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ORPHAN:

A child bereft of one or both parents, more commonly the latter

.—Biblical Data:

The Authorized Version, in all cases but one, renders "yatom," the Hebrew word for "orphan," by "fatherless"; the exception being in Lam. v. 3, where "yetomim" is rendered "orphans," the word being followed by the expression "and fatherless." Orphans are represented throughout the Bible as helpless beings; and therefore the Pentateuch reiterates continually the command to render justice to orphans. In the contrary case their oppressor is to expect the severest punishment (see Ex. xxii. 21-23, and elsewhere). God Himself is termed "the father of the fatherless" (Ps. lxviii. 6 [A. V. 5]). When Job wished to point out the excessive wickedness of his companions he said: "Ye would overwhelm the fatherless" (Job vi. 27). In other instances Job speaks of the wicked who are not afraid to commit injustice even toward orphans (ib. xxiv. 9; xxxi. 17, 21).

—In Talmudic Law:

Owing to the emphasis of the Biblical prohibition against oppressing an orphan (see Biblical Data, above), the latter is regarded by the Rabbis as especially privileged. There is no fixed limit of age; as long as the boy can not manage his own affairs he is treated as an orphan (Maimonides, "Yad," De'ot, vi.; Isserles, in Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 160, 18; comp. Isserlein, "Terumat ha-Deshen," No. 300). The blessed man "that doeth righteousness at all times" (Ps. cvi. 3) is the man who brings up an orphan boy, or girl, until marriage has given him, or her, another home (Ket. 50a). He who brings up an orphan in his house is regarded as the orphan's father (Sanh. 19b). One must deal with orphans gently and kindly, and must not speak harshly to them, and their guardian must take greater care of their money than of his own. Even while teaching them the Law or a handicraft, which may be done against their will, they must be treated differently from other pupils. In this respect the fatherless and the motherless are alike (Maimonides, l.c.). But the privileges enjoyed by the orphan in civil law extend only to the fatherless (Samuel de Modena, Responsa, iv., Nos. 196, 454). Most of the laws relating to orphans having been treated already (see Alienation and Acquisition; Guardian and Ward; Inheritance, etc.), it will be sufficient here to give a few of the general laws which show the inviolability of the orphan's property.

With regard to Ona'ah, the orphan's property is considered equivalent to consecrated property (B. M. 56b). Orphans, although they may be rich, are exempt from taxation for charitable purposes, even for the ransom of captive Jews, unless the taxation is with the object of doing honor to them. They must, however, contribute to the fund for the safe-guarding of the city in which they live (B. B. 8a; comp. Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 248, 3). Orphans' property may be sold under judgment only when mortgaged upon usurious terms, so that its retention might cause the orphans great loss ('Ar. 22a). They need no Prosbul for the Sabbatical year (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 67, 28).

Certain laws relate exclusively to female orphans, such as that conferring the right to protest against her marriage while she is a minor (see Majority, §2). In one case she is termed "an orphan that has a father" (i.e., a minor daughter, but no longer under her father's control). Such an orphan is under the same rule as a fatherless girl with regard to protesting and vows, that is, the vows of both are valid (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 155, 1). A female orphan has priority over a male orphan in regard to both support and the provisions for marriage (Ket. 67a; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 251, 7). He who gives an orphan girl in marriage should provide her with a dowry of not less than fifty zuzim. When an orphan girl is given in marriage by her mother or brothers with her consent, she can recover, when she reaches her majority, her part of the inheritance (Ket. vi. 5-6).

When a male orphan wishes to be married with the assistance of charity, the trustees of the fund hire a house for him and furnish it with all that is necessary; then they find him a wife (Ket. 67b). In certain ritual observances the term "orphan" ("yatom") is applied, during the whole year, to one in mourning for his father or his mother (see Ḳaddish).

Bibliography:
  • Kohut, Aruch Completum, s.v. ;
  • Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ, s.v. ;
  • Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. s.v. .
M. Sel.

It should be noted that in the civil law of the Talmud the term "yetomim" is almost always applied to heirs when the liability of their ancestor is cast upon them, even when the ancestor is not the father and when the heirs are not under age; as in the case of Debts of Decedents, and wherever the rights of the children and those of the widow come into conflict (see Ketubah). In The Jewish Encyclopedia "heirs" has generally been substituted for .

E. C. L. N. D.
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