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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.
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