Question: May a child place an elderly parent in a nursing home instead of caring for the parent in his own home? If yes, who pays for the nursing home?
Short Answer: While it is an incredible mitzvah for a child to care for an elderly parent in his home, there are poskim who allow the child to place the parent in a nursing home, especially if remaining in the child’s home negatively impacts the shalom bayis of the child. The parent’s funds may be used to pay for the nursing home, but if the parent does not have the funds, the child must pay for the funds and cannot use tz’dakah money to pay for the care.
I. The Source
The Gemara (Kiddushin 32a) brings a dispute between Amora’im whether a child must pay for kibud av va’eim with his own funds or whether he may use his parents’ funds to perform the mitzvah. In other words, if a parent requests a soda, must the child purchase the soda with his own money or may he charge it to his parent’s credit card? The Gemara concludes that the Rabbis taught that the halachah is that the child may use his parent’s money.
This law is codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:5).
II. The Poor Parent
But what about if the parent is poor and cannot afford to pay for his own kibud av va’eim, i.e., he cannot afford to purchase his own soda? Is the child obligated to purchase the soda for the parent? The answer is yes, but the source and reason for this answer has broad ramifications.
The Sh’iltos (cited in Tosafos ibid.) notes that if the father is poor, the child must still perform kibud av va’eim, as the child needs to give tz’dakah regardless. This implies that the child is not fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim by paying for the father’s needs, but rather the general mitzvah of tz’dakah. Accordingly, if a father is poor, the son must only perform kibud av va’eim with his own funds, but only up to normal amounts of tz’dakah. Moreover, if the son has no money of his own, he is not obligated to beg for money, as a person is not obligated to beg for money in order to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of tz’dakah.
The Yerushalmi (cited in the same Tosafos ibid.), however, implies that even if both the father and son are poor, the son must still perform kibud av va’eim by begging for funds in order to fulfill this mitzvah. This obligation is not a general obligation to give tz’dakah, but rather a fulfillment of the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim. Accordingly, the son must spend what is needed to perform the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim. This is the opinion of the Radvaz (cited in P’sakim u’T’shuvos, 240:18, miluim).
III. P’sak of the Shulchan Aruch
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:5) rules that if the father cannot afford to take care of himself, the son must spend his own money to support the father. However, if the son has no money, he does not need to beg for money on behalf of his father. This is similar to the Sh’iltos (mentioned above). See Shach and Taz (ibid). The Rama does not disagree. He rules explicitly that the son does not need to spend more than the normal amount spent on tz’dakah to fulfill this obligation.
Notably, the Ben Ish Chai (cited in Ateres Shmuel, siman 5) writes that despite the strict letter of the law, it is disgusting for a child to allow his parents to beg for money and should instead beg on their behalf if necessary. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:22), on the other hand, notes this same point but only in the context of not allowing a mother (as opposed to a father) to go begging.
IV. Send Him to a Nursing Home!
A common application of this discussion occurs where a parent requires 24-hour care and can either move in with a child or be placed in a nursing home. Should the parent be placed in the nursing home, and if yes, who pays?
There is a famous story (cited in T’shuvos V’Hanhagos 2:444) about Rav Chaim Brisker zt”l. A poor man once asked Rav Chaim whether he needed to pay out of his own pocket the expensive fare to travel to Warsaw to visit his father (who could not pay the fare for the child), since we pasken that one only needs to spend up to the normal amount of tz’dakah in this scenario. Rav Chaim responded that he is obligated to walk to Warsaw in order to fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av va’eim; if he wants to take the train to make it easier for himself, he must pay the fare himself, as this is a personal expense and not part of the mitzvah.
Based on this story, the Brisker Rav (cited in T’shuvos V’Hanhagos, ibid.) ruled that even though we pasken that a child may use the parent’s funds to pay for kibud av va’eim, such ruling does not apply where the money is being spent to make the child’s life easier and not going directly to the parent’s needs. Thus, since a child is obligated to house and care for his elderly parent in his home, if the child wants to make it easier on himself by placing the parent in a nursing home instead, the child must pay the expensive costs and may not use tz’dakah funds to do so (assuming the parent cannot afford the nursing home with the parent’s own funds; see T’shuvos V’Hanhagos).
As an aside, but an important aside, it is not entirely clear if a child is obligated to house and care for his elderly parent in his house, especially if it impacts shalom bayis. Indeed, the Sheivet HaLevi (9:197) ruled that a child does not need to house a parent in his home if it negatively impacts shalom bayis, and the child may instead place the parent in a nursing home (although he does not discuss who pays for the nursing home). See also Ateres Shmuel (ibid). However, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (ibid.) is clear that the ideal is for the parent to be cared for in the child’s house.
Next Week’s Topic: May a child ever receive help from a parent?