹ לַעֲמֹד מִפְּנֵי שֶׁנִּשְׁתַּטּוּ בְּיוֹתֵר יְנִיחֵם וְיֵלֵךְ לוֹ וִיצַוֶּה אֲחֵרִים לְהַנְהִיגָם כָּרָאוּי לָהֶם:

"One whose father or mother have lost their senses should attempt to behave appropriately with them until [G-d] has mercy on them. And if it is impossible to bear this, because they are very disturbed, one should leave them and arrange for others to look after them in an appropriate fashion." (Hilchot Mamrim, 6:10, although note that Raavad disagrees with the possibility of leaving one's parents.)

I think there is room to apply some of this to an abusive or mentally-ill parent.

1

Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin wrote an article about this. The following are relevant passages with some additions of my own:

In the Chidushei Rabbeinu Yaakov me’Lublin ve’Rabbeinu Heshel me’Krakaw (in the Tur Hachodosh) it states that if the father is acting like a rosha then the son is permitted to insult him [lehachlimo]. While the Rambam and the Mechaber (YD 240:19) rule that there is an obligation to honor a wicked parent, the Ramo (ibid) and the majority of poskim disagree. The Oruch Hashulchan (240:33) rules like the Ramo.

And

The Yam Shel Shlomo then relates a dispute between the Rambam (Mamrim 6:10) and Ravad (ibid) regarding the obligation to personally care for a parent who acts inappropriately. He distinguishes between such behavior when it is due to tiruf ha’daas (e.g., suffering from Alzheimer’s disease) where according to the Ravad there is such an obligation, and where the parent is acting out of ro’ah lev (a wicked heart) where there is no such obligation. While we do not hesitate to describe acting out teens as having a lev rah (wicked heart), we resist thinking of abusive parents as acting out of ro’ah lev. However, the Yam Shel Shlomo (Kiddushin 1:64) and others recognize this possibility and make it clear that there is no obligation for a child to honor such a parent. Where possible, it is best for the child to move away. However when not possible, according to these poskim a child is permitted to take steps to protect himself from abuse and can seek recourse in a beis din after the fact.

And

Harav Dovid Cohen shlit”a has stated [see addendum] that if interacting with an abusive parent makes a person emotionally ill then the child is exempt from this obligation. Since one is not required to spend more than a fifth of his assets for a mitzvas aseh then certainly one is not required to make himself sick. Obligating abused children to unconditionally honor their abusing parents will almost certainly exacerbate their emotional distress and/or disability and they are therefore, not obliged to do this.

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    Here's another article by Rabbi Mark Dratch that appeared a number of years ago in Hakirah (hakirah.org/Vol%2012%20Dratch.pdf); it's a treatment on this subject. – Shmuel Brown Feb 16 '17 at 21:07
  • @ShmuelBrown I haven't checked it out yet, but feel free to post your own answer. – mevaqesh Feb 16 '17 at 21:10
  • Why downvote a direct sourced answer, commentless downvoter? – mevaqesh Feb 21 '17 at 14:24
  • I think the Rambam quote is Mamrim 6:10. But I don't see where Ravad makes that distinction that YSS claims he does. Do you know? – Josh May 17 '17 at 12:08
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    @Josh He says this to reconcile Raavad's comment in halakha 10 (in the published editions) and the gemara kiddushin 31b with Rav Assi. – mevaqesh May 17 '17 at 15:23

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