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    Honor is best given rather than received. We are required to honor Torah scholars, older family members, and the elderly in general. However, this becomes complicated when we face conflicting priorities. When faced to choose between two or more family members, whose honor comes first? When dealing with family situations, halakhah offers guidelines although you always have to remember that individual circumstances can differ.

    A parent takes priority over others because kibud av ve-em is a core mitzvah. The Gemara (Kiddushin 31a) asks what to do if both a mother and a father at the same time ask a child to bring them water. It is good parenting policy to avoid such conflicts. But when they occur, the Gemara concludes that, if the mother and father are married then since both the child and mother must honor the father, the child should bring water first to the father and then to the mother. This case is important not only for the guidance itself but for its implications to other cases, as we will see shortly.

    I. Honoring Grandparents

    You might be surprised to learn that there is a debate whether we must honor our grandparents (not all grandparents are elderly). The old custom was that only one person says Kaddish at a time. This created a need for specific priorities and definitions of who is obligated to say Kaddish. Rav Yosef Kolon (Maharik, 15th cen., Italy; Responsa, no. 30) argues that a grandchild has no obligation to say Kaddish for a grandparent and therefore takes no priority over anyone else in the line to say Kaddish. Maharik says that there is no biblical or Talmudic source for honoring a grandparent. Since the obligation for Kaddish stems from the obligation to honor, therefore a grandchild has no obligation to say Kaddish for a grandparent.

    This issue became the subject of disagreement between two sets of famous brothers-in-law. Rav Yosef Katz (16th cen., Poland; She’eris Yosef, no. 19) says that you are obligated to honor your rebbe’s rebbe over your own rebbe. Since you are obligated to honor your rebbe’s rebbe (as a Torah scholar) and your rebbe is required to honor him, both of you are obligated to honor him so his honor takes precedence. Rav Katz adds that this is different from a grandparent because only the parent is obligated to honor the grandparent; the child is not obligated at all. Therefore, for a grandparent, we do not say that both are obligated and the grandparent’s honor takes precedence but rather the parent’s honor takes precedence. In other words, Rav Yosef Katz follows the Maharik who holds that there is no special mitzvah to honor a grandparent.

    However, Rav Katz’s brother-in-law, Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema, 16th cen., Poland; Yoreh De’ah 240:24; Darkei Moshe, ad loc.) disagrees. He quotes Rashi (Gen. 46:1), in the name of the midrash, that you are obligated more in the honor of your father than your grandfather. This clearly implies that you are obligated to honor your grandfather, albeit your father’s honor takes precedence.

    Rav Eliyahu Shapiro (early 18th cen., Austria; Eliyahu Zuta, first responsum in the back) agrees with Maharik against Rema.[2] Rav Shapiro explains that Rashi means that a grandson is obligated to honor his father over his grandfather, not honor “more” but honor over. He points to the story in Sotah (49a) in which Rav Acha Bar Ya’akov raised his grandson. He once asked his grandson to bring him water and the grandson replied, “I am not your son.” This implies that a grandson is not obligated to honor a grandfather.

    Rav Ya’akov Reischer (early 18th cen., Germany; Shevus Ya’akov 2:94), Rav Shapiro’s brother-in-law, follows Rema on this issue. Rav Reischer points out that Rashi (Sotah 49a s.v. bar) says that a grandchild does not have to honor a grandparent like a parent — implying that he still must honor the grandparent just not like a parent. (Rav Reischer adds that a grandparent who raises a grandchild deserves also the honor of an adoptive parent.)

    II. Honoring In-Laws

    It seems that all authorities agree that if your parent and grandparent ask you to do two conflicting things, you should follow your parent’s request. This is true either because you must honor your grandparent but you must honor your parent more or because you have no Torah obligation to honor your grandparent. What if your father-in-law and grandfather ask you to do two conflicting things? Whose request should you fulfill? Rav Elazar Shapiro (20th cen., Hungary; Minchas Elazar 3:33) addresses this question.

    Rav Ya’akov Ben Asher (14th cen., Spain; Tur, Yoreh De’ah 240) says that you are obligated to honor your father-in-law because David said very respectfully to Shaul, “My father, now see, indeed” (1 Sam. 24:12). Rav Elazar Shapiro (ibid.) notes that Yalkut Shimoni (Nakh, no. 133) says on this verse, “from here we learn that a man is obligated to honor his father-in-law.” Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Da’as 6:51) adds that even though Shaul was the king, the midrash learns from David’s use of the term “father” that this was about honoring family, not the king.

    Rav Yoel Sirkes (17th cen., Poland; Bach, Yoreh De’ah 240) deduces from the fact that the Tur says that you have to honor your older brother like your father but only says that you have to honor your father-in-law, without saying like your father, that you only need to honor your father-in-law like you would honor an old man. Shakh (ad loc., 22), Chayei Adam (67:64) and many others agree.

    If there is a conflict between instructions from a grandfather and a father-in-law, the resolution would depend on the disagreement between Rema and Maharik. If, like Maharik, there is no obligation to honor a grandparent, then your obligation to honor your father-in-law takes precedence. If, like Rema, there is an obligation to honor a grandparent but not as much as a parent, then that would take priority over the limited obligation to honor a father-in-law. Of course, in all such matters you would do best to avoid conflict and find a way to make everyone happy.