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Monday, September 07, 2009

Till The Money Runs Out Do We Part

Hat Tip: Divrei Chaim

Rav Aviner, once again, brings some sanity into the world of Orthonomics(TM) as he explains to a son-in-law that his in-laws money is a generous gift, not an obligation and that he needs to straighten out his view of marriage because he is obviously missed the boat in this important area. (Also see Let Them Eat Cake, Rav Aviner re: collecting for a wedding for more (not so )commonsense advice).

Q: Parents supported their daughter and son-in-law for many years while the son-in-law learned in Kollel, but now they have decided to stop. The son-in-law will not allow the daughter to talk to her parents unless they give them all of the money they promised. What should the parents do?

A: This is certainly a desecration of Hashem's Name. First of all, parents have no obligation to give money to their children. The basic obligation is only to support child until they are six years old. According to a decree of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel after the establishment of the State, one must support children until the age of fifteen years old. After that, they can go out to work. Parents obviously help their children even after that, but it is a kindness and not an obligation. For this, the children should have gratitude and thank them each day. I do not understand what happened in this case. One must first be a human being. Ethics precede Torah. Before learning Torah, you have to be a good person. Perhaps the parents should speak with the Rabbi of our "scholar" and he will explain to him the proper way to act.

This is certainly an extreme case, but I hope I can lend some insights as to "what happened." And, I'm quite sure the Rav knows what happened too! While marriage should be a vehicle to create a bayit ne'eman b'yisrael, it can also be a good "business move."

In Hollywood, dating and/or marriage often appears to be a PR move. It keeps you in the headlines and being in the headlines is exactly where you want to be. We have all heard of women that marry to gain access to a family fortune. And we have all heard of men that are all too happy to dump their trophy wife like yesterday's garbage when she no longer fulfills her purpose.

While it is not commonplace, there are men who gain the motivation to date and marry in order to continue learning. As such, the #1 factor they are seeking is "support." Thankfully, feelings of obligation and love normally take over somewhere between dating and marriage and they roll with the punches.

I have little doubt that this husband continues to view his marriage as a means to an end and with a supersized sense of entitlement and ego to boot, he no longer sees his wife as useful and now is stepping in to blackmail his the out-laws (pun intended). The dehumanization of his wife is apparent now, but the marriage relationship was dehumanized long before the money tree stopped producing. Of course, there are many people from all walks of life that think marriage should be for their pleasure and convience. But when that attitude finds its way within our own walls, it seems shocking.

I am a firm believer that a good shidduch should have some practicality to it. So you won't catch me saying that finances are not important to a marriage, because having the means to raise a family really helps. But when money becomes central to the brokering of shidduchim, it isn't surprising to see questions having to do with the fallout.


Anonymous said...

Let me predict. The comments will condemn and make fun of this couple. True, the situation is exaggerated. But even in "normal" families, parents who give their adult children money and/or gifts run the risk of having it taken for granted. This is just to the Nth degree.

Anonymous said...

I loved this line: "son-in-law will not allow the daughter to talk to her parents unless they give them all of the money they promised." Since when does a spouse need permission from the other spouse to talk to a parent?

Anonymous said...

SL: Would your view be different if the in-laws made a promise to pay x/year for y years if you marry our daughter, and the husband entered into the marriage based on that promise?

Actually, I suspect that what happened is the in-laws spoke of their approval of the son in law going to kollel and said they would help out. The son-in-law interpreted this as a promise of endless support, and then the parents either ran short of money or saw that it was time for this young couple to enter the real world. Of course, trying to enter the realy world in this economy with no education or marketable skills is not condusive to warm fuzzy feelings toward those who made you face reality.

Commenter Abbi said...

This is a clear cut case of domestic abuse. I'm sorry the Rav did not urge counseling immediately. Any time a spouse prohibits contact with family or friends for any reason that's a clear symptom of abuse.

"Isolation — In order to increase your dependence on him, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. He may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone. Source: Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, MN"

I would never make fun of this couple. I feel terribly sad for the wife and nothing but contempt for the husband.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it written somewhere that if you marry for money you will not have meritorius children

Ahavah Gayle said...

