June 15, 2024
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The Land Of Israel: An Example of the Joys and Complications of Inheritance

With inheritance comes an obligation to act with decency and to ensure that
 all of our siblings are provided for and treated with respect and protection.

The practice of estate law pervades all aspects of my life, professional, religious and personal. I cannot avoid making connections, telling stories or analyzing issues with my legal lens. On a recent family trip to Israel, I was unable to escape the obvious connections between the Jewish homeland and the theory, law and ramifications of inheritance as I experience them in my daily practice.

Amongst many religions and people, the land of Israel is referred to as the inheritance of the Jewish people. To inherit means to receive property as an heir at the death of the previous holder. In the case of the land of Israel, the Jewish people are said to have inherited the land from God. Readers of the Hebrew Bible cite Deuteronomy 4:1 as a source: “And now, O Israel, hearken to the statutes and to the judgments which I teach you to do, in order that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord, God of your forefathers, is giving you as the legacy for the inheritance of the land to the Jews.” Additionally, Genesis describes God’s promise to Abraham, then Isaac, and then Jacob (Genesis 15:18-21, 26:3 and 28:13). The specifically inherited land is further detailed in Exodus 23:31 as the territory from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River. It may be said that certain moral and religious standards are attached to the inheritance as Leviticus 18:26 states, “But you must keep My laws and My rules, and you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither citizen nor the stranger who resides among you.”

Religious and political beliefs aside, it is impossible to travel through Israel without feeling the connection between the Jewish people and the land. This relationship is evident on visits and tours throughout the country, whether it is walking the ramparts of Jerusalem’s Old City, hiking the green valleys of Galilee, or sailing the Mediterranean coast. Each town bears some historical significance, whether an event from the Bible or a modern-day feat.

Applying the concept of inheritance to the relationship among God, Israel and the Jewish people reveals the same complications and conflicts that plague inheritances among families. Leaving an asset to one beneficiary over another generally results in some kind of complication. Following the transfer of assets, family relationships, specifically those between the decedent and their children, are questioned based on the size and tenure of the gift. Furthermore, inheritances, especially when one child is given more than another, cause strain between siblings. Often there are reasons for one child being treated better than other. Such rationale does not remove the hurt that many feel when they do not receive similarly to their family members, even if it can be explained. Heirs bear unanswered questions as they can no longer speak to the decedent.

In visiting Israel, meeting its inhabitants, reading its newspapers and learning its history, I could not help but focus on the idea of inheritance, specifically inheritance by a people. My interest, however, was not about the right to the land or political and religious beliefs, but the responsibility of the heir. If one is blessed enough to receive an inheritance, it behooves their to honor the decedent—the giver of the gift—and their memory by acting responsibly. This means accepting a bequest with grace and not wasting assets, editorializing others’ relationships or lacking empathy. If there is a question as to title to an asset
or the validity of a last will, out of respect to the decedent, one should handle themselves with reasonableness, decorum and even humility. Moreover, it is important to understand that no one is entitled to any asset. You are granted a bequest by the grace of the decedent. There is a reason why inheritance is often referred to as “found money.” The beneficiary did not work for it. It is a gift and all more reason to act with propriety.

At the same time, it is also difficult to be the chosen child, the one who receives more. Certainly the Hebrew Bible relays many examples of children treated differently by their parents and the trials experienced by the favored and disfavored siblings. The controlling heir may need to work with their siblings, to provide for them, to be sensitive to their financial and emotional needs. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson learned on my trip. With inheritance comes an obligation to act with decency and to ensure that all of our siblings are provided for and treated with respect and protection. Israel strongly reminded me of this, by way of its armed forces, bustling economy, hospitals and medical care, tourists from around the world and most poignantly, the free practice of different religions.

By Cori A. Robinson


Cori A. Robinson, Esq. is a New York and New Jersey attorney focusing her practice on trusts and estates, elder law, estate administration and guardianships. She also writes a weekly column on her law practice for legal website Above the Law. A Teaneck resident, Robinson is a vice president of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. She can be reached at [email protected].

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