Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

That's Obscene!!!

A week ago, while we were eating our Shabbat seudot outside of our own home and community, I took a little time before seudah shlishit to review the last chapter of Pirkei Avot where the following is said "This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation--but toil in the Torah!. . . . . " which is followed by "Do not seek greatness for yourself, and do not crave honor. . . . . "

Not even a half hour later, one of the parties present starts talking about an engagement party that someone in their community made for which they had paid he local catereer $20,000. (Just in case you think I added a zero I will verify that: $20,000, $20,000, twenty thousand dollars, a two followed by 4 zeros). I'm not kidding when I say that no one present, except my husband and I, blinked an eye.

I'm not so bold in person, but I couldn't refrain from saying something . So, I inquired "don't you think that its a bit much for only an engagement?" to which this father of married children and modest means started detailing the costs of their son's aufruf, as if spending massive amounts of money was just the most normal thing in the universe and a perfectly acceptable thing for observant Jews to do.

(Just in case you are wondering, there is no way that their *catered* aufruf kiddush alone cost less than $3000 as they paid for 900 heads 10 years ago. I'm not sure how many people were at the seudah following the aufruf, but my husband estimates around 200 people. At another $15 a head, that would be another $3000. And, I'm probably estimating far too low. But I'm not so familiar with NY costs 10 years ago. Maybe I should double all of my guesstimates to $12,000?).

Nonetheless, spending $20,000 on engagement party in 2007, is more than excessive. It is not only immodest, it's obscene!

While I can be more forgiving regarding expensive and lavish weddings complete with many excesses, I just cannot do the same for such an engagement parties (aka "l'chaims" or "vort"). The engagement, in the modern era, has no religious significance, unless one is chassidish and signs a ta'anaim at the time of the engagement. The engagement is not a wedding, nor should it be turned into such.

While few people I know throw a sit-down meals for an engagement party or even hire a one-man band or photographer, few couples forgo a public l'chaim or vort, and one has to ask why? Why have engagement parties taken on such a significant role in the life of a young couple? When did such parties become a "requirement?"

Any other comments on l'chaims or vorts are welcome. Do you feel obligated to attend such events? Have you ever put on a vort for someone whose family didn't put one on? If you had one, did you enjoy it? (At one l'chaim we attended, the young couple told us they'd rather be somewhere else but was just making an appearance). How did you celebrate your engagement? (I insist we didn't have a l'chaim/vort, but my husband insists we did because our parents were both present when we announced an engagement over lunch and we opened a bottle of win. Ultimately I'm just thankful to Hashem that I married someone who thought the simplicity of our engagement was a party. Now that is sweet. Happy upcoming anniversary to us!)


aishel said...

So I guess I shouldn't talk about the wedding I just came home from...12 piece band with over SEVEN HUNDRED people sitting down to eat.

Ariella said...

Well, happy anniversary to you and Sephardi Man. Do you mean the anniversary of your engagement or wedding?

newmomoftwins said...

aishel, I can beat you on number of people at a recent wedding---- over 1000. Here's why I was not at all offended. The family absolutely cared that all 1000 people were comfortable and having a great time. There was open seating. VERY modest meal. NO hot food at the shmorg before the chuppah-- just pastries, chopped liver, veggies, dips, crackers, fruits. PAPER PLATES AND PLASTIC UTENSILS-- I kid you not--- we were smiling so much that they cared so much about making everyone feel welcome at the wedding that they didn't even care about using plates. No fancy dresses, and I THINK no videographer--- there was photography, but it seemed minimal. When we showed up the kallah left her photography session to greet us and ask us if we were able to find a babysitter easily (1000 people, babysitters in our neighborhood were hard to find if you wanted a frummie--- I was smart and hired a non Jew).

Compare that to another wedding we went to with about 500 people--- FANCY china, VERY formal seating-- you had to wait in line for an hour to greet the kallah-- the chosson and kallah didn't go table to table to welcome everyone and thank everyone for coming--- the shmorg alone must have been at least $10,000 (no kidding--- it was a meal before the meal!), etc etc etc. And you couldn't hear yourself think over the 12 piece band.

