Question: A friend of mine is engaged to a man who is an alcoholic and regular drug user. She has invited me to be a bridesmaid, but I don’t think getting married to this man is what’s best for her. Prior to her relationship with him, she was opposed to drug use. Now she is also a more than occasional user, and is also on anti-depressants. She wants to be a teacher and but I feel like going through with the marriage and continuing on this path would be a great loss. I’ve never been real close with her, but having indirectly expressed my concerns about what was going on she doesn’t call me to talk about what’s going on anymore. Do you feel it is ethically better to step down from being in the wedding party? Should I decline the wedding invitation entirely? Should I tell her what I think? Truthfully, it may not sway her from doing what she’s going to do, and worst case, she could get married and if she’s not happy get divorced. They want to have a child together.
Answer: My understanding of what it means to stand up for someone’s wedding is that you are supporting the marriage. If you think it’s an unwise marriage, you should not stand up. You probably shouldn’t attend either, but if it was a close friend I might say that you should attend in order to preserve the relationship, so you’ll be there to catch her when she falls. The Jewish principle involved is based on the verse, “You shall not … place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19.14). Read broadly, this verse teaches that one should not place moral or ethical or behavioral stumbling blocks before those unable to recognize them. Don’t give a drink to an alcoholic. Don’t forward alarming email unless you have verified that it is true (and ‘I got this from the close friend of the cousin of someone I trust’ doesn’t count). Don’t tell a person that a certain food is kosher when it is not. Don’t tell a person that a certain way to avoid paying taxes is legal if it is not. Don’t help a person enter a marriage if you believe (and have evidence to support the belief) that they marriage will be seriously detrimental to her physical and/or emotional health. The question of how explicitly you should talk to your friend about the reasons why you will not stand up and why you are not attending the wedding (if you are not going) is a bit more complicated. The Jewish principle is “Reprove your neighbor so that you will not incur guilt on his account” (Leviticus 19.17). Basically, the instruction is that you have an obligation to tell your friend if she is doing something wrong. If you see something happening that is wrong and you keep silent, you are complicit. It’s like the old slogan about fighting AIDS in the mid 1980’s, “silence=death.” However, the Rabbinic tradition inserted a large caveat — If the person is not likely to listen to the reproach, and in fact is likely to get mad at you for the advice, then you should keep your mouth shut. In this case, you have already told you friend indirectly that you think the marriage is a bad idea, I think you should say one more time, in the gentlest possible voice, that you cannot stand up at the wedding because you think the wedding is a bad idea due to the alcoholism and drug use. I realize that this might cause you to lose a friend, but you say you’ve never been very close anyway. You say worst case, they get divorced. Not true. Worst case, they get divorced and a child has to suffer for the rest of his life with the pain and separation of divorced parents and an alcoholic drug using father and drug using mother. There may be nothing that you can do to prevent the marriage, but you don’t want the burden of having supported that worst case on your conscience.
This article is one of an occasional series of posts bring Jewish ethics to life using real world dilemmas. Would you share with me moments when you were at a crossroads and weren’t sure what to do? Moments when you might not have turned to Jewish sources for an answer, but made a decision and after reflection you are now curious whether Jewish wisdom might have suggested a different answer? You may post your moments on the blog in response to this post or you may email them to me at Rabbi@AhavasIsraelGR.org. If you want them to remain private please indicate this, and I will change enough details so that you cannot be identified. If I am not sure whether I have sufficiently disguised your identity or if you want to see what I’ve written before I publish it, I will email my response to you before publishing anything.
Remember — The purpose of this blog and the mission of the synagogue is to explore what it means to make our lives embody Torah. How does our eating, our Shabbat practice, our prayer experience, embody Torah? How do we internalize and embody our Torah study? How do we embody Torah in our ethical decision making? Please join me in this exploration — I welcome your comments and suggestions.