Photo Credit: pixabay

It is possible at some point in your life you might have wondered who would come to your funeral and how many people would show up. A Belgian man took his curiosity to find out the answers to these questions to a new, and frankly disturbing, level.  David Baerten, a 45-year-old Belgian man, faked his own death and showed up to his funeral by stepping off a helicopter instead of being carried out of a hearse.  Along with his wife and children, he orchestrated the prank to see “who actually cared about him.”

To spread the news of Baerten’s “death” one of his children took to social media and wrote a tribute to her father. “Rest in peace, Daddy. I will never stop thinking about you…I love you! We love you! We will never forget you.”


The fake funeral was attended by dozens of friends and family members dressed in black, waiting for the ceremony to begin until they were met with a landing helicopter.  The “dead man” hopped out of the chopper as he greeted his mourners with “Cheers to you all, welcome to my funeral.”  Several of those attending were less than pleased with Baerten’s stunt.

He explained, “What I see in my family often hurts me, I never get invited to anything. Nobody sees me. We all grew apart. I felt unappreciated. That’s why I wanted to give them a life lesson and show them that you shouldn’t wait until someone is dead to meet up with them.”

Baerten’s stunt was unkind to those who care about him and it should never be repeated.  It was outrageous, but the drive to know what others will say about us after we are gone, and the anxiety over the decisions our progeny will make in our absence and whether their lives and lifestyles will reflect our core values and beliefs, is certainly real.

There is good reason to be concerned.  Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has said repeatedly, “Interfaith families are now the majority of the movement.” That isn’t surprising considering that the intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox is alarmingly north of 70 percent.

But intermarriage is not only a Reform, Conservative, or unaffiliated problem.  Every Orthodox rabbi will tell you they are having more meetings than ever with parents who worked and sacrificed significantly to provide their children with a Jewish education and raise them in an observant home, only to be told they have fallen in love with a non-Jew and plan to marry them.  One shudders to think that these incidents will increase as the world around us gets increasingly both open, inviting and welcoming on one hand, while also getting more complicated and confusing on the other.

How do we respond?  What can we do to ensure the outcome we desperately dream of?  Certainly, we should—and must—teach, educate, inspire, motivate, and model the choices we want to see our children and grandchildren make. What about using our finances to incentivize?

The New York Times Magazine publishes a weekly column called “The Ethicist,” which it says is designed to provide “advice on life’s trickiest situations and moral dilemmas.” A recent column addressed the following question:

Around a decade ago, my mom informed each of her children that she and my stepfather put a codicil in their wills disinheriting any of their children married to someone not recognized as Jewish by her local Orthodox Rabbinate.

I believe a will is not just about money; it’s also an expression of values and love. I have strongly objected to this codicil, or more specifically, to her having informed us about it: The two are thereby using their wealth as an implicit weapon in service of their religious views.

She says I’m reading too much into it. She claims she informed us in the name of “transparency,” so we wouldn’t be surprised later, and that it’s her money to do with as she pleases, anyway — though she concedes that she also informed us in case it may influence decisions we make.

I’ve since married someone who fits her definition of a Jew, so the codicil doesn’t apply to me. Still, I have three middle-aged siblings who are all not religious and unmarried, and I think they remain so at least partially because they’re stuck, unable to both follow their hearts and avoid betraying my mother’s love — and its most powerful signifier, her will. Is she right to have the codicil? And to have told us about it?

The columnist answered:

The real question is whether the scheme is wise or decent. I fear that it is neither. That your siblings now have an incentive to postpone marriage until your parents are dead raises doubts about its wisdom. That your siblings might marry someone acceptable to the Orthodox rabbinate in order to secure this inheritance raises doubts about its decency. Whom we marry is properly up to us. Parents may express their views; coercion, though, is wrong. Does threatening to deprive someone of a substantial inheritance amount to coercion? Different understandings of coercion will come out differently on this. But it’s too close for comfort.

Hypocritically, a year earlier the same columnist responded to a question from a self-described liberal, progressive woman whose children had become ultra conservative, refused the Covid vaccine, and questioned the results of the election. She asked if it was appropriate to consider leaving them out of her will.  The same Ethicist concluded it is not only reasonable, it would be irresponsible to let them inherit as they could use the resources to advance dangerous agendas.

Baruch Hashem, we don’t rely on the New York Times to dictate our ethics.  Hashem, His Torah, and His representatives in each generation are our “Ethicists.” So what do they say?

The Mishna in Bava Basra (8:5) states that if one gives his assets to others and leaves nothing for his sons to inherit, what he has done is Halachically legitimate but, he has violated the spirit of the law and so the ruach Chachamim, the “spirit of the sages,” is not pleased by him.  However, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that if one’s children were not acting properly, and as a result he transferred all of his assets to others, he should in fact be remembered for the good.

The Gemara (Bava Basra 133b) concludes that the Halacha follows the first opinion, which is codified by the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 282). Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe C.M. 2:50) says that the Gemara was discussing a disrespectful son and concluded such a son shouldn’t be cut out of the will.  However, says Rav Moshe, if a son has completely abandoned a Torah lifestyle, he may be disinherited.

Some suggest that when Rav Moshe penned that responsum in 1965, it was unlikely that a child who had abandoned Torah would return or would have descendants who were observant. Today, by comparison, there is a teshuva movement, people’s stories are not fully written, we have no idea who may convert, who might return to observance, who might have children and grandchildren that will make us most proud.  Disinheriting, some argue, may in fact not influence the decision to intermarry but will make a journey towards conversion or observance less likely.  They therefore suggest, in an effort to preserve peace and harmony in the family, to always divide the estate equally (employing halachic guidance).

Others suggest that in case of concern where the money will go, how it will be used, and whether it will advance values, choices, and efforts inconsistent with our wishes, the estate be left in trusts that support choices we encourage such as to pay for Jewish education, Jewish camps, trips to Israel, etc.

These issues are complicated and difficult and there isn’t one clear or correct answer. Our ethicists have much to say but ultimately it is our hard-earned money and we are responsible to be thoughtful, strategic, and even prescient in how it is left and where it is going.

Most importantly, don’t wait to rely on finances being the factor that will trigger the choices we want.  Use resources while you are here to provide, support, enable, reward, and empower a passionate, vibrant, dynamic Yiddishkeit that our descendants will want to cling to and carry on.

{Reposted from the Rabbi’s site}

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleEmpty Words, Empty Minds
Next articleHealthy Dating!
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 950 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States. Rabbi Goldberg’s warm and welcoming personality has helped attract people of diverse backgrounds and ages to feel part of the BRS community, reinforcing the BRS credo of “Valuing Diversity and Celebrating Unity.” For more information, please visit