Today’s Jam

After completing graduate school in the United States last year, my daughter decided to make aliyah. As a longtime Zionist, I am proud that she has decided to make Israel her home. However, I find her political choices disturbing. She recently joined a Jewish community on the West Bank that opposes any territorial concessions for peace. I strongly oppose this position. I believe it is detrimental to both Israelis and Palestinians, and contributes to larger negative dynamics both regionally and globally. Should I continue to support my daughter financially, as I do with her two older siblings who live in the US?

Udi Lion says…

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In addressing this dilemma, the first issue to consider is shalom bayit, maintaining peaceful family relations. Since you have already decided to assist your eldest children with their finlionances, you run the risk of alienating your younger daughter and creating friction among your children. The book of Genesis is full of examples of destructive family dynamics; we should be very careful when it comes to issues of favoritism (real or perceived) and sibling rivalry. However, the needs of our children are often different from one another, and at times there is good reason to treat them differently, even if it causes them (and us) pain.

Without wading into the political debate about West Bank settlements, it is clear that in this case you consider your daughter’s choice to join her current community a serious moral failing. Here, the biblical precept of “do not place a stumbling block before the blind” comes into play (Lev. 19:14). Our sages apply this concept not only to those who are physically blind, but also to those who are ethically “blind” (see, for example, Maimonides’ commentary on Mishnah Shvi’it, ch. 5). One should not assist someone whose inclination leads them astray and unable to see the harm they are doing (or will do) to themselves.

Complicating matters further is your fear of the possibility that the money you give to your daughter might be used for ends that you consider not only harmful to her, but to others as well. In weighing all of these factors, I would recommend that you continue to support your daughter if the money is for her living needs. However, if your financial support will contribute directly to her or others in her community committing actions that you deem morally reprehensible, then you should withhold your assistance.

Udi Lion Udi Lion is Director of Special Programs at the Israeli Channel 2 commercial TV network, Keshet. He is the Executive Producer of the highly acclaimed film “Ushpizin” and of the hit TV series “Avodah Aravit” (Arab Labor). Udi is Co-Founder of the Ma’aleh School for Jewish Cinema and an instructor in Jewish studies and film at Alma and Sapir Colleges. A graduate of Mercaz Ha’Rav Kook, Udi also studied for an extended time with Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz.

Josh Feigelson says…

Josh Feigelson-color140My colleague has offered some useful ways of approaching your dilemma. But I’d like to back up a step and examine a key assumption driving the question. You state that you support all of your adult children. Thus, the dilemma is whether, in singling out your youngest daughter living in Judea/Samaria, you are either betraying your parental responsibility or playing favorites. My question is: Why are you supporting your adult children?

In reflecting on this issue, Maimonides states that children are expected to support themselves fully by adulthood. In fact, he indicates that there are varying degrees of maturity among children, and some possess the intelligence and knowledge to do so at a younger age – “there is the child who is wise, discerning and knowledgeable at the age of 7, and there is the child who, even as old as 13, does not know business” (see “Laws of Sale,” Mishneh Torah, ch. 29, laws 4-8). Even if we were to extend the time a young person remains financially dependent beyond the period for which Maimonides argues, there need to be limits.

To reframe Udi Lion’s observation about placing a stumbling block before the blind, I would argue there is an aspect of lifnei iver in preventing adult children from becoming financially independent by enabling them to stay on the parental dole (in an ongoing fashion). If adulthood is about self-sufficiency and the ability to take responsibility for oneself – as signaled at a bar or bat mitzvah, where parents traditionally offer the thanksgiving blessing for being released from the responsibility for their child’s transgressions – then such regular support calls into question just how adult the adult children are.

Taking away this dimension of the question, I don’t think there’s much of a dilemma: parents are clearly free to make gifts to whomever they wish, on whatever basis they wish. That’s part of what being an adult is about. Of course, so is managing the intricacies of shalom bayit.

Josh Feigelson is founder and educational director of Ask Big Questions, an initiative of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. 

Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi says…

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You are a peacemaker, following one of the greatest commands of the Bible: “Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:15). In true fulfillment of the way the sages understood the multiple levels of the command, you want to achieve peace in your family, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and peace in your head and heart. But it seems unlikely that you can achieve all of these goals in one act. Trying to control your daughter’s political and religious commitments through your financial support is unlikely to contribute to any of these levels of peace. Rather, you will have to consider how best to achieve each of these goals separately.

As my colleagues beautifully taught, there is no clear halakhic or Jewish ethical response in this case; we all acknowledge that you are not required to support your adult children. However, we are each commanded to pursue peace, both with those we love and with our enemies.

With regard to seeking peace with those we love, we ought to listen carefully to the Biblical narratives. As Udi Lion mentioned, you don’t need to read further than Genesis to be overwhelmed by the dangers of parental favoritism (Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, to name a few painful examples). No peace will be achieved between you and you daughter by withholding the support you give to her siblings simply because you disagree with her religious and political choices.

With regard to seeking peace with our enemies, it also seems unlikely that withholding your financial support from your daughter will change her own political views or contribute to peacemaking between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Withholding financial support from one child is also unlikely to have a significant impact on the conflict itself.

Thus I recommend the following, heeding the teachings of my colleagues and my own experiences as a mother and as a daughter also living out values in the Land of Israel that are different from those of my parents: Why not slightly and equally reduce the support you are giving to all your adult children as a way of encouraging financial independence? And with the extra funds – and perhaps more you might add because of your deep commitment to peace in the region – intensify your own political engagement and philanthropic support of the peace process.

This way you are actively using your resources in ways that are commensurate with your values, while pursuing peace among those you love and between those who are enemies. This will involve making peace with the cognitive dissonance in your head, but it will likely be the only path toward peace in your heart and in our world.

Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi is a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and teaches at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem.

Now, what do YOU say?

Our panelists have highlighted a number of issues inherent in this scenario, including the classical Jewish concepts of shalom bayit and lifnei iver, the viability of financially supporting grown children, the need to distinguish how one’s money will be used by others and the need to actively seek peace in distinctive areas of life (bakesh shalom v’radfehu). How would you weigh these concerns in this case? Do you have other considerations that would influence your decision? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

And of course, if you have a dilemma you’d like us to address in the Ethical Jam, send it to EthicalJam@timesofisrael.com

Ethical Jam is a project of the Center for Global Judaism of Hebrew College, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, which is working to create a rich pluralistic discourse on issues of vital concern to the Jewish community and to the world at large.

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