by R. Gil Student
I. Avoiding Similar Names
It is hard to find a lifemate. Part of the so-called “Shidduch Crisis” is the limitations we impose on potential spouses, even among those within the same social circles. One of these limitations is a widespread custom, albeit not universally followed, of a man refraining from marrying a woman with the same name as his mother. There is much discussion about whether this truly is a limitation and how to sidestep it, if possible.
The source of this idea is the ethical will of Rav Yehudah He-Chasid (13th cen., Germany; par. 23). He writes that a man should not marry a woman with the same name as his mother and, likewise, a woman should not marry a man with the same name as her father. He does not offer any reason why this should be problematic. However, later authorities suggest reasons with practical implications.
Rav Matis Blum (21st cen., US; Torah La-Da’as, vol. 1, p. 74) quotes four possible reasons for this concern:
1) Rav Eliezer Deutsch (20th cen., Hungary; Responsa Peri Ha-Sadeh 1:69) attributes this concern to ayin ha-ra, some form of evil eye or an evil decree from Heaven going to the wrong person (see Chagigah 4b).
2) Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson (19th cen., Ukraine; Hagahos Yad Sha’ul, Yoreh De’ah 240) sees the concern in calling out the name and having the wrong person come, which could lead to forbidden interactions.
3) Responsa Devar Eliyahu (no. 32) suggests that if you call your wife by her name and it is also your mother’s name, then you will be showing disrespect to your mother by using her name.
4) Rav Reuven Margoliyos (20th cen., Israel; Mekor Chesed on Sefer Chasidim) proposes that the problem is that if your wife has the same name as your mother then you cannot name a child or grandchild after your mother, which causes bad feelings. (I looked but could not find reasons 2-4 in their original sources.)
If, following #2 above, the concern is confusion when a man calls out to his wife (or a woman calls out to her husband), then as long as they have different nicknames for each other that they use consistently there should be no problem. If, following #3 above, the issue is respect for the mother or father, then if they truly forgo their honor in this respect then the problem disappears. Following the first three reasons, if a woman adds to her name (e.g. Rivkah becomes Chanah Rivkah), then there should be no concern. However, according to reason #4, someone named Chanah Rivkah will not name a child or grandchild Rivkah. The bride would have to completely change her name to Chanah. Additionally, Rav Eliezer Deutsch, who proposed approach #1 that the concern is ayin ha-ra, suggests this only applies if the young couple lives with the groom’s parents and the two women with the same name live in the same house.
II. Lenient Views
Rav Yechezkel Landau (18th cen., Austria; Noda Bi-Yehudah, part 2, Even Ha-Ezer, no. 79) points out that some of the instructions in this section of Rav Yehudah He-Chasid’s will contradict the Talmud. For example, we find cases in the Talmud of a father-in-law and son-in-law with the same name (e.g. Shmuel the father-in-law of Rav Shmuel Bar Ami in Sotah 10b). If so, Rav Yehudah He-Chasid’s statement must have been intended only as guidance for his family and not general instructions for the public. Therefore, concludes Rav Landau in very strong language, unless you are a direct descendant of Rav Yehudah He-Chasid, you don’t have to follow these rules.
Rav Avraham Danzig (19th cen., Lithuania; Chokhmas Adam 123:13) points out that most people misunderstand this instruction. Rav Yehudah He-Chasid says the same thing in Sefer Chasidim (477) but adds that this is only a problem if there are three generations with the same name. If a man has a mother and grandmother named Rivkah, then he should not marry a woman named Rivkah. If it is only two generations, says Rav Danzig, there is no problem.
Later authorities dispute these two approaches. Rav Meir Eisenstadter (19th cen., Hungary; Imrei Esh, Yoreh De’ah, no. 60) follows Rav Landau’s conclusion regarding a woman marrying a man with the same name as her father. Rav Menachem Schneerson (19th cen., Russia; Tzemach Tzedek, Piskei Dinim, Yoreh De’ah 116) accepts Rav Landau’s approach in general but points out that there is an additional concern regarding a woman and her mother-in-law. In addition to Rav Yehudah He-Chasid’s will, the Arizal is quoted as warning against a man marrying a woman with the same name as his mother. The Arizal’s statement was not just for his family and is about even just two generations. Therefore, on this one issue, Rav Schneerson says that both Rav Landau’s and Rav Danzig’s approaches do not satisfy and we should avoid such marriages if their names are exactly the same.
We can see historically that many did not observe this rule. The famous Ra’avad of Posquierres (Rav Avraham Ibn Da’ud, 12th cen., Provence), who argued with Rambam, is also known as Ra’avad III. He was the son-in-law of Ra’avad II, Rav Avraham Ben Yitzchak Av Beis Din on Montpellier — both named Avraham! Most responsa on this subject, even those that rule strictly, point out that many people do not follow it. Rav Chaim Palaggi (19th cen., Turkey; Ru’ach Chaim, Even Ha-Ezer 62:12), in particular, notes how common in Izmir were marriages in which the bride’s name was the same as the groom’s mother. Many of such marriages, he says, ended in tragedy. Rav Chizkiyah Medini (19th cen., Crimea; Sedei Chemed, Ma’arekhes Chasan Ve-Kallah Ve-Chupah, no. 5) writes that when he moved from Istanbul to Crimea, where Rav Yehudah He-Chasid’s will was unknown, he was surprised to see how common it was to have marriages contrary to his instructions. He concludes that there is no need to inform people of the issue if they do not know.
III. A Middle Position
Rav Moshe Sofer (19th cen., Hungary; Responsa Chasam Sofer, Even Ha-Ezer 1:116) takes a middle approach. Adopting the language of the Talmud (Pesachim 110b), Rav Sofer says that those who are particular about this, Heaven is particular with them. And those who are not concerned, Heaven is not particular with them. In other words, if the bride and groom are bothered by this issue, they should change the relevant name. If they are not concerned, then Rav Sofer says that there is no need to change any name. Similarly, Rav Shlomo Ganzfried (19th cen., Ukraine; Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 145:8) says that (only) one who is concerned should not marry a woman with the same name as his mother. Rav Moshe Feinstein (20th cen., US; Iggeros Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer, 1:4) reaches the same conclusion.
There are those who are strict about this issue and those who are not. It has exercised halakhic authorities so much that Rav Avraham Tzvi Hirsch Eisenstadt (19th cen., Lithuania) discusses it in three different places in his Pischei Teshuvah collection of rulings on Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 116:6; Even Ha-Ezer 2:7, 50:14). Similarly, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Schapiro (20th cen., Hungary; Darkhei Teshuvah 116:56) and Rav Chizkiyah Medini (Sedei Chemed, ibid.) quote many additional sources on the subject, the latter including two otherwise unpublished letters by Rav Yosef Zechariah Stern (19th cen., Lithuania; see also Zeikher Yehosef, Berakhos 44a) who is not concerned for this issue. To all these discussions and lists of authorities, I add Rav Betzalel Ze’ev Safran (20th cen., Romania; Responsa Ha-Rabaz, Even Ha-Ezer, no. 20) who also leans toward the lenient position. Nearly all agree that if the bride changes or adds to her name and this new, expanded name is used consistently, the concern is resolved.