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    Ways & wills – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I can’t be sure of being sufficiently with-it to tell my family before I die how I hope they will run their lives when I am gone. What do you advise?

    will testamentA. Write an ethical will. This is a genre of Jewish writing which was widespread for many centuries. Israel Abrahams published a whole book entitled “Hebrew Ethical Wills”, which is not only historically important but practical as guidance for people in your situation.

    These wills don’t deal with money or property, or even with philosophy, but with ethical principles. Though they often begin with the words, “My son”, their intended audience is the family as a whole. They express the person’s hope that the family would stay together, pray regularly, be honest in business, deal uprightly with gentiles, and raise their children with moral and ethical principles.

    Sometimes they reflect social problems such as the temptation to talk gossip and distract other people during synagogue services. Indeed some ethical wills encourage members of the family to stay home and not go to the synagogue in order not to be distracted or led into evil talk. Often the writer shows a shrewd understanding of his family, for example when he urges them not to be lazy.

    We see that earlier generations were not always as pious and learned as we imagine: sometimes a father has to tell his son bluntly not to forget to devote time to his studies and not to give his teacher trouble.

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