If a child is called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, if the father has passed away, and a step father is taking the parental duties, how should the child be called to the torah by name, as ben birthfather or stepfather's name? is it possible to call him up as both to respect both men
Respect for parents is a very weighty commandment. And the consensus of later authorities is that the same respect pertains to step-parents (cf. e.g. Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 240:21) so long as the relationship between the step-parent and the biological parent obtains. Respect for parents includes standing in their presence, never calling them by their given names, serving them, and even financially supporting them if they are in need. But none of the sources of which I am aware ever considers adding a patronymic as a way to show respect to a step-parent.
To be sure, the classical authorities may not have ever been faced with this question. But I suspect that even if they were, they would likely not oblige. That is because tampering with one’s Jewish name means tampering with one’s legacy. A person’s given name and father’s given name (the patronymic) is a person’s means of official identification. It asserts paternity and even status (if one’ father is a Kohen or Levi, for example).
Accordingly, any confusion of names may call into question either of those two components. This may also explain why the righteous kings of Israel and Judah are still identified in the Bible as the sons of their fathers who were irredeemably evil. Here, the natural tendency would be to suppress mentioning their fathers’ names which would save their righteous sons from embarrassment. But there seems to be an underlying principle that the patronymic may not be altered. In the case at hand, there is no issue of embarrassment. Rather, it is one of pride and appreciation. Nonetheless, the same principle would be at work.
There are other avenues to honour the step-father during the Bar Mitzvah ceremony, limited only by the imagination of the officiating rabbi and the rules that govern the site where the celebration takes place, whether in a synagogue or elsewhere. But the name by which the Bar Mitzvah should be called to the Torah ought to be with the biological patronymic only. And may our people be blessed with many others who hold their step-fathers in such high esteem.
Even if a child has never seen his father, his father is his father. He can only be called son of (the translation of ben) his bio-dad. It is a great mitzvah to support other people's children, especially orphans, but that care does not make the caregiver the child's father.
If a child is called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah, if the father has passed away, and a step father is taking the parental duties, how should the child be called to the torah by name, as ben birthfather or stepfather's name? is it possible to call him up as both to respect both men?
Thank you for writing to Jewish Values Online.
I understand your question as one concerning the proper Jewish etiquette to demonstrate respect for these two important men in the life of this young man.
The answer seems to me to be fairly clear. The Hebrew name that was given to the young man at birth is his name – Ploni ben Birthfather is the correct form (though the name of the mother is sometimes added). That would include the patronymic, i.e., the name of the man who fathered him (unless there were very unusual circumstances). This has nothing to do with respecting, or disrespecting the stepfather; it is simply a fact that this name is how that young man is called.
The only exception to this I could imagine would be in the event that the young man at a time of illness wished to adopt an addition to his name (a custom among some Jews, based on a somewhat superstitious view, probably dating to medieval times, that changing one’s name might confuse the angel of death and preserve one’s life), and took the stepfather’s name as a part of his own. In that case, as an example, for a young man named Moses whose birth father was Saul, and whose stepfather was Hayim, it might be that rather than remaining Moshe ben Shaul, which would have been his given name, he might take on the name Moshe Chayim ben Shaul. The patronymic would not change, but he might add the stepfather’s name as part of his own, as a middle name, if you will.
Otherwise, the given name is the name of the person, and it does not change with events or circumstances.
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