Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Proof of God’s Existence

The following story from the Chicago Tribune, ‘Jewish clause’ divides a family, state courts weigh in on a man’s will that disinherited any descendant who married a gentile, is proof not only of God’s existence, but that God must love the Jewish people very much, because nothing else explains the ongoing existence of people behaving this badly! Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but this story of greed, family fighting, and identity politics is truly sad. But because it raises so many issues that touch so many families, Jewish and otherwise, and the fights that they have, I share it with you. But where to begin the sordid tale?
Let’s start with the deceased grandfather, Max Feinberg and his desire to see his grandchildren marry Jews. Okay, I get that. But holding money over them as an incentive? I actually get that too, it’s the last redoubt of a desperate man, so I feel sorry for him, but don’t endorse it his actions. He went so far as to describe such progeny who made a life with with a non-Jew as “deceased”! And that is beyond the pale.
Neither parents, nor grand-parents are obligated to prove their love by rewarding their kids equally when they have not all behaved equally. But to imagine that someone you love is dead because of a theological disagreement is pretty dangerous territory to stake out.


It’s not that it is surprising for a man of his age, but that doesn’t make it okay either. Which is why his son’s claim that “he has no choice but to honor his father’s wishes” is so troubling. Of course he has a choice! But I imagine that it’s easier for this father to deal with his own frustration with his children’s choices by hiding behind the fifth commandment (honor your father and mother), than it is to figure out how to keep the enforcement of the “Jewish clause” from shattering his family.
In fact, if he read a little further in the Bible, he would come upon the words of Leviticus 19:3 which are understood to provide a limit to how far the obligation to honor parents extends. We are told that if honoring parents requires the violation of Divine will, then there is no obligation. So given that maintaining peace in the family is also a Jewish legal requirement, either dad has to admit that he is acting against his kids because of his own resentment, or stop hiding behind his father’s will and re-inherit his own children.
But let’s not forget the grandchildren. Despite their attorney’s claim that this case is about the children’s greed – their desire to keep the grandchildren from grandpa’s bucks. Of course, it is about greed, but it’s the grandchildren’s! If they did not want the money, there would be no case. So once again we have lawyers making a bad situation worse by dragging everyone into court and trying to project their clients’ worst failings onto those against whom they brought suit. Well, you know what they call a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the ocean….
To be fair though, I understand how the hurt these grandchildren feel is being funneled through their pursuit of the money. Even if they don’t realize it, what they almost certainly want most is to be acknowledged as members of the family who are continuing their grandfather’s legacy, even if they are not doing it exactly his way. And it’s heartbreaking that nobody has stepped in to address this issue.
Finally there are the judges who have behaved in decidedly un-Solomonic fashion. There is the Jew, Judge Alan Greiman of the Illinois Appellate Court, who defended Dr. Feinberg’s “Jewish clause” with the words: “Max and Erla had a dream with respect to the provisions of their will and if you will it, it is no dream.” Misappropriating Theodore Herzl’s words about the dream of a Jewish state and summoning the will to create it, Judge Greiman injects his own Jewish identity politics into both his decision and into other people’s lives. There may well be a reason to uphold the clause, but that is not it!
But Judge Patrick Quinn, writing for the majority, which struck down the clause, fared no better. Claiming that this clause was a slippery slope which could not be tolerated, and comparing it to a white person’s desire to penalize his grandchildren for marrying someone black, he creating his own slippery slope – and one far more dangerous than the one he claims to fear. First, the law should give us the tools to navigate such slippery slopes, not become an excuse for avoiding them before they exist. And second, unlike the faith line, the color line holds no intrinsic distinctions of importance. That is why one can easily find members of a single faith in every color of the rainbow. And if one can not, there may well be a problem with that faith.
So let’s harvest some principles that might help us to navigate through such inter-generational conflicts when we encounter them in our own families. First, never use money to coerce conscience or faith. Second, if you feel hurt by something a child or grandchild has done, talk about it. Actually ask them what their actions mean to them. you might discover that they are honoring one part of your legacy to them even as you experience them violating another. Third, don’t confuse disagreement about an issue within a relationship with the death of that relationship. Fourth, you have more power in any relationship than you initially imagine – don’t hide behind the desires of others. Fifth, don’t use God as an excuse. There is probably a religious counter-argument to whatever religious argument you are making, and it’s probably just as valid. Sixth, stay out of court! Once it becomes adversarial, someone has to lose and in a family dispute, that means that everybody loses. Seventh, be careful about how you seek redress for legitimate hurt. The fact that your cause is just and hurt is genuine, does mean that all forms of redress are healthy or will even get you what you really want most. And finally, beware of others, who with the best of motivations, will happily play out their own dramas in the midst of your life, instead of in their own.
These rules will not end all family squabbles, but they will help you to keep from burying those you love, either before their time, or under mountains of legal paperwork from which neither of you is likely to recover any time soon.

