Our Gemara, whose focus has been the mutual obligations of parents to their children and children to their parents, concludes that the obligation of morah – awe of one’s parents (see Vayikra 19:3) – forbids a child from sitting in his father or mother’s place, contradicting them, etc. while kibbud – honor (see Shemot 20:11) – obligates a child to feed and clothe his parents. Who must pay for this? Is the child obligated to do so, or should the funds come from the parents’ money?
Rav Yehuda rules that the child must pay; Rav Natan bar Oshaya rules that the parent must pay.
The latter position is accepted by most of the rishonim as the halakha, that although the child must take the responsibility to make sure that the parent has what he or she needs, the child will not have to pay for it.
What will the halakha be in a situation where the child is wealthy and the parent cannot afford to pay for his or her basic needs? Here the rishonim are clear that the child must pay whatever is necessary to support his or her parents, and that the courts will even force the child to do so, if necessary. The source of this obligation, however, is a point of dispute. Rabbeinu Tam sees it as a basic obligation of kibbud av va-em, arguing that the discussion in our Gemara was based on the assumption that the parent had enough money to pay for his or her needs. In the event that the parent cannot pay for those needs, the child will be obligated to do so. According to most of the rishonim, the child will not be obligated to support the parent because of kibbud av va-em, rather because of the child’s obligation of tzedeka – to give charity. With regard to charity, a person is obligated to give support to those who are closest, and the courts do have the right, according to Jewish law, to force a person to give what he can afford for communal needs.