Question: A twenty-seven-year-old single woman takes care of her aging and infirm parents, especially her father, on her own and by her parents’ request. Is she required to dedicate herself to the welfare of her parents for the rest of her life or may she look for a suitable marriage match in order to build her own home and her parents will have to find a different solution?
Answer: Responsa Torah Lishmah (widely-attributed to Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l, the saintly Ben Ish Hai) Chapter 266 records a question regarding whether or not a young woman who was instructed by her father not to get married and she wishes to get married and have children must heed her father’s command. The Torah Lishmah rules that since women are not halachically obligated to bear children and it would therefore be permissible to remain single and not get married, she must heed her father’s command and not get married since honoring one’s parents is a positive Torah commandment.
Thus, according to the Torah Lishmah, since honoring one’s parents is a positive Torah commandment while getting married and bearing children is not a full-fledged Torah commandment (for women), the above woman would be obligated to continue caring for her parents although this would come at the expense of building her own Jewish home.
Nevertheless, the opinion of the Torah Lishmah is truly perplexing, for the Gemara (Sanhedrin 76a) that one who causes one’s daughter not to get married is acting wickedly in a deceptive fashion since one gains from this financially as she will stay home and perform housework for him, saving him the cost of domestic help.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Halichot Olam, Volume 8, page 138) writes lengthily to challenge this ruling of the Torah Lishmah and he even quotes the words of the Tosafot (Gittin 41b) who state that even a woman is commanded to get married and bear children. He quotes many great Rishonim who concur. Indeed, Rabbeinu Moshe Elashkar (in his responsa, Chapter 72) rules that a Sefer Torah may be sold in order to marry off poor orphans and there is no distinction whether they are boys or girls.
Furthermore, even if we claim that a woman is not obligated to get married and bear children, there is no doubt that the Mitzvah of establishing a Jewish home takes precedence over the Mitzvah to honor her father who acts cruelly by forbidding her from pursuing a normal life through getting married and building a family. She may therefore leave her parents’ home and the father should find some other arrangement.
The Sefer Chassidim (Chapter 660) recounts an incident regarding a certain Torah scholar whose children passed away in his lifetime and he was left all alone. He told his students at the time of his death, “I know I have no other sin other than that I had a younger sister who was a widow and I knew that she wished to get remarried, however, she was too ashamed to ask me to marry her off. I had the ability to marry her off, however, I did not do so because I wanted to retain control of her money and assets. It is for this reason that I was punished and all my children died.” Regarding our case, Maran zt”l adds that instead of the father trying to marry off his daughter with a dowry and fine clothing, he commands her not to get married; this is a terrible sin and he will be punished accordingly, for such great suffering cannot be forgiven.