Ask The Rabbi

Stepparents in the Torah

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Amidah, Ma'ariv

Robert A. Fink, M.D., of Berkeley, California says:

I got your Internet address after reading an issue of Torah Weekly in the Religion Forum on CompuServe. My wife is doing a dissertation on stepmothers and stepfamilies, and one of her research sources is the Bible. The story of Batya, Pharoah's daughter (who cared for the infant Moses) comes to mind, although Batya was more of a foster mother than she was a stepmother...but there appear to be other instances of stepmothers in the Bible. Do you have any source of information on this subject?

I am new to computers and the internet and I find it wonderful to be able to communicate with Israel in this way. Many thanks for your help.


Dear Robert,

There are a number of references to foster/stepmothers in the Bible. The Talmud in Tractate Megillah informs us that a verse in the Book of Chronicles, "...his Jewish wife who gave birth to Yered..." is referring to Batya who "gave birth" to Moshe (Moses). The Talmud explains that she is credited with having given birth to him because she raised him. "One who raises a male or female orphan in his [her] home, is credited as if he [she] they gave birth to him [her]."

The verse in the Scroll of Esther states that when Esther's parents died, Mordechai "adopted" her-she is referred to as his daughter. Once again the reason being that he was the one who raised her. The Talmud states that according to Rabbi Meir what indeed occurred is that Mordechai married Esther when she was orphaned.

Another example is found in Tractate Sanhedrin regarding Michal, the daughter of Shaul and wife of David. One verse says [according to one interpretation] that she never had children-yet in another verse we learn that she was the mother of five!

The Talmud resolves this apparent contradiction by stating that although the biological mother was her sister Meirav, Michal is credited as their "mother" because she raised them.

Tractate Sanhedrin also teaches the case of Naomi being called the "mother" of Ruth's son-because Naomi played a significant role in his rearing.

Being a foster parent or a stepparent does not make the person the child's real parent. There seem to be no Halachic ramifications- e.g. the person does not fulfill the Mitzvah of "Be fruitful and multiply" by raising someone else's biological child. However, it is clear from the above sources that the metaphysical significance of raising any child in the correct manner is not to be underestimated.

I have found no indication of a difference between a stepparent and a foster parent. The key point is: "Who raised the child?" If the stepparent was involved in the child's development, this is equivalent to the status of a foster parent and in both cases the rule is that she [he] is credited with having "given birth to the child."

Sources:

  • Tractate Megillah, page 13a.
  • Tractate Sanhedrin, page 19b.


 
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