Question: May a child sit in a parent’s seat in shul?
Short Answer: A child is prohibited from sitting in a parent’s seat in shul unless the parent has switched seats and no longer sits in this seat or unless the parent doesn’t mind.
I. The Source
The Gemara in Kiddushin (31b) lists ways that a child should “fear” a parent, including by “not standing or sitting in the parent’s place.” While Rashi only expounds on the word “standing” by explaining that a child should not stand in the same place that the parent regularly confers with other elders in the community, the Rama extends this explanation to include sitting in a parent’s designated place in the house. The Tur (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:2) cites both explanations.
While the Beis Yosef (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:2) understands that the Tur implies that Rashi would allow a child to sit in a parent’s regular seat in the house, the Beis Yosef himself (as well as the Bach ibid) disagree and hold that everyone forbids a child from sitting in a parent’s designated seat in the house. Indeed, this law is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (ibid).
The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:9) notes that even though the Shulchan Aruch writes this law using masculine language (“his seat”), the same law applies to a child being forbidden to sit in his mother’s seat. The Shulchan Aruch only used masculine language because in those days women generally did not have “set seats.”
Interestingly, the sefer Yosher Horai (15) cites a ruling of Rav Elyashiv zt”l that this prohibition even applies to a special chair of a parent, even if the chair is not in the usual place where the parent sits.
II. When No One Is Watching
The Taz (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:2) notes that it is forbidden to sit in a parent’s seat even if the parent (nor anyone else) is in the room. The sefer Ateres Shmuel (8:5) adds that this is also the opinion of the sefer Mei’am Loeiz. The Aruch HaShulchan adopts this view, as well.
On the other hand, the Rishon L’Tzion (cited in the Ateres Shmuel ibid) disagrees. Since the only reason why it is forbidden to sit in a parent’s seat is because it is degrading to the parent to have a child precisely following his mannerisms, there is no prohibition if no one witnesses the child sitting in the seat.
III. In Shul
This prohibition applies, as well, to sitting in a parent’s seat in shul. See Shulchan Aruch (ibid).
Nevertheless, the sefer Asukei Shmaatsa (p. 112) cites the sefer Binyan Olam, which rules that this prohibition only applies if the seat in the shul is in an important place (e.g., it is not sold, but is given out as an honor). A child may, however, sit in a parent’s place in shul if it is a regular seat (e.g., purchased).
IV. Different Minyanim
The Riv’vos Ephraim (4:246) queries whether a child may sit in a parent’s seat in shul for Minchah where the parent only sits in the seat for Shacharis?
The Yalkut Yosef (Kibud Av 5:19) rules that it is forbidden to sit in a parent’s seat in shul for Minchah where the parent only sits in the seat for Shacharis. The sefer Avnei Derech (5:21) rules similarly. Nevertheless, the Avnei Derech cites numerous Acharonim who rule that it is permitted for a child to sit in a parent’s former seat in shul if the parent now sits somewhere else.
V. Parent Doesn’t Mind
The Ateres Shmuel (ibid) notes that there is a machlokes whether a parent may waive his right to be feared, and thus can allow a child to sit in his seat in shul. Indeed, the Aruch HaShulchan (ibid) explains that the reason why children are not careful with this law today is because the parent – at the very least when he is not there – presumably does not care that the child is sitting in his seat. However, the Ateres Shmuel does warn that the Chazon Ish and others were careful not to waive their right to be feared too often, as this leads to a laxity in this important mitzvah.
Next Week’s Topic: May a child ever contradict a parent?