The Perplexing Case of a Father’s Promise, a Mother’s Distress, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s Name-Changing Advice

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During a recent shiur that he delivered in Cholon, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, rov of Ramat Elchonon, shared the following shailah that was presented to his brother-in-law, Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

A man who was not blessed with offspring for five years went to daven at the kever of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, where he vowed, “If my wife gives birth to a son, I will name him Shimon.”

Sometime later, amidst great joy, the couple celebrated the birth of a son. The father intended to fulfill his vow, but his wife insisted that the child be called Yechezkel, the name of a tzaddik with whom the family had been close. The couple failed to reach common ground, and, at the bris, while reciting the krias sheim, the husband announced the baby’s name as Shimon.

After the bris, the avi haben’s father-in-law approached him and said, “What you have done is against the halachah, which says that the naming of a baby goes to the mother. I forbid you from crossing the threshold of my home until you make a change to the name of the child.”

The confused father went to Rav Zilberstein with this quandary.

“Even if you’re right, you’re not smart,” Rav Zilberstein admonished the man, directing him to present the question to his brother-in-law, Rav Chaim Kaneivsky.

Rav Chaim’s answer surprised some. “Change the name to Yechezkel,” he ruled decisively.

And what about the vow of the father to name his son Shimon?

“You already fulfilled your neder by naming him Simon,” said Rav Chaim. “You did not promise for how long he will be named that way. So now that you already named him that, change the name to the one your wife desires, Yechezkel. Once you have kept your neder, you may change the name for the sake of shalom bayis.”

David Steger – Matzav.com Israel

18 COMMENTS

  1. “What you have done is against the halachah, which says that the naming of a baby goes to the mother.”

    Pardon my ignorance, but does anyone know:
    1) Is that an actual halacha?
    2) If the answer to #1 is “Yes”, does the mother also have the halachic final say in the naming of all following children?
    3) If the answer to #1 is “Yes”, where is the mekor (source) for this?

    Thank you to any and all who can answer the above questions.

  2. There are various customs regarding who chooses children’s names. In some circles, the father chooses a name for the first child, the mother chooses a name for the second child, and they continue to alternate.

    In other communities, the mother chooses the first name, the father the second, and so on.

    In any case, both parents need to agree on the name, and it should not be assigned unilaterally. The above order simply determines which spouse suggests the name for the first child, etc. However, the final decision must be mutually agreed upon.

  3. As it relates to actual halacha, we see in Breishis 38 that Yehuda named his first child and Tamar named the second. Shaila, the 3rd child was named by Tamar because, as pasuk 7 says, Yehuda was in Chziv when he was born. I would guess the real issue here was shalom bayis.

  4. Regarding the order, see Bereishis Genesis 38:5, as explained in the Da’as Zekeinim on that posuk. Also see
    Shaarei Halachah Uminhag, vol. 3, pg. 295 and Divrei Yechezkel pp. 61ff, quoted in What’s in a Name? 1:7.

  5. the common custom is not to give someone a name after a person that had a bad life, was killed, died young etc. since the name has an effect on the person who carries it. This custom is based on the Sefer Chassidim (244) .
    but based on the gemara (Pesachim 110 b), if you are not concerned it does not concern you.

  6. There is is obviously much more to this story that we are not aware of. There is definitely a communication problem between husband and wife. Something tells me this name calling fiasco is only a drop in the bucket. Nebach. After waiting so many years, what a shame to have to deal with this. The couple should seek counseling without the “well meaning” Inlaws involved. Nebach.

  7. There is obviously a lot missing in this story. It would appear that the husband and wife probably agreed in the first place on the Shimon name and only when the father in law, (who in my humble opinion is the one who is not smart here) mixed in, that it became a sholom bayis issue and the great Godol pakskened the way he did. My wife and i have bh many grandchildren and some of their names have been expected and some not. We have NEVER intervened or even commented on any. We believe our children’s sholom bayis is as important as our own.

  8. There is NO Halacha about names. It’s all about minhag.

    With all the respect to Rav Chaim shlit”a, and deference to his psak, I felt 2 reactions when I read this story.

    1. Seforim tell us that the father is given a spark of Ruach Hakodesh when saying the name of the baby at the bris. That is not something to dismiss. I accept the psak Halacha from Rav Chaim that shalom bayis overrules this.

    2. I am bothered by the insistence of the father-in-law intervening. Just as Rav Zilberstein told the child’s father that he was right but foolish, I would use that line for the shver.

    Probably a bigger problem here is that both parents need to agree on a name beforehand, and that parents and in-laws should let go. Our married children are not machines to produce babies so that we can name them.

  9. Maybe for the sake of sholom bayis the shver should’ve been moichel on the name. And he should’ve been happy that he had a Yechezkel rather than no grandkid. And what kind of threat is that, not allowing his son-in-law to enter his house? That would make me want to keep the original name! Thankfully we have gedolim who can work out a peshara like this even when there are chasidim shoitim out there acting like jerks.

  10. Reb moshe zt”l actually writes that the father has the final say. He brings a clear proof from Binyamin, as Rochel said to name home “Ben-oni”

  11. Pretzels and Prunes –
    Nice remez, but nowhere is it mentioned the In-law.
    Moreover, the father is the only one that can name the child. It is NOT the In-Laws business in the first place.
    Yes, its somewhat of a Kibud/Minhag to ask but its the father’s full right of naming it.
    I will quote:

    “שכל השמות אינן נופלים על מקרה כי השם יושם על שם העתיד מה שעתיד להיות ששמו מעיד עליו ….ולכן הקב׳יה משים בפי אביו ואמו השם שיקראו לו, המורה על מעשיו כמו שגלוי לפני הקב״ה וכאומרם ז”ל במדרש חזית שלשה שמות יש באדם אחד שקורא לו הקב״ה ואחד אביו ואמו”
    (דנא פשרא לבעל שבט מוסר)

    In this case where the father has already named (especially after being childless for 5 yrs). No one has the right to intervene. Its basically interfering with the will of GD.
    No doubt it was a case of Shalom Bayis, wherein the In-Law should have kept quiet.

  12. a baal tshuva came to a man in shul and said he wife just had a baby and he wanted to know what the halacha is regarding naming the baby.the man said there is no halacha but rather a minhag to name after a dead relative such as grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, cousin etc..”but they are all still alive”, said the baal tshuva.”oh, thats too bad” replied the man

  13. Supposedly ,there was a story where the mother wanted an israeli name like Noam, while the father ,who was becoming more religious, wanted Elimelech after R’ Elimelech of Lizensk

    They were told to name the baby ” Noam Elimelech”

  14. All I think about when reading this story is how awful ot will be for the kid to have such terribly narcissistic and mushcis parents and grandfather.

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