Shabbos 66 Adopted parents 

On this Daf, we learn several things that the leading Amora, Abaya, was told by his mother.

The truth is, however, that according to the Gemara (Kiddushin 31b,) Abaya never got to know his biological mother , as she passed away tragically during his birth.

To add to his suffering, his father had  also passed away before he was born, so he never met him either – he was orphaned of both parents from birth .

As such, the Gemora there explains that when he refers to things he heard from his mother, he is referring to his foster mother.

His foster mother was no ordinary lady, but the wife of his teacher and leading Amora, Rabbah bar Nachmani himself , who had adopted the child who would eventually become one of his two star students ( see Rashi in Gittin 34b “והלכתא” )

The fact that he referred to her as his mother, seems to indicate that at least in certain respects , he considered a foster  mother to be like a biological mother , and thus the laws of honoring parents that prohibit mentioning one’s parent by name would apply to her too, at least in spirit, if not in actual law.

Whether this is because he held that actual halachik status is given to a foster parent, or whether he simply did it out of courtesy, is not plainly evident.

There are multiple practical ramifications of this question, that could affect, for example

  1. Whether the mitzva of having children is fulfilled through adoption,
  2. Whether the mitzva of honoring parents applies to foster  parents,
  3. Whether one gets the death penalty for hitting a foster parent.
  4. Whether the laws of inheritance apply to foster  children.
  5. Whether one may marry the daughter or son of a foster parent.
  6. Whether there is a prohibition of yichud with an adopted child.
  7. May one be called to the Torah using his foster father’s name, and could it be used in a marriage document,

In looking for further evidence that an adopted child is treated as a biological child, at least in certain respects, we encounter an almost explicit Gemara in Sanhedrin 19b.

The Gemara points out that the 5 sons of Shaul’s daughter, Meirav,  are referred to in Shmuel  2/21 as the daughters of Michal, his other daughter .

It explains that even though Meirav gave birth to them, Michal raised them, and they were thus referred to as HER sons.

The Gemara derives from this, and a few other examples from Tanakh, that if one raises an orphan in his home, the Torah considers it as if he gave birth to him!

Together with the example of Abaya on our daf, this seems to be very strong proof that at least as far as naming is concerned, a foster parent or child is, or at least can be, treated like a biological one.

Of course,  there is much more work to do before conclusions can be reached either way- in practice, as with most complex issues,  each one of these questions must be researched separately and discussed with a serious Talmid-Chacham holding in all relevant sugyos – as a spoiler,  it seems that for most issues of halachic status, the consensus of poskim is not to treat adopted children as biological children, and the “as if”  כאלו comparison in Sanhedrin , like many like it, is not meant to be taken precisely in the halachic sense.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.


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