In the previous Halacha we have mentioned that a son or daughter may not contradict the words of their parents, for the Gemara (Kiddushin 31b) explains that included in the Mitzvah to revere one’s parents is not contradicting their words by saying that their words are incorrect.
Regarding this law that one may not contradict the words of one’s parents, there is a disagreement among the Rishonim and Acharonim about some of the details of this matter.
First of all, some Poskim maintain that this law applies only to mundane matters; however, regarding Torah matters, one may disagree with one’s father. The reason for this distinction is because in the Torah, the word “Truth” is written, which means that it is prohibited to change the words of the Torah for any reason. Thus, it would seem that the son may not inhibit himself from expressing one’s opinion on Torah matters against one’s father’s opinion. Another reason for this, quoted by the Sefer Derisha, is that when a son disagrees with his father regarding Torah matters, it does not look as though he himself is contradicting his father’s words; rather, the eternal Torah is what is contradicting his father’s words.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l brings several proofs to uphold this view that a son may indeed oppose his father on Torah matters in his works. Indeed, we find in several places in the Talmud where a son disagrees with his father. For instance, in the Gemara in Masechet Eruvin (32a) we find that Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi says, “My words seem more correct than my father’s,” meaning that he ruled on a certain Halacha against his father’s opinion. Similarly, the Terumat Ha’Deshen brings numerous proofs that a son may disagree with his father regarding Torah matters as we find many times in the Talmud that Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi disagrees with his father’s view and Rava disagrees with the opinion of his principal teacher, Rabba. We find this among the Rishonim as well where the Rosh disagrees with his primary teacher, the Maharam of Rottenberg in several instances. Indeed, the Rosh states this openly with regards to Rashi whose very descendants, his grandchildren, the Tosafists, disagree with him; this is because our Torah is one of truth and it cannot be used to flatter anyone.
In any event, all opinions agree that even if one disagrees with one’s father on Torah matters, one must do so in an extremely respectful fashion. Also, before doing so, one should be very meticulous and check whether or not one’s father may have indeed been correct in the matter; if the father is correct and the son is not and the son disagrees with his father, besides for transgressing the prohibition of issuing a mistaken Halachic ruling, one has also sinned against his father by affronting his honor for naught.
We find similarly in the Gemara in Masechet Kiddushin (80b) that once Rav Yechezkel, father of Rami and Rav Yehuda, was teaching his son Rami when he read a passage in the Mishnah incorrectly. Rav Yehuda told him, “Father, do not read it that way, read it this way, for this is the correct version!” Shmuel heard this and he told Rav Yehuda, “Sharp one, do not tell this to your father in such a manner!” This means that, instead, he should have said, “Father, it is possible to read this passage another way,” or any other way that is respectful and mindful of his father’s honor.
Another issue the Poskim discuss is whether the prohibition to contradict one’s father applies only in his presence or even not in his presence. The Meiri writes that it is only prohibited to do so in one’s father’s presence, but if the father is not around, this is permissible. For instance, if the father believes that an oven produced by a certain company is superior and the son disagrees and believes that an oven made by a different company is superior, if the family knows the stance of the father and the son voices his dissenting opinion, in this situation it is certainly forbidden for him to say that his father is incorrect and the oven made by the other company is indeed better. According to the Meiri, however, if this is done while not in the presence of the father, one may act leniently.
Halachically speaking, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that regarding Torah matters when it is not in the presence of the father, one may act leniently and voice one’s dissenting opinion because of the combination of the two reasons we have mentioned above, which are: the Torah is eternally true and according to some Poskim, there is no prohibition to contradict one’s father if this is done not in his presence.
Nevertheless, we must point out that this still depends on something we shall discuss further which is whether or not when a father absolves a child from honoring him the child may do certain things that are connected to revering one’s parents. If we say that when a father absolves his child from revering him, the child is absolved from revering him, then the child will be permitted to contradict the father’s words even in his father’s presence. However, if we say that when a father absolves his child of revering him, the son is still not absolved from revering him, then he may not act leniently and do so under any circumstances.