Q. My son wants his brothers and sisters to be at his upcoming wedding, but not all of them can afford the trip. He wants me to pay half the plane fare. I have helped him in the past to the best of my ability, but the truth is that my means are very short right now. Do I have to chip in?
A. First of all, I wish you mazal tov (congratulations) on your son’s wedding. His eagerness to assume the responsibilities of married life reflects well on the values you and his mother transmitted during his upbringing.
Now let’s get to your question. The Talmud tells us that part of the parents’ responsibility in raising children is to “marry off” their children. (1) This doesn’t mean the parent is meant to choose a spouse for the offspring and arrange the marriage. Rather, it is a general responsibility to prepare the child for marriage. Part of this responsibility is education, providing the child with the appropriate values and skills needed for domestic harmony (including the ability to make the necessary economic contribution to a household). But there is also an economic aspect, and parents are expected to help provide the means necessary for a successful match
Of course there is a limit to this obligation. The Shulchan Arukh (authoritative Code of Jewish law) states that the father should provide “according to his means”. (2) A good rule is that a parent should strive to enable the children a standard of living similar to that customary in the surrounding society, and if possible commensurate with the one they were accustomed to before the wedding (if the child is interested in this).
There is no doubt that a festive wedding plays an important role in giving the couple a healthy start in married life, and so the parent’s contribution can definitely include providing some of the needs of the wedding. And the presence of family members at a wedding certainly makes an important contribution to the atmosphere, attesting as it does to the kind of family unity you would like your son to attain in his own new family life. So if you can afford it, helping with the plane tickets for a needy sibling would be an appropriate and praiseworthy way of “marrying off” your son.
However, you write that you consider this expense right now to be beyond your means. I don’t think the children should demand you endure financial hardship in order to provide plane tickets for the sibling. The participation of all the children is certainly very meaningful, but the joy of the ceremony would be marred by family strife over the money more than by the absence of one sibling.
Another important consideration is that you have helped this son in the past. The assistance you provided has helped your son build the financial independence which enables him to marry, so these expenses too are a kind of fulfillment of your responsibility to help your son begin a family.
Finally, while the parents definitely share in the mitzvah of the wedding, the primarily responsibility still rests with the bride and groom. As a precedent for the responsibility of parents, the Talmudic passage we cited brings the following verse from Jeremiah (29:6), encouraging the Jewish exiles to keep family life alive even in unfamiliar surroundings: “Take wives, and father sons and daughters; and take women as wives for your sons, and give your daughters as wives to men, so that they may bear sons and daughters; increase, and don’t decline.” While the verse does urge the exiles to help their sons and their daughters, the verse begins with direct responsibility. Likewise, we cited chapter 58 of the third volume of the Shulchan Arukh regarding the parent’s contribution, but the individual’s responsibility to raise a family is mentioned at the beginning of chapter 1.
Your family’s request that you help defray plane fare for some poorer siblings is a reasonable one, given the expectation that parents make a meaningful contribution to a successful marriage including a joyous wedding. But given your current lack of means and your past help in helping your son attain the financial independence which will help his married life even more, you shouldn’t feel guilty about saying no.
SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud Tractate Kiddushin page 29a (2) Shulchan Arukh Even HaEzer chapter 58a.