The economic condition in this country is not going to get better anytime soon. I'm afraid we're going to see a lot of young women dumped by their husbands who expected to be supported by her family but they are no longer able to. It's idiotic to expect parents with a house full of kids to support a grown married man in the first place, but they won't see it that way. The only reason these men married these women was for their parents money, and when that money dries up these marriages won't survive. Then the parents WILL be supporting their daughter and her children - because she'll have to move back in with them. Call this a "futurewatch," if you like.

David said...

There are a few problems here.

1) The larges problem here is that the husband is clearly being abusive to the wife as he is "The son-in-law will not allow the daughter to talk to her parents unless they give them all of the money they promised." Counseling is needed immediately.

2) The parents made a financial commitment to support their daughter and son-in-law which they cut short for some reason. It seems to be me that they should have a good reason for cutting off their promised support.

3) It is likely that this couple has few skills to support themselves.

Ateres said...

I agree with the posters who are concerned about the husband refusing to let his wife speak to her parents.

That sounds abusive to me and I think that someone needs to make sure she gets the help she needs.

SephardiLady said...

SL: Would your view be different if the in-laws made a promise to pay x/year for y years if you marry our daughter, and the husband entered into the marriage based on that promise?

NO! We all enter our marriage with certain expectations and sometimes we are disappointed life doesn't quite work out as planned.

He isn't the first spouse in the universe to plan around one source of 'income' only to find that the source has dried up.

Plenty of people get laid off. Plenty of people have investments that go bad. Plenty of people find it necessary to enter/leave the workforce because something unexpected came up (serious illness, an elderly parent needing extra care, a child with special needs, etc).

If you are committed to the relationship, you make it work despite the punches that are thrown. They should be figuring out how to deal with the new math, but instead he is acting out. . . in this case abusively acting out.

Also see Rebbitzen Jungreis who addressed a family that promised support and simply can no longer follow through (see :

Anonymous said...

unless they give them all of the money they promised.... This is certainly a desecration of Hashem's Name... Ethics precede Torah

One who agreed to support married children has no right to renege on the agreement.Even if you feel it is a foolish agreement to make

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:48.
You are being awfully harsh on the in-laws. Like SL's comment notes, there can be plenty of good reasons why the in-laws can no longer support them. I also doubt that the in-laws promised support forever. At some point this man has to grow up. Besides, even if the in-laws reneged on a deal, is that any reason to take it out on his wife? What about the son-in-law reneging on his deal? Isn't part of the deal that sitting an learning means he is going to internalize some of what he learns? Didn't he learn anything about showing respect for his wife and honoring his elders or did he forget to learn that?

SephardiLady said...

Rarely are these agreements set in stone, i.e. documented in a contract and rarely is there a solid accounting system in place. If it was documented in a contract, the son-in-law could take his in-laws to court/beit din and win a judgment.

Most kollel support agreements are fluid in nature and there is no real collateral to enforce an agreement, although I imagine some might say that if the parents "promised," they should sell their home, car, silver and jewelry.

I don't think it is a terrible idea to put an agreement in stone, however distasteful(!), because the nature of such a fluid and expensive agreement is bound to bring disputes. Contracts put everyone on the same page and make expectations clear.

My assumption is that the parents can no longer help. Perhaps there was a sickness in the family. Perhaps someone lost a job. Perhaps day-to-day expenses have crowded out discretionary expenses.

Or, perhaps they feel the son-in-law has breeched the agreement through his actions!

So long as their is no contract, there is only an understanding and I'm sure each side can make their case.

Nonetheless, if the relationship were of prime importance, he'd be figuring things out, not trying to extract the support by treating the daughter like trash.

Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

One of the downfalls of the Shidduch system is that whether its three dates or ten, the couple doesn't usually get to see how the other person responds to adversity, disappointment or stress. Granted, even longer courtships and engagements don't always provide those opportunities, but a handful of dates definitely doesn't provide that opportunity.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

"Rarely are these agreements set in stone"

I am not so involved with the kollel world, but from what I have heard, I disagree. The rabbi of the shul I once attended was discussing this with my husband. For his daughter's shidduch, it was stipulated that the in-laws would buy her a certain number of Yom Tov outfits for each Yom Tov of the first 3 years of the marriage. (Two or three outfits for each Yom Tov, I forget). If even these details were set in stone, you can bet that girl's parents responsibilities were set in stone too.

