One of the mitzvot that govern the unique relationship between parent and child is the prohibition to hit one’s parent. As we read in the Torah, one who does so is liable for the death penalty, as the verse states:
וּמַכֵּ֥ה אָבִ֛יו וְאִמּ֖וֹ מ֥וֹת יוּמָֽת.
“One who hits his father or mother shall be put to death.”
How does this prohibition relate to parents playing contact sports with their children? Many times, rough activities can cause bruising or other injuries – are these injuries significant as far as the halacha is concerned? Furthermore, were we to posit that these injuries were halachically significant, the question arises with regards to the parent’s potential absolving the child of responsibility. If the parent were to agree to potentially being injured in this way, would this be effective in limiting the liability of the child?
It seems that the issue hinges on whether the nature of the prohibition of hitting one’s parents is part of the general prohibition of hitting other people, albeit in a more stringent manner, or if the nature of the prohibition stems from the mitzvah of honoring and fearing one’s parents.
The General Prohibition of Hitting People
The general prohibition of hitting people is found in the Torah regarding a person who is guilty of transgressing a certain Torah violation, where the Beit Din is mandated to administer lashes as his punishment. The Torah warns that although he must be given lashes, the representative of the beit din who administers the punishment must be careful not to give him extra lashes:
אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יַכֶּ֖נּוּ לֹ֣א יֹסִ֑יף פֶּן־יֹסִ֨יף לְהַכֹּת֤וֹ עַל־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ מַכָּ֣ה רַבָּ֔ה וְנִקְלָ֥ה אָחִ֖יךָ לְעֵינֶֽיךָ.
“He may be given up to forty lashes, do not add more, he must not be lashed excessively for your brother will be degraded before your eyes.”
The Rambam codifies this prohibition as follows:
אסור לאדם לחבול בין בעצמו בין בחבירו, ולא החובל בלבד אלא כל המכה אדם כשר מישראל בין קטן בין גדול בין איש בין אשה דרך נציון הרי זה עובר בלא תעשה, שנ’ )דברים כ”ה ג'( לא יוסיף להכותו, אם הזהירה תורה שלא להוסיף בהכאת החוטא קל וחומר למכה את הצדיק.
A man is forbidden to injure himself or another. Not only one who inflicts a wound, but anyone who strikes a worthy Jew, whether an adult or a minor, whether a man or a woman, in a quarrelsome manner, violates a negative commandment, as it is written: “He must not lash him excessively” (Devarim 25:3). If the Torah has warned against excess in lashing an offender, how much more should this apply to striking an innocent man.
The Source of the Prohibition to Hit One’s Parents
The Torah generally gives two separate sources for every negative command in the Torah. The first is the azhara, “a warning” telling us that a certain action is prohibited, while the second verse is the onesh, “the punishment,” which delineates what the punishment is for one who violated the prohibition.
The Mechilta points out that there is no source in the Torah which prohibits hitting one’s parents. The Mechilta explains as follows:
עונש שמענו אזהרה לא שמענו, ת”ל (דברים כה ג) ארבעים יכנו לא יוסיף, הרי דברים ק”ו, ומה מי שהוא מצוה להכות, הרי הוא מוזהר שלא להכות, מי שהוא מצוה שלא להכות, דין הוא שיהא מוזהר שלא להכות.
The punishment we have heard, but we have no warning [i.e., source for the actual prohibition of hitting a parent]? Therefore, the verse states: “Lash him forty times and no more” (Devarim 25:3). Now this is an a fortiori argument; regarding someone who one is commanded to hit, the Torah states that one is not permitted to add more, regarding one who we are commanded not to hit, surely one is warned not hit this person?”
The Mechilta explains that the prohibition of hitting one’s parents is actually derived from the general prohibition of hitting people. The specific verse of makeh aviv v’imo mot yumat refers to the unique punishment one receives for hitting a parent.
The Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvot counts striking one’s parents as a separate prohibition. Although he admits that there is no specific verse in the Torah prohibiting this, the Rambam cites the Mechilta that the prohibition is derived from the general prohibition to hit anyone. The Ramban challenges the Rambam in his tally of the mitzvot, arguing that since there is no specific prohibition, and only a specific punishment, this cannot be counted as a separate prohibition.
One could view the disagreement between the Rambam and Ramban as a technical one regarding how to count the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot. However, perhaps they are arguing as to the conceptual nature of the prohibition. The Rambam views the prohibition of hitting one’s parents as independent from the general prohibition of hitting another person (even though the source is the same), and therefore understands instead that it is couched in the unique laws of honoring one’s parents. If this is the case, the definition of the act of hitting might also be different than that regarding the general prohibition of hitting another, as well as many other halachot. The Ramban argues on this position, stating that this is part of the general prohibition of hitting other people, with the only nuance being the punishment.
We will return to this dilemma later on in the essay.
