Dear Rabbi - My sons are betting on the Belmont horse race, What can I do?

Dear Rabbi,

I found out recently that my sons were betting on sports. I’m afraid that too much gambling will distract my kids from their studies or get them involved with the wrong elements. What can I do about this?

Worried over Wagering in Weehawken

Dear Worried,

When my boys were younger, I was not happy when I found out they were betting on sports. So I sat down with them and asked them not to do that. They asked why. And rather than appealing to their higher virtues, I cautioned them to not to bet on games, saying, “Because all sports are fixed.”

Naturally they pushed back and objected. Really? All sports? You aren’t serious Dad, are you?

So I thought a minute and admitted to them, “Yes, all sports are fixed, except for one. Professional wrestling!” And we had a good laugh.

Since that time, year after year I hear of scandal after scandal in one sport after another. Baseball wagering and use of steroids, cycling and doping, soccer and bribery, deflated footballs. The list grows and grows.

Sure, sports have a great entertainment value in our culture. And we do harbor the notion that when our children participate in team sports, that helps our kids become better team players in life.

But corruption in sports indeed leads us to worry. Are the kids who play for a team going to learn to play the game fairly and by the rules? Or are they going to learn how to cheat?

In New Jersey, you can find legalized gambling in local casinos, or via online sites, or even through lottery tickets at your corner newsstand. So if those are places where your kids are going to gamble, at least you don’t have to worry about the lawfulness of their activities. And you may know that in our present time and place the wagering business has been defended as part of a significant job creating industry.

It’s another thing if you worry about the benefits of gambling for your children as persons or for society at large. We all know that the enticement of gambling is a grasping at the hope of winning despite the obvious odds that predict that you will lose.

In the Talmud “dice players” (a general Talmudic label for gamblers) officially are treated with suspicion and distrust. They are invalid as authorities in court.  Daniel Greenberg summed it up (see JC.com -http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/analysis/33187/analysis-gambling-not-spirit-judaism): “The Talmud (Sanhedrin 24b) disqualified gamblers from being witnesses or judges on two grounds: quasi-theft, and uselessness. Quasi-theft because each side to a bet hopes to win, and that hope taints their consent to the transaction; taking people's money by exploiting their unrealistic expectations is not so very far distanced ethically from taking it from them by fraud (or even violence). And uselessness because Judaism teaches the importance of each person trying to earn a livelihood by contributing something useful to the world; taking other people's money through gambling contributes nothing, and is at worst dishonest and at best parasitic.”

So you may want to tell your kids that you disapprove of their gambling for any or all of the reasons I have raised. However you should keep in mind that gambling can be an addiction, which means that it can be hard to treat and to beat.

Let me hope (and pray) that your good advice to your kids and your wholesome upbringing of your children can help deter them from falling prey to the diversions of betting activities or the ills of addictions to gambling.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his PhD from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author many books, including these Kindle Edition books available at Amazon.com:  “The  Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” – which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Please mail your questions to the Jewish Standard or email DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com.

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