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Stepmother and stepchildren interaction

Question
Shalom Kvod HaRav, I am dating a widower with children, and at the prospect of becoming their mother BE’H, I want to know what Halachot are applicable as far as Tzniut is concerned between me and my future stepsons? The oldest of them being 8 years old (but is turning 9 in a few months). Would it be possible for me to give him a hug? I feel it’s extremely important, after all that has happened to the family (their mother was in a vegetative state for years.). Are there any Poskim that say that it is permissible? I thought I saw somewhere that R’ Feinstein does, but now I can’t find it. Also, what would be the Din regarding singing? Thank you.
Answer
Shalom, First of all allow me to wish you many blessings, and may you merit to build a faithful house in Israel, and be a fine mother. Because of the seriousness of your question - and the far-reaching repercussions - I strongly suggest that you make every effort to personally speak to a learned rabbi who can hear all the details surrounding your question and give you a much clearer answer than I possibly can in this format. For whatever ruling you get, it will affect not only yourself, but also the upbringing of your new children for many many years to come - and for this reason it is well worth any efforts you need to make to turn to a rabbi on a one-to-one basis, (if you could do this together with your future husband, all the better, as the rabbi will get even more relevant information he will need in order to make an informed decision). Let me though, in a very general way, give some outlines that might shine some light on the nature of the questions you face. Your question basically falls into two parts - the laws of modesty between the sexes as it applies to all children; and secondly, whether those laws change for a step- mother. The halacha rules that the laws of "yichud" (being alone together) apply to a male from the age of nine. Based on this, hugging and kissing from that age is also forbidden [- with the exception of a mother, father or grandparent to their offspring]. So, until the young children reach the age of nine you would certainly be able to hug them and also be alone with them. Does this change for a step-mother? Most major rabbis are of the opinion that there is no difference, and as the children were not born to you, after the age of nine they are treated with the same law as all other men, and one must ensure the separation between them and the step-mother (or adoptive mother). There is though a minor opinion of the Tzitz Eliezer (Volume 6, "Laws of Yichud" 21), by Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt"l, one of the great halachic authorities of the 20th century. He permits children who were adopted before the age when they are forbidden (boys from the age of nine) to continue to hug and kiss, and be alone with their adoptive mother. He writes that this is true of step-mothers also. {it seems to me that there may be room to use the date of when the child was first introduced to you, and not necessarily his age at the day of your wedding - though this point needs investigation before being relied upon}. He writes that this is a leniency, but he feels it is especially warranted in cases where a mother is needed for children orphaned from their birth mother. His opinion is certainly one that can be relied upon. Due the nature of this argument between the rabbis, and the seriousness of the question, I again recommend that you approach your own rabbi for a ruling. If for any reason this is not possible - please write to our site again, and I will arrange to speak to you personally and give you a ruling. As to the question of singing in front of the boys – you may certainly sing in front of them, and rely on the opinions that are lenient about singing zemirot, or singing in a group. Lullabies are also permitted. May you be blessed with only good!
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