The Gemara discusses whether a son is permitted to let blood for his father for medical purposes. The Gemara brings two Amoraim who each quote a different source permitting the procedure. Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the Gemara took for granted that it was permitted for someone other than the child to let blood for this person. The only question was whether a child would be permitted to do so for their parent. Rav Feinstein explains that since the original prohibition is drawn from the statement “pen yosif,” i.e., adding extra lashes for no purpose, it is understood that if there is a reason such as medical need, it would be permitted. However, this logic might not apply to hitting one’s parents, as the Torah writes a blanket statement: “One who hits his father or mother shall be put to death.” This could imply that the prohibition applies in any case, and therefore the Gemara needed to find a specific source to permit a child to let blood for his parent.
Rav Moshe’s analysis points to the fact that there is an a priori difference between the general prohibition of hitting another and hitting one’s parents, to the extent that whereas it might be permitted in the former case, it would still be prohibited in the latter. However, after the Gemara brings the verses permitting bloodletting even by a son for his father, it is unclear whether the original distinction between hitting one’s parents and hitting another still applies.
We find another case where there seems to be an inherent difference between hitting a parent and someone else (apart from the severity of punishment). The Gemara rules that if a person has been judged by Beit Din to be put to death and his child or someone else hits him, they are not liable, as this person is considered a rasha – wicked person. However, if the person sentenced to death repents and then the child hits him, he would be liable to the death penalty, whereas the other person would still be exempt. The Gemara explains that another person would be exempt because the person on death row “is not really among the nation, as he is about to be killed.” The Gemara explains that a child is still liable when their parent is on death row because the prohibition of hitting a parent applies even after one’s parent is dead.
Here the Gemara definitively distinguishes between the nature of hitting one’s parent and that of hitting another person.
The Minchat Chinuch posits that if one person gives another permission to hit him, there is no prohibition at all. He writes further that this also applies to a parent who permits his child to hit him.
The basis of his opinion is a halacha codified by the Rema in Choshen Mishpat regarding a person who tells someone to hit him:
וי”א דאם א”ל בפירוש: ע”מ לפטור, פטור.
Some say that if a person said to him explicitly: In order that I be exempt, he is exempt.
The Minchat Chinuch admits that he did not find anyone who states this law explicitly, but the logic seems absolutely sound to him.
It seems that the assumption underpinning the Minchat Chinuch’s opinion is that the prohibition to hit one’s parents is an extension of the prohibition of hitting in general. In a similar manner to the way that the general prohibition would not take effect in an instance where there was permission given, a parent would be allowed to give his child permission to hit him without any consequences.
This logic is adopted by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in the following ruling:
In my opinion his words are very convincing, since the warnings of hitting one’s parents and hitting another are derived from the same verse, and we have learned that if one receives permission he is exempt… this should also hold true for one who hits his parent in the way of medical treatment…
However, as we saw previously, one could understand that even if we accept the notion that regarding another person, permission can be given to be hit, nevertheless, the nature of the prohibition regarding a parent is different, and this might still be prohibited. This seems to be the way Rav Feinstein understood the prohibition, and could very well be the reason the Rambam listed this prohibition as an independent mitzvah, as opposed to the Ramban. Rav Eliezer Shach in his commentary on the Rambam explains further that according to the Rambam, one has to say that it is as if the warning not to hit people was written twice in the Torah: Once regarding the general population and once regarding parents, thus rendering it a completely different prohibition.
The Sugya of Medical Treatment
The Gemara asks the following question and proceeds to offer what appears to be conflicting opinions:
What is the halacha whether a son may let blood for his father? Rav Mattana says: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18); therefore, it is permitted for one to heal his father even if the procedure entails wounding him. Rav Dimi bar Chinnana says: This is derived from the juxtaposition between one who strikes a person and one who strikes an animal. Just as one who strikes an animal for medical purposes is exempt from paying restitution, so too, one who strikes a person for medical purposes is exempt from liability.
Rav did not allow his son to extract a thorn from him, due to the concern that his son would unwittingly wound him. Mar, son of Ravina, did not allow his son to pierce his blister, lest he wound him, which would be an unwitting violation of a prohibition.
The Gemara initially brings two Amoraim that permit a son to let blood for his father. Thereafter, it relates that Rav didn’t allow his son to extract a thorn from him, and Mar, son of Ravina, didn’t allow his son to burst a blister, though the Gemara does not present the opinions as being in conflict. The contradiction can be reconciled in a number of ways:
The Beit Yosef quotes the Rif and Rosh who rule that bloodletting by a child is forbidden. The Beit Yosef understands that the Rif and Rosh held that the last two stories do in fact disagree with the opinion of Rav Mattana and Rav Dimi, who permitted letting blood. The Rif and Rosh therefore conclude that such an action is assur.
The Rambam understands that there is no real contradiction. Principally, everyone accepts the leniency of a child to treat a parent medically. Rav and Mar bar Ravina didn’t permit their sons to treat them since it could have been done by another person other than them. However, if no one else is available to do so, they too would not have objected.
