Using Inheritance to Promote Marriage Within the Faith

Hello readers…this is one in which I'm really interested in hearing your comments.

Religion Clause reports that the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a clause in someone's will that an inheritance would go to those of his grandchildren that "married within the Jewish faith."  Four of his five grandchildren married Gentiles, and got nothing.  One of them contested the will, arguing among other things, that it violated due process and free exercise clauses of the Constitution.  The Supreme Court upheld the will.

I'm not so interested in the specific legal issues, as I am in the concept.  Is this a good and proper way to encourage endogamy (in-marriage)?  Would you put a clause like this in your will?  Why, or why not?

Reb Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

7 thoughts on “Using Inheritance to Promote Marriage Within the Faith

  • Of course, a technique used in my grandfather’s generation was to threaten to say Kaddish (i.e. treat as dead) any child who intermarried. Interestingly in the Illinois case, the will involved reflected remnants of that approach. The disinheritance was framed as a bequest partly to Max Feinberg’s children and partly to his grandchildren. However any grandchild who married outside the Jewish faith or whose non-Jewish spouse did not convert to Judaism within one year of marriage would be “deemed deceased for all purposes of this instrument as of the date of such marriage” and that descendant’s share of the trust would revert to Feinberg’s children.

  • As much as I would want my children to marry Jews, I hope I would not penalize them if they didn’t. I do not understand this kind of parenting. I may disagree with my children, but I will always be there to support them (and when I am no longer around, what’s left from my life will be theirs – unconditionally)

  • One of the toughest things of being a parent is giving your children the freedom to follow their own path and dreams…

  • Mark Kestenbaum

    I don’t think it’s the least bit effective and might even have the opposite effect. I say this both from my own experience with my own children (none of them have married out, but financial pressures did not cause a change in behavior) and from the case in point. (4 out of 5 married out. I don’t believe that that is a coincidence.

    However, a person may feel better about himself for having rewarded good behavior and not bad and if that makes you feel better, why not? People give their money to charity at the expense of their children. If you give it to one child at the expense of another because that child has behaved in what you consider the proper way, that’s your prerogative.

  • It may be his prerogative Mark, but it would still likelier lead to four out of five kids feeling resentful, and blaming Judaism. Better to figure out a way to draw them close than to push them away…

    Reb Barry

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  • Hmmmm….I’m not sure I would do this, but I can understand a parent wanting to make sure the values and faith that informed his life were passed down to his grandchildren—which they won’t be if they grandchildren are raised as Christians (or even “secular”–since the default belief system in the US is Christianity–no one puts Moses and the tablets on the classroom walls, they put Santa Claus, reindeer and Christmas trees, so don’t kid yourself.)

  • Well, I believe such a clause to be morally wrong. Religion – I know mine does, I’m sure Judaism as well – has pretty well defined rules regarding who inherits what. Nowhere does it say they should be disinherited if they committed a crime of faith (or married outside the faith).

    Plus, something is funny in this story. The five granchildren were already married at the reading of the will, yes? Assuming this took place shortly after the death of the grandfather, he must’ve already known who was married to a Jew and who wasn’t. Perhaps he only liked one of his grandchildren and not the others, and needed a good excuse to disinherit them…


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