We had a vort only because we had JUST become frum and our Rav told us we really should--- we had it at the shul with paper plates and spent about $800 total on it, but I wish we hadn't even spent that much -- we're no longer friendly with anyone who was there, and the photos from that day don't bring back any special memories.

And if we had our wedding to do over (we spent $17,000 thinking that was CHEAP for Los Angeles which it was... but still!)..... we'd have 10 men, a chuppah, some eidim, some cake and cider, and call it a day.

We were just talking tonight about the fact that our own student loans won't necessarily be paid off yet by the time our kids go to college and they'll have to take out student loans and our kids could easily go into more debt than even we did. Education-- more important than a fancy wedding in my opinion.

SephardiLady said...

Aishel-Talk all you want.

Ariella-Upcoming wedding anniversary. While others acknowledge all sorts of occassions, we tend to just hit the major ones: anniversary and birthdays. We usually pick a resturant and take the kids with us.

NewMomOfTwins-Sounds like you went to the very popular AND very modest wedding of the century. Sounds lovely! My cousins also told me that the Rav in their smallish community invites the entire community (open invite) to his smachot and serves a modest buffet. I love the idea!

And, of course I agree with you education over smachot.

triLcat said...

Our "Vort" was at my parents' house. There was a really fancy cake, loads of cut veggies (hand-cut by my dad, who learned to cut veggies while doing hashgacha for a fancy caterer)and some other noshables. If there was music, it was from my parents' CD player (and guests singing). I'm fairly certain that it was kept under $500. It wasn't terribly important to me, and my husband would have foregone the pleasure altogether, but my parents thought it would be nice, so they put together something nice.

Our wedding was also kept within a tight budget (about $10K for 200 people, including pretty much everything) based on what my parents thought was a reasonable amount to spend. Thank G-d, they can afford to give their kids a nice sending-off, but if they hadn't been able to, we would have found ways to cut the budget further.

My husband had been engaged a few years earlier, and had spent over $1K on the girl's engagement ring. He was very happy to hear that I wasn't interested in wearing something that expensive.

In our first year of marriage, he bought me 2(!) dishwashers...

Now that I'm pregnant and my fingers are swollen, believe me, I appreciate the dishwashers a lot more than I'd appreciate a big diamond in my jewelry box! (not to mention every time I've put on a sweater and not gotten my ring caught in the wool...)

I'm always amazed at what people regard as necessities.

Ayelet said...

First of all, an early "mazal tov". As for my engagement, I begged not to have one. We had such a lovely "l'chaim" at my home the night of the engagement. I saw no reason to waste money and drag people out of their houses for a "vort". My husband was insistent on the vort, though. It was nice but totally unnecessary (as they always are!). In hindsight, he completely agrees that it was a total waste and shakes his head remembering how important it was to him at the time.

David said...

In my community (DC), engagements are quite common (oodles of young folks getting married), and the typical practice for an engagement party is for a friend to host a pot-luck or something similar (everyone goes to a restaurant, and the hatan & kallah get their meal free, something like that).

The engagement parties tend to be about the same level of effort as the sheva berakhot parties: a couple of days of work for a few people, and about 30-40 guests.

That seems completely reasonable to me.

Jewish Blogmeister said...

The largest wedding I ever performed at was in Deal NJ and it was on the person's estate. They had a 30 piece orchestra and because it was sefardi wedding they had a buffet with 15 people serving on each side. They had one guy brought in to play arabic music and they hired Mendy Wald as well (I'm not sure why they needed me, except for the fact that Mendy at that point had no idea how to sing at a wedding). There was a 7 piece string section with a grand piano on the guys front patio and then in the back of the mansion there was a three piece string section with a harpist as you walked toward the chupah. There must have been at least 1200 people and it was in some kind of huge tent with air conditioning brought in.

mb said...

Well, I'll be in trouble in a few weeks then - there's no way I would let anyone spend that much on my engagement party, whenever it happens :)

the apple said...

One of the nicest vorts/lechaims I ever went to was for a friend of mine from seminary - it was in her house in NY. All the food was homemade or made by family friends, and looked professional and beautifully presented. The kallah was wearing a nice outfit (not a gown - that is one of the most ridiculous things I have seen, that the kallah wears a gown to the vort) and spent the whole time running around greeting guests and making sure that people could take pictures with her. It was just lovely, very tzniusdik and appropriate.

