Babies on their back? Encroaching neighbors! Inheritance woes...All in this issues 'Dear Debra', check it out!
Babies on their back? Encroaching neighbors! Inheritance woes...All in this issues 'Dear Debra', check it out!

Dear Debra

Keep those letters and troubles coming! No problems of your own? Send along your neighbor’s, friend’s or relative’s tsuris to Anonymity assured.Darvick

Dear Debra: I am planning my oldest child’s bar mitzvah. What are the guest list protocols? I would like to keep the list down, yet I don’t want anyone insulted. Aside from our own friends, am I supposed to invite my parents’ and in-laws’ friends? My mother is continuously being invited to her friends’ grandchildrens’ simchahs. First cousins and their children? Second cousins? Where does it start and stop?
New Bar Mitzvah Planner

Dear New Planner,

Like stones dropped into a river, guest lists keep on rippling. You do not have to invite your parents’ friends just because they have been invited to their friends’ grandkids’ simchahs. See how those apostrophes add up? If said friends fall into the “like family” category, then by all means invite them. Same if you are sibling-close with your first, or even second, cousins. But shared DNA alone does not warrant an RSVP. As for not wanting to insult anyone — admirable, but out of your control. This is your family’s celebration of your son’s reaching a milestone in Jewish life. Focus on the joy and surround yourselves with people who have meant the most to you and your family over the years.

Dear Debra: Our dog recently killed our neighbor’s cat. We have a sturdy fence with a locked gate. We had repeatedly asked our neighbor to keep the cat from jumping into our yard (from an adjacent tree). Our dog is well-trained and gentle, but instincts are instincts, and we wanted to avoid just this situation. Although we do not see ourselves (or our dog) at fault, we still feel awful. What can we do?  Nein Lives

Dear Nein,

Much of the biblical dictates and subsequent rabbinic literature address ownership of non-farm animals and the remuneration owed should one’s ox wander and damage a neighbor’s property. Little, if anything, mentions wandering cats. Jewish law permits the ownership of non-farm animals, especially dogs, with the caveat that they are not “evil” i.e. barkers and biters. The Talmud was concerned with the potential damage dogs could do and thus advocated that they be kept securely chained. Rashi wrote that ownership of dogs that were kofri (small dogs or large hunting dogs that do no harm) was permissible.

Your situation is somewhat different in that a cat wandered onto your property and was killed by a kofri dog that was in essence “chained” via your sturdy fence and locked gate.

You didn’t mention if your neighbor holds you and your dog liable (a stretch of the imagination since your dog was within your well-fenced property, and you had warned her to keep her cat from straying.) When and if your neighbor gets a new cat, you might offer to pay for its shots or perhaps give a gift certificate to a local pet store. You did everything within reason as a responsible pet owner. The onus is on the neighbor to do the same.

Dear Debra: Many years ago, I saw someone whom I knew slightly having what looked like an intimate lunch with someone. We have now become friends with this person and the spouse through mutual interests. Do I keep my mouth shut or let the spouse know? Tete-a-Tete

Dear Tete,
Despite appearances, you can’t know if you witnessed a full-blown affair or the first blush of what may or may not have developed into something more. Or nothing more than a lunch between friends or business associates.

As for telling the spouse, it would be more than prudent to keep mum. You have no way of knowing what your friends’ marriage has weathered since then. Perhaps the spouse confessed or was found out. If so, fences may now be mended better than ever, and your news would dredge up pain best left alone. Perhaps the injured spouse knew all along and chose to let whatever was going on run its course. Perhaps the wanderer cleaned up his/her act independently of being found out. And if that long-ago lunch was indeed innocent, you don’t want to be holding the opener of that can of worms, do you?

Best to enjoy your time with this couple in the present, support them warmly and let whatever happened — or didn’t happen — years ago, stay in the past.

Debra Darvick is the author of This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy and I love Jewish faces. Read more at


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