Not the Way to Do It


We’ve been following the case of an Illinois dentist and his wife, Max and Erla Feinberg, who put into his will that his grandchildren would only inherit his money if they married Jews. The grandchildren sued their parents over the will. The Illinois Supreme Court just overturned two lower court decisions, and ruled that it was legal for the will to disinherit four out of five of the grandchildren who had married non-Jews. Tablet blogger Gabriel Sanders pointed out that the Feinberg parents had a huge financial incentive to want their children to marry non-Jews, since they would then receive the inheritance themselves.

I can’t comment on the legalities of this case, or on the paradox of bribing one’s children to ensure that one’s grandchildren marry non-Jews, or Jews, or whichever. I get dizzy thinking about what this case means for religious freedom in US law. I do want to point out what this shows me, as a person working in the Jewish community on the issue of interfaith marriage.

Punishing Jews for marrying non-Jews, either financially, or with community disapproval, or through ostracism, has not worked for our community.  We’ve lost a lot of chances to bring in non-Jewish spouses as allies and friends to Judaism. We’ve lost a lot of wonderful, intelligent, creative Jewish children by pushing away their parents. We’ve broken the hearts of adult children of interfaith families when they came to the Jewish community, investigating their Jewish heritage. We’ve pushed some intermarried Jews out the door who might have come back into our Jewish lives, interfaith families and all. Let’s stop doing it this way. We can do better.

10 thoughts on “Not the Way to Do It”

  • What I find the most embarrassing about conversations such as this one, is two Jews marrying does not make a practicing Jewish household. Two married Jews who decide to no longer practice or pass on their religion to their children could be more harmful to the Jewish population than an interfaith couple that is open about religion and therefore opens the door for their children to practice Jewish.

    With all the hate in this world, I find it so sad people are faced with anything but joy when they find love, no matter what the race, religion or gender of the partners.

  • I find your comments, Hilush, an embarrassment to the Jewish people.  Encouraging inmarriage and discouraging intermarriage is vital to the future of the Jewish people.  I don’t want Judaism to be extinct in the next few decades and that is why it’s important that we encourage our young people to marry other Jews.

    I don’t see how you can be a committed Jew and have a strong Jewish identity and be in an interfaith relationhip.  The same goes for Chrsitian and Muslims in interfaith relationships.  It’s impossible.

  • I’m not qualified to comment on the legal issue – but disinheriting Jewish children who marry non-Jews is just embarrassing to the Jewish people. And in general, Jews who discourage intermarriage are also an embarrassment to the Jewish people. I am committed to my Judaism and also in an interfaith relationship, and every time I hear someone berate intermarried Jews, it makes me cringe. I luckily have a strong Jewish identity and would not reject Judaism based on some Jews’ practices of ostracism – but so many other Jews are severely turned off by that attitude, and we need to let them know they are welcome and accepted, regardless of who their partner is.

  • legal issues are one thing, familial issues are a completely different story.

    if the Jewish community intends on encouraging in-marriage, this is definitely not the way to do it. shame on the Feinbergs for coming up with this clause, and shame on anyone who would disinherit their offspring for finding love even if it’s not with someone of the same faith.

  • What does this case have to do with religious freedom in America?  All the Illinois Supreme Court did was affirm the Feinbergs legal right to disinherit their intermarried grandchildren.  I don’t personally agree with it, and it might look mean and unfair to outsiders, but the Feinbergs earned their money and have every right to do with it as they wished.  I would feel the same way if they were a Christian or Muslim couple.

    I agree with Alexandra that intermarriage is condoned and valued by the non-Orhtodox Jewish community.  American Jewish men are encouraged to date non-Jewish women because of hatred toward Jewish women and the glorification of Gentile women in the Jewish community.  Philip Roth’s novels are based on the writer’s and his Jewish friends, who most if not all, married non-Jewish women. 

    The Jewish community should welcome children of intermarried couples and make it easier for them to convert, if they wish, or to explore their Jewish heritage.  At the same time there’s nothing wrong with encouraging inmarriage. 

  • I agree with all of the above. How can it be spiritual to be mean to people? Welcoming and supporting those who want to live a Jewish life seems so much more logical. And so much kinder – and therefore, so much more JEWISH. And human. And healthy. Isn’t treating others with kindness one of the most central Jewish values?

    Meanwhile, I cannot, myself, imagine ever failing to treat my children equally in their inheritance. I have met people whose parents or other relatives played favorites or wrote someone out of their will, but it seems like such a terrible form of psychological violence. There nothing – possibly short of murdering their father or raping me or killing a person in our living room – that would ever, EVER, prevent me from giving them equal shares in whatever I have. All children are born equal and will remain equals. That’s what, I think, God would do.

  • Actually, I think we did not ostracize enough!  I think that Jewish men who married out were glamourized and treated like royalty!  That has left the women with very few options.  Yes, this is a cultural thing:  why people feel more “accepted” when they marry out and feel that they have a “trophy”. You see this in Philip Roth novels.  I think that self-hatred is at the root of it and somebody should seriously examine this.

  • Sure, it’s their right (at least as recently determined in a court of law!) but please do notice that in spite of this, four out of five of their grandchildren have married non-Jews. Not only that, but the family is having a public legal battle about the will. Perhaps we need to think about outcomes when we consider tactics?

  • The grandparents are legally free to do as they wish – and it is nobody’s business how they choose to use their money.    They have certain values and feel strongly about it.  To them this is about doing the right thing – not about  “punishing” people.

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