We learned in the shiur that the obligation of upholding a custom that one accepts upon oneself stems from the obligation to keep a vow. In this article we will address the question of whether one’s children are obligated to maintain such customs as well.
The Gemara relates that the residents of Beit She’an were accustomed not to travel from Tyre to the market day in Sidon on Erev Shabbat. In deference to Shabbat, they adopted the stringency that they would not interrupt their Shabbat preparations even for a short sea voyage. The Gemara relates that their children came before Rabbi Yocḥanan, requesting that he repeal this custom. They explained that it was possible for their fathers to earn a living without traveling to the market on Friday due to their wealth, but they did not have the financial means to do so. Rabbi Yochanan answered that since their fathers had accepted this virtuous custom upon themselves, it remains binding upon them as well, as it is stated: “My son, hear your father’s rebuke and do not abandon your mother’s teaching”.
We see from here that not only are those who accept a custom upon themselves obligated by it, but their children are obligated as well. This ruling is codified by the Shulchan Aruch based upon a responsum of the Rivash.
However, there are multiple approaches among the Acharonim as to the nature of the obligation of the children, with numerous halachic ramifications between them. We will examine four different approaches.
The first opinion is that of the Chavot Yair and the Pri Chadash. In their opinion, the basis for the obligation of the children is due to minhag hamakom, the local custom. This means that when many people who live in the same place create a communal custom, it binds all of the residents as well as their future descendants and future residents.
According to this opinion, the fact that the Gemara referred to those who took the custom upon themselves by the name of their town, “bnei beishan” – is precise, since the custom follows one’s location (though the usage of the expression al titosh torat imecha, which focuses on the familial aspect, is not).
The second opinion is that of the Masa LaMelech and the Ein HaDa’at. They hold that the basis for the obligation to maintain the custom is not minhag hamakom but rather kabbalat hatzibbur, acceptance by the public, which includes also all those who are not yet born. They too agree that in order to create such a binding custom, it must be accepted by many people (a tzibbur) and not only by a small number, but they disagree with the first approach that the custom relates to the location (makom).
According to this opinion, the formulation of Rabbi Yocḥanan that the custom is binding because the fathers had accepted it upon themselves fits well, as it is not a matter of the location, but rather of who started the custom.
The primary difference between these two approaches would be regarding residents of the city or town that accepted the custom that later move elsewhere. According to the first approach, the obligation ceases since it is based upon location, whereas according to the second approach the obligation is “built in” and continues with those that moved in their new location.
A Two-Stage Process
A third opinion is offered by the Divrei Chaim of Tzanz in his responsa. He suggests that the children are initially obligated to follow the custom since one is not allowed to permit a custom in the presence of those who took it upon themselves. Thus, since the fathers accepted it, the children who live with their parents must also follow it. Once the children have already followed the custom (in the presence of their fathers), it is subsequently considered as if they accepted it upon themselves, and they are therefore also obligated to continue following the custom.
The Pri To’ar holds that the obligation discussed in the Gemara is simply that children must follow in their father’s footsteps, which includes following his customs as well, known as minhag avot, ancestral customs.
According to the Pri To’ar, the pasuk that the Gemara brings concerning following one’s parents as a source for the obligation to uphold the custom is precise. It does not have the status of a regular custom that an individual accepts upon himself, which is derived from the pasuk of “he shall not violate his word,” but rather of an obligation not to deviate from the customs of one’s forefathers – “do not abandon your mother’s teaching.”
The primary difference between the last two approaches and the first two is that the last two hold that the custom must be maintained by the children even if it is accepted by the father alone (and not by the entire community), in contrast to the first two approaches, according to which only an acceptance by a large group of people is binding upon the children.
Are the Children Always Obligated?
We have seen four different approaches explaining why the children must maintain the customs of their fathers. However, we must still clarify whether this obligation applies automatically to the children or only when the children themselves have chosen to uphold the custom. This too is disputed among the Acharonim based upon the different understandings of the origin of the obligation.
According to the understanding that the obligation stems from minhag hamakom, it is logical that the children would be obligated regardless of whether they choose to maintain it or not, as their presence in that location is what generates the obligation. This is in fact the opinion of the Pri Chadash cited above. However, others claim that even if minhag hamakom is the key issue, the children are nevertheless obligated to maintain the custom only if they purposefully choose to uphold it.
On the other hand, according to the understanding that the obligation of the children is based upon minhag avot, then everyone agrees that the obligation applies as a result of the father’s acceptance, regardless of the children’s actions.
Annulment for the Children
The next issue that must be addressed is whether the children may choose to cease upholding the custom. May the children perform hatarat nedarim, as the father is permitted to do if he wishes to discontinue observing the custom, or not? This issue is quite common nowadays, as many times the children (or later generations) have difficulty in maintaining parental customs, such as due to marriage, moving elsewhere, or the change of times.
