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Lowering the Wedding Bar

Shimmy Blum

As frum families grow larger and, correspondingly, the responsibility of marrying off children increases, communities have taken various steps to ensure that the wedding preparation process remains a joyous one, by minimizing the costs and pressures involved. Mishpacha speaks with community activists in various locales who spend much time working to reduce wedding-related expense and stress, to discover the secrets to their success.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Several years ago, a chaplain at a New York-area prison housing several frum inmates convicted of white collar crimes overheard some of them discussing the lavishness of their children’s weddings. Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, chairman of the board of trustees of Agudath Israel of America, shakes his head when relating this story. “The pressure within our communities to live an outwardly wealthy lifestyle caused some people to lose track of their values and make devastating choices,” he laments. “And having a lavish wedding was a major symptom of this phenomenon.”


Age-Old Problem, New-Age Solutions

As frum communities around the globe have, bli ayin hara, grown by leaps and bounds in recent decades, so has the cost of raising a frum family. Even breadwinners who earn an adequate parnassah to cover day-to-day living expenses experience “crunch time” when marrying off a child, and the burden is particularly heavy on those marrying off several children in close succession. In addition to the inevitable costs associated with this most happy of occasions, a “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality often serves to significantly inflate the costs of making an appropriately “balabatish wedding.

The results of skyrocketing weddings costs have been devastating. Physical and emotional ailments, intra-family strife, and long-term debt are just some of the harmful effects on those striving to set their children up to build happy homes of their own. “The stress involved made people subconsciously dread even listening to a shidduch for their child,” says Rabbi Moshe Indig, a prominent community leader in Williamsburg.

In 2002, Agudath Israel of America undertook a wide-reaching attempt to alleviate wedding costs, when its rabbanim and askanim announced a series of takanos addressing various aspects of simchahs, such as limits on the number of guests at the meal, the extravagance of the menu, the size of the band, and the cost of flowers.

The Agudah takanos have by now expired and have not been renewed, and Rabbi Weinberger concedes that the limitations weren’t as widely embraced as he and his Agudah colleagues would have wished. He points out that the necessary exceptions to the takanos made them largely unenforceable. Nevertheless, Rabbi Weinberger takes pride in the effort, which brought much public awareness to the issue. “We may not have accomplished everything we wanted to,” he says, “but our communities have certainly come a long way since then.”


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