  • eastcoastlady

    So, dear Rabbi,
    Is this a lesson that Tevye should have known about his daugter Chava?
    Certainly, the mother was willing to overlook her marriage to a Russian to maintain a relationship with her.


    ALRIGHTY THEN! Very clever headline for a mundane subject. Was all set to come her to write about why we should or should not require proof the good Lord exists.
    Instead we have a will and a family fight! OMG!(SARCASIM)
    A will IS about money and property. One can put whatever you want to in it as long as it is legal. So the old gentelman decides how he wants to leave his possessions and money. Either go along with it or not.
    I do nor know who does this or not anymore but in the 40s and 50s almost every Jewish Orthodox and other parrents whose kids married outside the faith and were upset by this consideredt the child DEAD. The more traditional even would wear black bands and say kadish. This occured even if the grandkids were going to be brought up Jewish in some cases and the homes would be Jewish. One friend of our family told their daughter they were going to do this. Wedding plans were changed. Instead of a Jewish judge they had a full blown Catholic wedding and she eventually converted before they had kids who were raised Catholic and now have Catholic children. See what these people accomplished!! Ofcourse all contact was lost as well.
    So having a will written like this is no big deal. Hope he is looking down upon what he started. Do not know the man but bet he thought this is one way to keep him being important even after death. Sort of like the elehant who bangs it head and almost kills itself when it feels the zoo attendent is not giving it enough attenion-some attention is better then none for this guy and he wants it even after death. I feel sorry for him. His life was undoubtedly one where he used money to keep his family with them and since they were brought up that way they do not have the emotional strength to say the heck with the money!

  • Danny~

    Yea false advertizing … lol … Was disappointed … was hoping to hear some or at least one argument for the existence of G-d … and nothing … I mean not even a hit at an argument for G-d (Well the pun was funny at least lol) … how about doing that some day … presenting arguments for G-d … theological or philosophial … enjoy coming and hearing about some of the things you share and muse over … Blessings from a “Gentile” … Daniel~ (hey good Biblical name though lol)

  • Chana Silverman

    Interesting story, but like Daniel I do not see what this has to do with the argument for the existence of G-d. Maybe in the using G-d as an excuse there is something a non-believing person could use as an argument by saying – “OK prove to me there is a G-d.” In my opinion it is slanderous to HaShem to use Him as an argument in a court of law.
    Mixed marriages happen and many result in conversions of the Gentile mate to Judaism.
    To bad there is still some “old school” thought that completely cuts off the offender. Yes, we are supposed to marry within the fold, but casting one away will not draw their heart back to the Jewish way and can cause much more harm than good.
    Love and acceptance wins hearts and influences people better anger and bitterness.

  • Chana Silverman

    People behaving badly prove G-d’s existence!! I doubt that!!! LOL

  • Jeremiah Price

    I also am wryly disappointed about the lack of the proof of G-d’s existence.
    And Rabbi Brad – while I normally agree with most of your viewpoints I am highly disappointed in the view you have taken here. Would these same judges have struck down this man’s right to spend his money as he chose while he was alive? Would it have been even wrong of him to choose to honor those of his progeny who follow in his belief?
    I don’t understand where the judges had any right to question his will and I especially don’t see where you had any right to judge or call into question the man’s motives or right to do what he wished with his own money. He withheld nothing from anyone – only chose to honor those who honored what he felt was G-d’s express will. More power to him – we need more people who live by their convictions.

