During the fall of 2009, the Illinois State Supreme Court ruled on the following case: Jewish grandparents wrote a last will and testament in which they specified that their entire estate was to be given only to those grandchildren who were married to a Jewish spouse. Grandchildren who married out of the faith were disinherited.
This couple had five grandchildren, four of whom had married non-Jewish (and non-converted) spouses. The one grandchild who had married a Jewish spouse inherited the grandparents' total estate. The four other grandchildren contested the will, arguing that the grandparents had no right to force their religious views on them and no right to cut them out of their will.
The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the will, in favor of the one grandchild. It ruled that grandparents have the right to dispense of their property as they wish.
I discussed this case with several people, and received different reactions. One view was that the Supreme Court of Illilnois was entirely correct, and that the grandparents had acted correctly. They wanted their resources to go to their descendants who would be maintaining Jewish tradition. Why should they leave their hard-earned estate to grandchildren who were not likely to carry on the Jewish traditions?
Another answer was: the grandparents were wrong and acting vindictively. By disinheriting the grandchildren of intermarried children, they were cutting off any realistic possibility of these grandchildren returning to Judaism. Bitterness would mar their memories of the grandparents.
Yet another response was that the grandparents had the right to distribute their property as they wished, and had the right to leave everything to the one grandchild who was married to a Jewish spouse. Yet, by taking the estate, this grandchild would thereby create an unbridgeable barrier between him and the other grandchildren. The family would be torn apart by ill will, jealousy, anger. The solution: let the one grandchild inherit the estate, but then make generous gifts to the other grandchildren as a gesture of family friendship and solidarity. Perhaps in this way, there would be a chance that at some point in the future the grandchildren might intensify their Jewish commitment and their spouses might convert to Judaism.
American Jews increasingly face the question: how will we ensure Jewish continuity--not just physical continuity but spiritual continuity, where Judaism is alive and flourishing? When children and grandchildren veer from Judaism, how should we react? Shall we disinherit them? Shall we accept their decisions without rancor?
What do you think?