Although we posited that according to the Rambam, the general leniency of permitting another to hit oneself would not apply regarding a parent, perhaps within the laws of hitting one’s parent there is a leniency independent of mechila. For instance, a parent is allowed to forgo the honor which is required to be given to them by their children:
Ha’av shemachal al kevodo, kevodo machul – a father who foregoes his honor, his honor is foregone. Might not the same principle apply here? From the sugya above, it seems that this issue may be subject to a machloket Rishonim between the Rif and Rosh on one hand and the Rambam on the other.
However, one could argue that even the lenient opinion applies only regarding medical issues, but a parent would still be forbidden to allow a child to hit him. Indeed, the Sheiltot states this explicitly: “A father who was mochel on his honor, his honor is foregone. However this only applies to honor, but regarding hitting him and cursing him, this is not the case.”
The question of whether a parent can play contact sports seems to be dependent on the concept of mechila – foregoing or forgiving the wrong done to a person. May a parent be mochel his child for any bruise or injury that may occur during the game, or is this beyond a parent’s mandate?
We suggested that this might depend on the nature of the prohibition of hitting one’s parents. If the prohibition is in essence the same prohibition as hitting anyone else, it stands to reason that if one can be mochel someone and permit them to hit you, the same would apply to a parent. This is indeed the opinion of the Minchat Chinuch and perhaps the Ramban. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach accepts this premise as well, albeit regarding medical procedures and not anything else.
However one could argue that the prohibition of hitting one’s parents is completely different from the general prohibition and therefore the leniency that might apply there does not necessarily hold for hitting ones parent.
This distinction seems to be clear in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot, as explained by the Avi Ezri. Rav Moshe Feinstein also seems to adopt such an understanding. Nevertheless, there still might be room to be lenient according to this opinion, for within the mitzvot of kibbud av v’eim we find that there is a concept of mechila – a father who forgoes his honor, his honor is foregone. The question would then arise as to whether this can be extended to hitting one’s parent as well. We suggested that this issue might be at the heart of the debate between the Rishonim about whether it is permitted to let blood for one’s parent. However, here too one could argue that the lenient opinion only allowed this for medical reasons where there is still an inherent form of honoring one’s parent. On the other hand, one could argue that within this line of reasoning, one still does not find any clear proof that a parent can permit a child to hit him just for the sake of a game. Indeed, we showed that the Sheiltot argues with this explicitly.
May we all merit to honor our parents with the respect afforded to them by the Torah, and reflective of the effort that parents invest in raising their children.
 Shemot 21:15
 Devarim 25:3
 Rambam, Hilchot Chovel Umazik 5:1
 Mechilta D’rabbi Yishmael, Mishpatim, Masechta D’nezikin parasha 5
 Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot, Mitzvot Lo Taaseh 319
 Hasagot HaRamban, Mitzvat Lo Taaseh 318
 Masechet Sanhedrin 84a
 Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66
 Masechet Sanhedrin 85a
 Rashi, ibid. explains that although he doesn’t receive the death penalty if he hits his parent after death, this is for a technical reason that the blow doesn’t cause a chabura (a mark), but in our case, since the parent is still alive, if the blow caused a chabura he would be liable to the death penalty.
 Minchat Chinuch 48:3
 There are some poskim that agree with the Minchat Chinuch’s position regarding hitting a friend, such as the Ralbach (Kuntres Hasemicha 101) and this could also be derived from the Rambam’s wording quoted above that it is only a transgression if done derech nitzayon – in a quarrelsome fashion, this does not mean that they would agree to extend it to hitting of parents, as we shall discuss. But many poskim disagree with the assumption of the Minchat Chinuch even regarding hitting a friend. Although he might be exempt on a monetary level, he has still violated a prohibition (Beit Yitzchak, Yoreh Deah 1:159 — he also suggests that this is the opinion of the Ralbach unless it is being done for teshuva, etc). See also the Emek Sheila of the Netziv on the Sheiltot 61, who states after bringing many proofs against the Minchat Chinuch that there is no need to bring more proofs, as it is obvious that there is still a violation.
 Choshen Mishpat 421:12
 This is a debate between the Shulchan Aruch and Rema, ibid.
 Avi Ezri, Hilchot Chovel Umazik 5:3
 This would answer the question of the Minchat Chinuch, who leaves unanswered the difficulty of how one could be liable for hitting one’s parent who is about to be killed if another person who hits him is not liable, since these two prohibitions are in essence one and the same. However, according to the Avi Ezri, the Rambam understood the relationship of the prohibitions very differently, and the question of the Minchat Chinuch is not at all problematic.
 Masechet Sanhedrin 84a
 Masechet Kiddushin 32a
 See Tzitz Eliezer, vol.5, Ramat Rachel 5:11
 Sheiltot, Parshat Mishpatim 61