  • Susan

    Sadly, I feel the old man was robbed. Disinheriting for any reason is his perogative. Had he established trusts the point would be moot, but this is a new low for the courts. Sometimes the only thing a parent or grandparent can do is offer money for compliance; if a parent gives any grade the same level of reward, because the kids NOT on the honor role object?

  • MH Green

    The only valid argument that there is a G-d; and it is just an argument not proof, is this: Man will never be able to prove the existence………….it is beyond his ability to do so because G-d would have created man in such a manner that man would never be able to prove his existence………..If man could prove the exixtence of Hashem, all our rabbis would be out of a job…………..All religion is the opiate of the people. Without faith ther is no religion.

  • Susan H.

    Rabbi, respectfully I disagree and I suggest that you have missed the point here. First, the rules a person follows in the exercise of his or her religion neither proves not disproves the existence of G-d; it proves only the person’s belief or faith in G-d. Secondly, while I don’t agree with the wisdom of the grandfather writing his will in this fashion, at the same time you are certainly aware of the old Eastern-European tradition and Orthodox view that a person who married a non-Jew is indeed, dead to his or her family. That being the case, and that being Max’s heritage, why should he not state his position in his Will, and give his fortune, large or small, in the manner in which he wants? And why, when he does so, does he have to be compared to a racist bigot?

  • dannyuk2

    You know this story sounds SO familiar… let me think….Oh yes i rememeber now. Harry Potter. remember the Blacks? That family was very comparable. they were all pure-bloods. Anyone who married a mud-blood or non-believer got “disinherited” too. They were considered “deceased” My oh my how life loves to immitate art sometimes.
    and Susan H,
    “And why, when he does so, does he have to be compared to a racist bigot?
    Because thats more-or-less comparable to what he was tbh. And he showed that in his will.
    Yeah, a person is free to put whatever he or she wants in his will, but that is no excuse for them to be racist/religionist, and for the family to even consider executing the will and keep the clause in, that shows those family member’s true values does it not? Greed. Thats all it is. Greed. and i dont blame the “disinherited” for fighting for their share.



  • Meir

    I am not going to address the Rabbi’s initial comments about the existence of G-d being proven by the existence badly behaving people, because I believe those statement were made tongue-in-cheek. I do, however wish to address some other comments.
    Rabbi – You stated, “So once again we have lawyers making a bad situation worse by dragging everyone into court and trying to project their clients’ worst failings onto those against whom they brought suit.” Did the attorneys on either side of this case make it up? Are they not merely the hirelings of their clients (albeit well educated hirelings)? Isn’t blaming the attorneys for this legal fracas somewhat like blaming the generals for the war?
    Which bring me to Susan – You stated that “. . . this is a new low for the courts.” Isn’t that a little like blaming the rabbi when the marriage fails?
    The courts and the attorneys are not to blame for a litigious society. That blame lies squarely and solely on the people. People who refuse to do the right thing and instead cross their arms and say, “So, sue me.” People who think that they have a right to what someone else has without having gone through what the other person did to get it. People who cannot, or will not, compromise for the sake of peace.
    Okay, enough in defense of the legal system. Let’s talk about Grandpa. Danny – You stated, “Yeah, a person is free to put whatever he or she wants in his will, but that is no excuse for them to be racist/religionist, and for the family to even consider executing the will and keep the clause in.” The family had nothing to do with it. It was Grandpa’s will he alone executed it, and he alone is responsible for its contents. As for Grandpa being a “racist/religionist,” how do you interpret the commandments of Adonai in the 7th chapter of D’varim where intermarriage was forbidden, or how do you read the warnings of Adonai against intermarriage in the 23rd chapter of Y’housua, or what meaning do you apply to last two chapters of Ezra when the cohanim and L’vi’im sent all the foreign wives (and their children) away to ensure that G-d’s wrath would not come? Wasn’t Grandpa simply following Scripture?
    Just to be clear, I am not say what Grandpa put in his will is right, nor am I saying that it was wrong. I am only saying that it was his choice, based on his interpretation of Scripture, to do so.

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