Gave A Get said...

I fear that as we move through this crisis, occurrences like this will become more frequent.

We live in an age of entitlement where somehow work ethic has been lost.

I am glad this young man married for love - the love of his father in laws money.

rosie said...

Centuries ago, marriages were contracted for children and children often married while still very dependent on parents and support was stipulated. Ever read the book by Gluckel of Hameln? She was married at age 12.
While I agree that the work ethic has been lost, because Gluckel's teenage husband did work, the pledge of parental support is generations old.

Anonymous said...

I had an aunt who was in this position. Her husband would not let her see or even talk to my grandparents until they paid him off. My feeling was that he was abusive and that this situation not necessarily representative of what went on in other families. Unfortunately, I was proved wrong, as I know of several other young wives who are in similar situations. One woman I know could only see her mother if her father gave her husband $300 per Shabbat visit.

SephardiLady said...

tesyaa-If the stipulation is in stone, I think the in-laws need to hold to it presuming whatever expectations they have are being met. But even if they don't, I don't see a liscense for treating someone this way.

Those who do decide to help adult children should think about how they want to help their children and what type of arrangement they want to enter into.

I know of a family who was supporting several adult children to the detriment of their own health. I imagine that support has come to a close because at the time they were supporting, they were maxed on credit including home equity. Now that housing values have fallen, I presume there is no more credit to take in order to give. Ongoing support has its limits. I can imagine a family that has backed out did so because they hit a wall. For a son-in-law to come down so hard really seems a bit repulsive to me.

Miami Al said...

Separate issue, nobody here will accuse me of being a support of the Kollel world, or most of the Charedi world in general. That said, if the parents promised support, they have an obligation to pay their debt off. If I borrow money or otherwise commit to payment, I am obligated to do so. The fact that you can't or won't is irrelevant.

Now, I think that the entire system of Kolel is assinine and a major Chillul Hashem, given that instead of going out and living a Jewish life in accordance with Torah, they sit here an live a life in violation of it to learn it.

What I also think is garbage is this "cutting off" with no warning. To support a reasonable Orthodox Jewish lifestyle requires being in the top 20 of the US by income. Now, if we say college + graduate school for all, with dual income families, that's a pretty reasonable target to hit. What is NOT reasonable is to raise children with an expectation of a certain life and to give them no means to have it. This family clearly has no means to a livelihood and an extended family that decided to cut them off to the means of supporting them.

Is the guy an abusive shmuck? From a secular point of view, he seems like an abusive spouse and controlling of his wife. Unfortunately, that pattern of behavior has seemed to be "standard behavior" from my limited exposure to the Charedi world, so hard to say based upon a relayed story.

To the in-laws, accept responsibility for your role as enablers of this mess and realize that being written off is the cost of it. Alternatively, see if you can renegotiate your arrangement with this family. However, you made a deal, and a one-sided reneging of it is a violation of civil law and Halacha as well.

However, if you encourage your daughter to acquire no means of self support and to find a husband with no means of support through your offer of support, you don't get to single handedly change the deal and get off without consequences.

Anonymous said...

Al: As usual, you make some interesting points. I'm not sure that your premise -- namely that there was a contract -- is true, but assuming it is, then I would agree that the father in law, if possible, should have given some warning and funding during a transition period. However, it is probably more likely that the in-laws could no longer afford the support. Regardless, there is no excuse for this man to act like such an SOB to his wife. I don't think being cut-off from your daughter (and probably grandchildren) is an appropriate "consequence." I'm also not even sure I agree that there should be "consequences" for the in-laws. For the sake of his wife and and their marriage (and the kids), sometimes you just have to be an adult and suck it up.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that this son-in-law is a total jerk and should be ashamed of the way he treats his wife, I wonder if the responses would be different if, for example, the father-in-law wanted his daughter to marry a dr. so he agrees to put the son-in-law through college and med school and then, after the first year of med school the father in law says "never mind. I'm not going to pay anymore."

