The Honor of One’s Step-Mother Versus One’s Biological Mother
Our Sages (Ketubot 103a) derive from the seemingly extra words “Et” in the verse regarding honoring one’s parents (“Kabed Et Avicha Ve’et Imecha”) that the Torah means to include the honor of one’s step-father and step-mother. This means that if one’s father passes on and one’s mother marries another man, one must honor this man. Similarly, if one’s mother passes away and one’s father marries another woman, one must honor that woman. The above law applies if one’s parents divorce as well.
When One’s Mother Insists One Not Honor the Step-Mother
Let us now discuss a question that unfortunately arises somewhat often. If one’s parents divorce and one’s father remarries another woman, sometimes one’s mother will instruct him not to honor one’s father’s wife at all by either greeting her, visiting her, and certainly not taking care of her needs. In this scenario, whose honor takes precedence: one’s biological mother or one’s step-mother?
The Honor of One’s Mother vs. that of One’s Step-Mother
Let us give an example of where the above question can have another serious implication as a result of this clash. For instance, if one’s mother and one’s step-mother each ask one to help them go shopping at the same time. Whose honor take’s precedence? Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l discusses this issue (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 11, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 20) and rules that clearly, the honor of one’s biological mother takes precedence over that of one’s step-mother, for one is obligated to honor one’s mother forever while one is only obligated to honor one’s step-mother during her lifetime.
When One’s Biological Mother Forbids One to Honor His Step-Mother
Regarding the aforementioned question, Maran zt”l writes that if one’s mother instructs one not to honor his step-mother, this is tantamount to one’s mother commanding one to transgress Torah law. For instance, if one’s mother commands one to desecrate Shabbat, one may certainly not obey, as our Sages teach us in several places (among them Baba Metzia 32a). Since one is obligated to honor one’s step-mother, although the honor of one’s biological mother takes precedence over that of the step-mother since one is obligated to honor her forever, the mother can nevertheless not prevent her son from performing any Mitzvah, including that of honoring one’s step-mother.
Summary: In general, the honor of one’s biological takes precedence over that of one’s step-mother. Nevertheless, if one’s mother instructs him not to honor one’s step-mother, one need not obey her since she does not have the authority to tell her son to transgress Torah law. On the other hand, Maran zt”l writes that the son should behave with sensitivity so as not to cause his mother unnecessary pain and use judgment to be able to show honor to everyone.