Can a daughter pierce her mother’s ear? Rabbanit Surale Rosen
Adar 1 5782 | February 2022נושאים: Kibbud Av V'em
Is a daughter permitted to pierce a second hole in her mother’s ear?
To answer this question we first need to consider what is categorized under the prohibition of injuring one’s parents.
The Torah warns us: “one who strikes his father and mother shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:15). Rashi, citing the Mekhilta de’Rabbi Yishmael (Masekhta De’nezikin 5), comments: “one is culpable only if striking causes injury.” The Rambam writes accordingly (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, lo ta’ase 319):
We were warned not to strike a father or mother … and one who transgresses this prohibition – in other words, strikes his father or mother intentionally, and draws blood – he is punishable by strangulation. The details of this commandment were clarified at the end of tractate Sanhedrin (84b-85a).
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (84b) debates whether a son or daughter is permitted to injure a parent and draw blood for the purpose of medical treatment:
Is a son permitted to let blood for his father? Rav Mattana says: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rav Dimi bar Ḥinnana says: One who strikes a person and one who strikes an animal – Just as one who strikes an animal for medicine is exempt, so too, one who strikes a person for medicine is exempt [from liability].
Rav Mattana infers from the verse ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ that just as any person would prefer to be injured for the purpose of being cured, so too a parent would want their child to do whatever is necessary in order to cure them – even if the process involves drawing blood.
Rav Dimi bar Hinnana learns from the comparison that the warning about striking any person (including one’s parent) and striking an animal are mentioned in the same verse – and there, the Torah instructs us that one who strikes an animal in order to cure it is exempt from liability; according to this the same is true of one’s parents.
The Gemara goes on to mention two additional rabbis who prevented their sons from treating them: Rav prohibited his son from removing a thorn, and Ravina did not allow his son to open an impacted burn in order to let out the pus – both out of concern that the children will cause them to draw blood and will be liable for an unintentional transgression.
The story in the Gemara may be understood in various ways. The Gemara might have cited Rav and Ravina’s refusal to allow their sons to apply medical treatment for three different reasons:
1. To contradict the allowance provided by Rav Mattana and Rav Dimi bar Ḥinnana.
2. To prove that the allowance of injury for the purpose of medical treatment is dependent on parental approval, as Rav Mattana instructed (i.e. if parents want their children to treat them, there is no prohibition involved).
3. To instruct that causing injury for the purpose of medical treatment is only permitted as long as the injury in an integral part of the treatment, not an inadvertent result of the treatment. Therefore, these rabbis were concerned not about the medical treatment, but rather, about inadvertent injury.
Rishonim and poskim derived various conclusions from the Gemara.
The Rambam wrote (Hilkhot Mamrim 5:7):
When a person lets blood for his father, or if he was a doctor and amputated flesh or a limb, he is not liable. Even though he is not liable, the initial and preferred option is for him not to perform the operation. Nor should he remove a thorn from the flesh of his father or mother lest he cause a bruise.
When does the above apply? When there is another person there who is capable of performing these actions. If, however, there is no one else there capable of doing this but him and they are suffering, he may let blood or amputate according to the license that they grant him.
The Beit Yosef (Yoreh De’ah 241) explains that according to the Rambam the stories did not intend to refute Rav Mattana and Rav Dimi’s allowance, but rather to clarify that since someone else was able to care for them, the rabbis preferred not to have their sons injure them. However, if no one else was present to care for them – their children would be permitted to do so.
The Tur (Yoreh De’ah, hilkhot kibbud av va-em 241) ruled (according to the Rambam): “If there is no one else present who can perform the treatment, and he is suffering, it is permitted to let blood and cut according to what [the parent] allows.” In other words, the allowance is dependent on the degree of suffering and the absence of another who can provide medical treatment, and is conditional on explicit parental consent.
The Ran (Hidushim, Sanhedrin 84b) writes that the reason Rav did not allow his son to treat him was that he might draw blood inadvertently, but letting blood for the direct purpose of medical treatment is permitted, just as letting blood would be allowed for any other person.
The Rif and the Rosh (cited by the Beit Yosef) infer that the intention of the story was to contradict the allowance given by Rav Mattana and Rav Dimi. According to this position, the conclusion of the sugya is that children are not permitted to injure their parents, even for the purpose of medical treatment.