Ariella said...

I believe that generally those who go to med school take out loans that they have to repay once they establish a practice. Most people do not have their parents -- and certainly not their parents-in-law -- bankroll years of post-grad education unless they have wealthy parents who wish to do so of their own volition not as a condition of marriage. If married, is often the spouse who supports the household during med or law school. But in the kollel community, the assumption (undoubtedly correct given the youth, lack of education, and lack of experience of the wives) is that the wife would not be able to contribute as much income as her parents can, especially when childcare costs would be incurred by her working outside the home.

BTW, SL, the "Brown" who sent you the link was non other than the Divrei Chaim.

Offwinger said...

There is no contract to a promise to support the couple, because a promise for a gift is not legally binding. It might be morally objectionable, but in legal terms, if there is no "consideration" (meaning - both parties are agreeing to do something rather than a one-sided promise), there is no contract. Halacha has a similar concept as well.

That said, to the extent we think of marriage as a father consenting for his daughter to get married, well, then, you can have a two-way agreement, or a contract. You're "exchanging" your daughter in exchange for a dowry.

Once you believe that the wedding is its own legal entity that the woman is choosing (whether we're talking about consent in American terms or the halachic kinyan, the woman is still "accepting" the object of value), then the dowry idea falls by the wayside.

Bottomline: A promise to give a couple money as a gift to support them is just that. A gift. It is not enforceable at law, nor should it be. People make promises they later regret or otherwise can't keep for legitimate reasons. You can debate whether it is morally right to "break a promise," particularly this one.

Perhaps if this son-in-law recognized it as a gift in the first place, this ugly behavior might not have manifested itself in the first place.

Anonymous said...

The truth is in order to marry your daughter these days in the yeshiva velt, you must promise a certain amt of money.
I have only promised what I can afford, and my kids know ,when it gets to hard, they will somehow do it on their own.
For a top notch bachur it's about $150,000.(Or even more).
As for some of my younger kids, I do not plan to promise as much.

SephardiLady said...

Ariella-I added the proper credit. Thanks!

There is certainly an interesting and dynamic conversation going on.

The more the case is argued out, the more I see the need for any agreement to meet paper and be notarized, despite how tasteless it might seem. A written contract would lay out everyones responsibilites very clearly and the fil could point to whatever breech the sil had and the sil could enforce the agreement if he is in compliance.

AFAIK the only written contract out there is his KETUBAH which specifies that he support his wife.

Rav Aviner is right, be grateful for what you have and adjust your attitude towards marriage. The parents were kind enough to offer a gift. There is no contract except the marriage contract and there is where your responsibility lies.

Commenter Abbi said...

"The more the case is argued out, the more I see the need for any agreement to meet paper and be notarized, despite how tasteless it might seem. "

That's exactly what a ketuba is.
Basically, people should be writing personalized, detailed ketubot that truly reflect the financial expectations for all parties in the wedding simcha (both sets of parents and children) for the marriage and in case of divorce, chas v'shalom. I'd love to see that really happen in the yeshiva velt!

Actually, at Israeli chiloni weddings, people do personalize ketubot and they are often written in modern Hebrew. I was once at a secular wedding where the bride was promised NIS 1 million if she was divorced I guess? (I forget what the money in the ketuba is promised for). Everyone cheered. Go figure.

JLan said...

"Actually, at Israeli chiloni weddings, people do personalize ketubot and they are often written in modern Hebrew. I was once at a secular wedding where the bride was promised NIS 1 million if she was divorced I guess? (I forget what the money in the ketuba is promised for). Everyone cheered. Go figure."

This is common in other walks of life in Israel as well. I know dati leumi couples where they've upped the price (and made it a "real" amount), and a number of rabbis have been speaking out recently about what numbers are acceptable (i.e., when the promised amount is way above any anticipated earnings).

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:55 p.m. -- apart from the the problem of treating daughters like property to be boiught and sold, why in the world is it the bride's father who has to pay? The son in law will be getting a woman who (most likely) bears him several children, provides 95% of the child care, cooking and cleaning AND for many years will do more to support the family than the husband. Shouldn't it be the boy's parent who pays the wife to please take this slouch off their hands?

