“Rabbi Meir used to say: A man should not urge his friend to dine with him when he knows that his friend will not do so. And he should not offer him many gifts when he knows that his friend will not accept them” (Chullin 94a).
This statement brings to mind a particular ethical situation regarding invitations to weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and other family celebrations. May one invite “Uncle Jack” who lives on a kibbutz in Israel to a Bar Mitzvah in California, knowing that it is too far for him to come?
The question comes down to intent. The cases stated by Rabbi Meir in the Talmud refers to an invitation that is proffered merely to make a good impression. If the last thing one wants to do is to actually eat dinner with the invited guest, then the invitation becomes problematic. At the very heart of the invitation is a deception--a desire for the invited guest to believe in the good will of the one who offered the invitation.
Rabbi Meir adds an interesting caveat: “If, however, the purpose is to show the guest great respect, it is permitted” (ibid). The difference between flattery (which can be a form of bribery) and giving respect can be a fine line and, in truth, is highly subjective. Does one want the person to feel good, or does one want the person to think well of the person extending the invitation?
This same idea can be applied to celebrations. When inviting “Uncle Jack,” does one want him to know that he was being thought of, or does one merely hope that he will send a nice gift?
*Note to those planning a celebration in conjunction with their parents (e.g. a wedding): Honoring one’s parents and inviting “their people” over-rules the subjective question of whether you want those guests at the event.
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.