Ketubot 44 - 50
Worse Than the Cruel Raven
- Ketubot 49b
There are two stages in the life of a child in regard to the support due him or her from the father. In a later gemara (Ketubot 65b) it is clearly stated that he must support his child until the age of six. But in our own gemara we learn that when the seat of the Sanhedrin was located in Usha a decree was made that a father should support his children until they reach bar/bat mitzvah age.
While the first stage support is mandatory and can be enforced by the rabbinical court through confiscation of resources, the second stage is enforced only through the kind of social pressure mentioned in our gemara.
When the case of a father reluctant to support his children beyond the age of six came before Rabbi Chisda he insisted that the fellow embarrass himself by publicly declaring that he is worse than the cruel raven who cares for his offspring.
The Sage Rava tickled the conscience of a reluctant father by asking him whether he was comfortable with the idea of his children being dependent on charity.
This last point leads to the final halachic aspect of this issue. Although no coercion is carried out when the child is over six this applies only when the father is not a man of considerable means capable of giving substantial charity. If he does have such means he can indeed be coerced to support his children as a form of charity.