Our family once made a vort for someone and it was very similar to the one I described above - all the food was homemade, kallah wore a nice outfit, in our house. Chatan/kallah were happy, their parents were happy, we were happy, community was happy. It was wonderful.

BubbyT said...

I was invited to thechuppah of the wedding aishel went hubby and I stayed 15 minutes - it was too too crowded...Don't get my hubby started on vorts, l'chaims and the like...even weddings...he said you should make a big catered party if they stay 25 - 30 years...

SephardiLady said...

BubbyT-I agree with your husband. The accomplishment is staying married (although I'm not discounting the difficulties of dating/getting engaged).

MB--Email us!!! I'm smiling inside and out.

miriam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
miriam said...

1 - there is an article in this week's Economist about extravagant funerals in Ghana. (link:, but you can't get the whole article without registering)
basically, most ppl live on less than $2 a day and funerals tend to cost $2000-3000. officials worry expensive funerals are hampering economic growth. the last line is a quote from a ghanian economist: "this is not an efficient allocation of resources."

2 - the day we announced our engagement we went kayaking. a few weeks later we threw ourselves a party, of the sort twenty somethings throw in a friend's apartment (yes: pizza, carrot sticks with hummus, alcohol of various sorts, orange juice. no: fancy cakes, silly "bride and groom bear" baloons, grownups). we enjoyed it b/c we got to celebrate with our friends, meet some more of each other's friends, and generally be happy. i think other ppl had fun too, to the extent they like to socialize at all.

Zach Kessin said...

I forget how much our engagment party cost, but it was probably about 200NIS or less. We invited a bunch of people to my flat after dinner on a friday night. My flatmate and I put out nosh and some sodas. It was nice. Hell I don't think my wedding cost $20,000 and that including the fact that myself, my wife and 2 step kids flew in from Israel for it. We also had a great time (Except the cake was lousy)

Charlie Hall said...

Our wedding cost $10,000, including food for 140 guests, the bride's dress, the groom's suit, the rental of the synagogue (so much nicer than the wedding palacies most folks use), a five piece band, and a professional still photographer. (No videos.) We didn't have a vort but friends threw us a potluck party.

With expensive weddings like the ones described here, nobody is going to take seriously the complaints about yeshiva tuition!

TzviNoach said...

In our community, a l'chaim / vort is pretty much de rigueur. However, thankfully most are low key affairs in the kallah's home, and feature home-made fare, with culinary contributions from friends and neighbors. (This is what we did for our daughter's engagement last year as well.) Catered affairs are the exception.

Family and friends generally come for a few minutes, wish Mazal Tov, have a bite or a drink, meet the principals, shmooze and leave.

Having experienced quite a few of these occasions over the past several years, I agree that they are overdone and perhaps unnecessary. A small celebration at the time of the engagement becoming "official", where a few local friends and neighbors come over to share a l'Chaim -- that I can understand. But to expect people to get dressed up and drive 30-60 minutes or more (we live in a NY suburb, and most people have friends and relatives throughout the metropolitan and tri-state area) to wish Mazal Tov and leave seems to be a big waste of time and effort. (I'm not even going to address the kind of affair described in your post.)

We try to avoid going to a vort unless it's very local or is a very close relative or friend.

Honestly Frum said...

We had an engagement party in my in-laws house, all of the neighbors helped out. It was good because we got a lot of gifts that we registered for and needed for our house. I think that is why a lot of people do it, for the gifts. $20,000 is disgusting- they should give the money to the chasan and kallah.

SephardiLady said...

With expensive weddings like the ones described here, nobody is going to take seriously the complaints about yeshiva tuition!

Agreed! And I think the same could be said for many other expenses from the small to the large.

TzviNoach-I agree with you that the driving becomes a burden on people's time. Even when the engagement parties are in the home and are self-catered, I just don't see them as being necessary.

HonestlyFrum-You might be right. I don't bring gifts for engagement parties. One wedding = one gift. I really don't feel obligated to give extra gifts for each extra party. When it is our turn iy"h, I'd be happier to give my children the small sum of money I would have spent and let them go buy themselves something for their new home (or better yet, start a Coverdell Education IRA for their future children). :)

Ari Kinsberg said...