The Mitzvah of Providing Medical Treatment
Ramban in Torat ha-Adam (inyan ha-sakana) discusses the fact that not only is a doctor given permission to provide medical treatment (despite the ever-present danger that providing medical treatment might lead to harm and even death) – a doctor is obligated to do so as a derivative of ואהבת לרעך כמוך (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”). The Torah commands us to apply medical treatment despite the inherent danger, knowing that something which has the power to heal one person may harm or even cause the death of another. According to the same logic, when there is no one else to treat a parent, and the child is a proficient medical authority – the child is not only permitted, but obligated to treat the parent, despite the danger of a mistake, which can be made by anyone.
The Minhat Hinukh (Mishpatim, mitzvah 48:2) writes that the rabbis who prohibited their children to treat them were concerned that the son would inadvertently injure the father against his will in a manner that exceeded the necessary treatment. However, if the parent instructs the child to treat him, the son is exempt from all liability, even for inadvertent harm.
Perhaps the Minhat Hinukh should be understood in relation to the mitzvah to listen to one’s parents. The reason the son is exempt from liability is that he is heeding his father’s instruction. Considering the Rambam believes there is a mitzvah to provide medical treatment, according to this the son may be engaging in two mitzvot – honoring one’s parent, and providing medical treatment (Dayan Ariel Holland; Mishnah Shabbat 19:4; Rambam, hilkhot shegagot 2:8-10).
Practical Conclusion: Shulkhan Arukh and Rema
The Shulhan Arukh (contrary to the majority of lenient positions brought in the Beit Yosef) rules according to the more stringent positions:
If his father needed a thorn removed, he may not remove it, since he might injure him. So too, if he was a blood-letter or a doctor, he may not let his father’s blood or cut his limb, even if his intension was for medical purposes.
The Rema comments:
When does this apply? When other people are able to perform this task. But if there is no one else present, and he is in pain – he may let his blood or cut as much as the father permits.
Is the Rema explaining the Shulhan Arukh, or disagreeing with him? Does the Shulhan Arukh prohibit treating the parent even if no one else is available to treat a medical condition?
Resp. Mishneh Halakhot (IX:404) explains that the Rema in fact agrees with the Shulhan Arukh that lekhathila a child should not treat a parent – certainly not when another option is available.
However, bedieved – when there is no one else present, and the parent is suffering and asking for help – a child may treat a parent; it seems that the Shulhan Arukh agrees that this is permissible bedieved, when no other option is available (although the Mishna Halakhot avoids permitting this explicitly).
The Minhat Shlomo (I:32) explains that for the purpose of medical treatment, a child may treat a parent (and similarly R. Auerbach in Resp. Yahel Yisrael 42 permits a son to circumcise his father if there is no one else present who can).
The discussion above shows that the poskim debate whether a child may injure a parent even for the purpose of medical treatment. Even according to the permitting positions, this is allowed only when there is no other option, and when the parent is suffering, and even then – only with explicit permission.
But what is the halakha in the case that injury is the result not of a medical treatment, but a beauty treatment?
The Tzitz Eliezer (XI:41) discusses the case of plastic surgery for the purpose of improving one’s appearance. He cites the Shaarei Tzedek’s position that “The Torah permitted the doctor to heal an illness, or rescue one from pain and suffering that are against one’s nature; but if one was born a certain way and we seek to change his nature, this is not considered medical intervention.”
Conversely one may argue that if one’s appearance is a source of shame, cosmetic surgery may be considered a medical need for mental health (Tosfot Shabbat 50b: “For his suffering – even if he has no other suffering except that he is embarrassed to walk among people … since there is no greater suffering.”).
The Igrot Moshe (Hoshen Mishpat II:66) explains that injury for the purpose of beatification was not prohibited by the Rambam, who only prohibited injury in the context of a fight or (according to another version) humiliation. According to Rashi (Sanhedrin 84b), “Israel were only warned about harming their peers in a manner that they would not wish to be harmed themselves.” In other words, based on the parameter of “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” one is not prohibited to perform an action one would take for their own beautification – on another.
Regardless, in this case which does not involve pain or suffering or even humiliation; and since the mother can go get her ears pierced elsewhere; and since the question relates to the piercing of a second hole – it seems that there is sufficient grounds to assume the prohibition of injuring one’s parent is still valid, and a daughter may not pierce her mother’s ear.
Since the majority of poskim only permit a child to injure their parent in unusual circumstances of applying medical treatment, in the case of piercing an ear, which involves injury and bleeding, a daughter may not pierce a hole in her mother’s ear, since even according to positions that allow injury for cosmetic needs, this is only permitted in cases of humiliation or suffering, which are closer to a medical need.
In the case of piercing a second hole in the mother’s ear, there are no considerations of suffering or humiliation caused by the daughter avoiding piercing her ear that might allow her to pierce her mother’s ear.