Anonymous said...

To anon 7.18
You are correct in theory, but it has to do with supply and demand.Therefore, until that changes,that will be the situation, fair or not.

Miami Al said...

Like everywhere you let people walk away, either in the tuition situation, this situation, or bankruptcy, you encourage this corruption. If parents offering "support" considered it a REAL obligation, i.e. you need to sell your house before you walk away from it (depending on your states Ch. 7/13 rules), I think you'd see a LOT LESS of it. However, when people can offer support and walk away from it, they offer more than they can safely offer.

I think that Kollel family support needs to be handled in a fair and open marketplace. The young supported couple should receive a guaranteed annuity payment for X years, with the price set in the marketplace like all annuities, and if the father in law can't pay cash, he should take out a loan like all other obligations and pay it over time.

I am certainly no fan of the Kollel world, and consider most of Chareidi "Judaism" slightly more Halachically legitimate than the Reform movement and significantly less legitimate than the Conservative movement, and certainly way outside the guidelines of what is legitimate Orthodox behavior. However, if you choose to "marry off" your daughter with a promise of cash, it ought to be real, and not a shell game where you get to look like a big man with your connections and then not pay when it's inconvenient. All that does is let the norm run the costs up for anyone with integrity... from the people that brought you an education system that urges people to engage in massive tax fraud by keeping multiple books.

Miami Al said...

Offwinger, married units haven't been a distinct legal entity in Common Law Jurisprudence for decades in even form anymore. Prenuptual agreements, spouses filing separate, etc., all acknowledge that in marriage, the husband and wife remain separate legal entities.

If you don't like the system, don't offer benefits worth $150k to your daughters new husband... but that also means getting the hell out of the world where your daughter has every reason to expect it and need it.

Offwinger said...


I have no idea how what you've commented here has anything to do with what I've pointed out. This has nothing to do with obligations between spouses. It has to do with the obligation of a parent who has gratuitously promised money to a child or in-law. Such a promise is NOT enforceable, absent any quid pro quo aspect to it.

No one has the right - in American law - to "marry off" an adult "child," whether female or male. Accordingly, no one is owed anything "in exchange" for "allowing" such a marriage to take place.

I'm not commenting on whether one should induce someone to marry with a promise of money. I'm pointing out that anyone who gets married because they were promised gifts in the future doesn't have a legal leg to stand on.

Anonymous said...

Offwinger: You might be correct that a promise made in consideration of marriage is not enforceable under American law, although a breach may be grounds for a divorce. However, there also is another principle at work here. Although a promise of a gift is not enforceable because there is no consideration for it, if someone acts in reasonable reliance on the promise, it may be enforceable. For example, if the husband turned down a job making $100,000 a year because the father in law said "don't worry, I'll support you," then the promise would be enforceable if the reliance was reasonable. There also is the issue of the ethical obligation to keep one's word. Since we don't know what the father in law actual told the son in law and why he stopped the support, it's impossible to call this one.

SephardiLady said...

Considering that most professionals rarely receive a starting offer of anywhere near $100K, I think we can reasonably assume the husband did not receive such an offer.

As for us, we are old fashioned and expect the young man to support our daughter.

Offwinger said...

Anon. at 6:12 - You're correct about the reliance issue. I tend to agree with SL that your example is probably not likely. But circumstances differ, and if someone can show that he relied on a promise of support & a good opportunity was forsaken, that has merit.

On the other hand, I feel comfortable saying that one can not *reasonably* rely on a promise of financial support for a full family for the indefinite future. There would probably be a fairly low cap on how much reliance on a promised gift of support would be reasonable.

SephardiLady said...

My own rule on finances is not to count your eggs before they hatch. Until I have the money in my own possession, I can't plan for its use.

Avi said...

This conversation is fascinating, but I don't think any more needs to be said beyond what the Rav wrote in his response.

Commenter Abbi said...

"Since we don't know what the father in law actual told the son in law and why he stopped the support, it's impossible to call this one."

Uh, actually, it's very easy to call this one- the husband is an abusive jerk and I hope the woman has the guts to leave him pronto.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs a class in domestic abuse counseling.

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