Annulment is not Allowed
Some poskim hold that it is impossible for the children to perform hatarat nedarim even in cases where the parents would be permitted to do so. They support their contention from the Gemara discussed above that the residents of Beit She’an were not allowed by Rabbi Yochanan to discontinue the custom, and he did not suggest performing hatarat nedarim either.
There are three explanations for this approach.
- Regretting the vow
As was discussed in the shiur, in order to annul a vow, one must explain why he regrets taking the vow initially. Since the children do not (always) know the reason why the custom was accepted in the first place, they cannot offer a good reason for why they regret the initial acceptance.
- Vows of Error
The second explanation argues that hatarat nedarim is only possible for those took the vows (or who accepted a custom), since the vows thereby have the status of nidrei ta’ut, vows made in error (which are not valid). However, those who “continue” to uphold the vows cannot claim to have erred (since they did not make the vows) and therefore may not annul them. A similar idea is expressed by the Mishneh Lamelech, who writes that if a father declares that an unborn child should become a nazir, only the father can annul the nezirut (naziriteship) and not the child, since the father was the one who accepted it.
- It is Not a Vow
The third explanation is entirely different than the first two. According to the first two explanations, the obligation to uphold the custom is a type of vow, and the pasuk cited by the Gemara of “do not abandon your mother’s teaching” instructs us to take upon ourselves the vows/customs of our fathers. In contrast, the third explanation views it as a separate rabbinic obligation not to leave one’s father’s ways. According to this, hatarat nedarim is not effective here, since the obligation to uphold the custom is not similar to a vow.
An Annulment is Permissible
On the other hand, others hold that the children can indeed reject a custom initiated by their parents by performing hatarat nedarim, just as the parents are allowed to do so. These authorities understand that Rabbi Yochanan refused to permit the custom in the Gemara without hatarat nedarim, but he too would permit it if a proper hatarat nedarim were performed.
The main proof brought that the children may reject a custom using hatarat nedarim is from the Yerushalmi. The Yerushalmi cites a very similar story involving Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi to the one we saw in the Bavli, but the Yerushalmi continues that the children certainly could have performed hatarat nedarim (and the reason the children were still forbidden to sail was because Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi held that not traveling in this manner on Friday was not a custom, but a binding halacha).
According to Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, since this issue of children performing hatarat nedarim for customs accepted by their parents is a dispute concerning an issue of rabbinic decree, it is permissible in extenuating circumstances. However, every case is somewhat different, and one should consult with one’s halachic authority before making a decision.
Over the course of this article, we have discussed the obligation of children to follow the customs of their forefathers. We saw four different opinions regarding the nature of this obligation: Minhag hamakom, kabbalat hatzibbur, a two level process, and minhag avot. We also addressed whether the children are obligated to uphold the custom only when they too continue to perform the custom or in any case, as well as a dispute regarding whether hatarat nedarim is effective for the children.
Whichever approach we adopt as the halacha in any given case, may we be zocheh to always follow in our fathers’ footsteps.
 The Acharonim dispute whether this is a Torah-level obligation or a rabbinic decree.
 Pesachim 50b
 This is the version of the text used by the Pri Chadash, O.C. 496. The text found in our versions of the Gemara say “bnei beishan,” the residents of Beishan.
 Rashi, ibid.
 Mishlei 1:8
 Y.D. 214:2
 Siman 399
 Siman 126; see also Gilyon Maharsha, Y.D. 214:2.
 Pri Chadash, ibid.
 Torat Minhagei Issur, 4th Chakira.
 Chapter 35
 Vol.1, Y.D. 48
 Nedarim 15a
 Bamidbar 30:3, based upon Nedarim 15a.
 Responsa Zichron Yosef, Y.D. 14, cited by the Pitchei Teshuva, Y.D. 214:5.
 Of course, those Acharonim who do not accept the notion of minhag avot at all disagree with the entire concept.
This includes the Maharshdam, Y.D. 40; Responsa of the Chatam Sofer, O.C. 122; Pri To’ar, ibid.; Korban Netanel, Pesachim 4:8; Chavot Yair, ibid., among others.
 Pesachim 50b
 Pri To’ar, ibid.; Responsa of the Rashba, 1:98
 Korban Netanel, ibid.
 Nezirut 2:13. The source of the Mishneh Lamelech is a comment of the Rivan (Makkot 22a).
 See the opinion of the Pri To’ar above.
 Kli Chemda, Parshat Nitzavim, p. 297
 Beit Yosef, Y.D. 214; Masa Lamelech, ibid.; Pri Chadash, ibid.; Mateh Asher, Netiv Bet, Part 5, p. 133b; Responsa Igrot Moshe (O.C. 3:64), among others.
 Pesachim 4:1
 Karyana De’igreta, 2:81
 See footnote 1.