"No videos"

i actually think the video is worth the extra few hundred dollars (but forget all the extra editing features they charge extra for)'


"there is an article in this week's Economist about extravagant funerals in Ghana"

at least we waste our money on simchas. (unless sephardi lady has a planned post about extravagant funerals.)


we skipped the vort/lechaim/engagement party. we also did not have the full slew of traditional sheva berakhot.

i once went to an engagement party in cherry hill that easily cost more than my entire wedding.

"I really don't feel obligated to give extra gifts for each extra party."

us too. the only exception is when my wife goes to a bridal shower

another unecessary expense is the decorated ketubbah. often they are plain ugly, and even when not they are just not unique enough to justify the extra expense. (also, someone once commented me that he did not understand the whole fascination with publicly displaying what is essentially nothing more than a contract. there is really nothing romantic about it. of course historically there is a strong tradition of using decorated ketubbot.

Ariella said...

OK, I'm back to wish you and Sephardi man a happy anniversary. As for today's extravegance, eyn ladavar sof. So you should do what you are comfortable with. I love the idea of a wedding with just the basics. I think you are more focused on the wedding for what it is rather than the party, decorations, and other things set out to impress. And smaller is friendlier, though I do understand that there are people with so many friends and relatives that an intimate affair would be considered tantamount to an elopement. :-)

Scraps said...

Good grief! $20K on a VORT?! That's beyond obscene, I feel like there has to be a word even stronger to describe that. Absolute insanity. I'm not engaged or married yet myself, but I don't want to spend such a ridiculous amount of money. I doubt that much will be spent on my wedding, let alone an engagement party! My parents, while they live comfortably, are not fabulously wealthy either, and I would feel terrible if they spent such a crazy amount of money on such an unnecessary party.

SephardiLady said...

Ari-If it wasn't for chazal's takana on excessive funerals, G-d only knows how much I could blog about.

Ariella-Thanks. I'll have to post sometime about the surprise that my non-Jewish college roomates experienced when finding out what a regular Jewish wedding was. Being that one was from a religious background of her own, it could make an interesting post about standards.


Tova said...

$20K is excessive. I wonder if some soon-to-be-married and newly marrieds have a clue regarding money, savings, etc. Secondly, due to unforseen circumstances there are times that money can run out-- what then? I'm not necessarily advocating being a tightwad, but rather an informed consumer with a critical eye to economics and a blind eye to the rest of the crowd. Thirdly, in a society where instant gratification, a great sense of entitlement and expection there is little doubt in my mind that we're cultivating a generation that wants more and better than the rest.

I'm curious as to how many families donate money at the time of a wedding/engagement to causes and gemachs like Claire's Treasures, loans for hachnasat kallah and other such community projects, as at least a head nod and acknowledgement that those in the same neighborhood (even down the street) are unable to provide for a simcha. [Yes, I recently read of the great involvement of Claire's Treasures, SKA and DRS at a recent community wedding. Kol HaKavod!]

RAM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RAM said...

Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT"L made the famous statement that many Jewish immigrants to America turned their children off to Judaism by telling them it was hard to be a Jew.

In today's world, these absurd exercises in social pressure really do make it hard on the Jewish non-rich. Action is needed to prevent the predicted social consequences. The first action is for rabbonim to stand up and say out loud to their students and supporters and congregants, "This social practice (and this and this...) is not necessary whatsoever." People are free to do what they want but not to burden everybody else with unmeetable social "obligations".

miriam said...

We had an engagement party of some sort, a "vort" I guess, since that's what they called it, but friends made it (they insisted). It was on the level of sheva brochos -- handmade food in someone's house. Sheva brochos were all as nice and informal as the vort, at people's houses, none catered. We made our own wedding for under $10K. That was catered, but very low-key. People were still telling us how much fun they had years later.

We'll do a Bar Mitzvah *and* a Bas Mitzvah in about 3 years (3 months apart, since the girl is only 15 mo younger) and we will certainly not spend anything near that amount on either of them! And tough on anyone who complains.

(not the miriam who posted above. Sometimes I hate having a common name.)