An often stated comment by parents of newly married children is that they have “gained a son or a daughter.” And while much has been written about the commandment to honor one’s mother and father, a newly married individual might wonder exactly how they are supposed to treat their new in-laws.

Although the Torah does not specifically state honor your father-in-law and mother-in-law, there are several biblical narratives from which we can learn that imperative. The relationship of Ruth and Naomi is perhaps the best known example. Even after her husband dies, Ruth stays with her mother-in-law and accompanies her back to Judea, Naomi’s homeland. After they cross into the Land of Israel (and Ruth’s conversion to Judaism), Ruth goes out into the fields to collect the pauper’s leftovers in order to support herself and Naomi (Book of Ruth).

Another excellent demonstration of respectful in-law relations is Exodus 4. Just after God speaks to Moses at the burning bush, instructing him to go to Egypt and lead the Jewish people to freedom, the Torah notes that “Moses went and returned to Jethro his father-in-law, and said to him: ‘Let me go, please, to my brothers that are in Egypt, and see whether they are still alive.’ Jethro then said to Moses: ‘Go in peace’” (Exodus 4:18). Although God had just instructed Moses to go on an important mission, Moses first went to ask his father-in-law’s permission.

In the oral law, the subtle cues of the Torah are formulated as outright law. Thus, we find that the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law – Yoreh Deah 240:24) clearly states that the obligation to honor one’s parents extends to one’s in-laws as well. However, when one is in a room with both one’s parents and one’s in-laws, honoring one’s own parents takes priority, since it is a clearly stated Torah commandment.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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