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Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Communal Cost of Big Money Mistakes

Hat Tip: The Jewish Worker

A few months back, one of the American Yated's regular columnists was asking readers to write in with their eitzot as to how to marry children off without going broke. Clearly, large families + massive wedding expenses do not bode well in the long-term, even where the money can be made available in the short-term. I had started a letter from an "outsider" of sorts, but in the end scrapped it. I figured there was little chance of having a letter published that read:

Advice on how to control wedding costs is readily available. Backbone is what is lacking.
Signed, SL

Maybe I should send my two sentence letter? Who doesn't love concise and to the point?

The Orthodox community as a whole is making far too many *Big Money Mistakes* and few are willing to say what needs to be said. One of the largest Big Money Mistakes clearly is the "dowry" system in which an Israeli family must offer an apartment in order to marry off their daughters. Many will still give and/or issue tzedakah teudot because "it is what it is.

The economist in me has a hard time accepting such reasoning as I believe that giving only propagates a system that will soon come back to bite us. (I know, I'm really mean!) I believe that if the money were not forthcoming, the behavior would change in a natural, organic way. There would be some pain, but it wouldn't be tremendous. Darn that economist in me. . . . . The economist in me also believes that should the behavior not change, the demands on the tzedakah pot would become far too drastic. Once again, darn that economist. . . . . .especially when her predictions are hitting the publications.

The Jewish Worker, via Mishpacha Magazine, reports on the changing the profile of your average tzedakah recipient.

According to Kupat Hair the profile of the recipient of Tzedaka has changed dramatically. In the past most of the people who needed tzedaka were people who had undergone some tragedy, someone died, got sick, divorce etc. the average Charedi was not rich but did not need support from Kupat Hair.

In the last few years this has changed dramatically. Most of the people who now get money from Kupat Hair are regular people who are poor because they married off their children. To marry off their children they had to buy them apartments and that put them under water. They borrowed money that they could not repay and now they need tzedaka (source Michpacha newspaper).


Noodle said...

Please send the letter. Though Yated readers may not understand it.

As far as your major point - you are preaching to choir on this site. And let's all pray that the apartment nonsense never reaches our shores. Bad enough that some of the other stuff (i.e., no secular education for RW orthos) already is.

Avi said...

Simply saying, "grow a backbone," is probably not enough. There needs to be a sense that it is socially and halachically acceptable not to spend money on weddings. That starts with concrete examples, i.e., no chassan/kallah gifts, no promises of support, no 500 person invitation list, no caterer, store-bought ketubah, etc.

ProfK said...

Just a question here that another reader may have the answer to. At least many years ago buying an apartment at marriage was because there were very few apartments for rent. Most of the builders wanted to be finished with a building once they built it and they sold all the apartments rather than renting some out. Has this changed radically? That is, if an apartment is not purchased at marriage will there be sufficient apartments for rent for the new couples?

If buying an apartment becomes a "must" then clearly the parents will have to cut the wedding expenses down to the bare bone, and this needs to be told to them. If the apartment buying is really optional, then the parents have to decide: a big wedding or the apartment, but not both, certainly not if tzedaka money will be taken for the apartment.

living in the five towns said...

The apartments are way (WAY!) more than wedding expenses. Not even in the same ballpark.

Finding $50k-$100k per child for any family - even people who work and make a good living - is astronomical; for the charedim it is not possible without collecting.

Two stories if I may: (1) A childhood friend who I haven't seen since my bar mitzvah came to my house collecting. He had learned in Kollel for 20+ years (!!) and recently went to work teaching in a seminary. Whne I asked him why he told me because he had to support his future SIL. Bizarre to say the least.

(2) Many years ago someone came around the shul collecting and he told me it was for an apartment. I told him I was saving for a house. He asked me how and I told him that each pay day I put aside a few hundred dollars and I expect to be able to afford the down payment in 5 years. He answered that I should join him since his method - going from shul to shul - was MUCH faster.

So maybe the whole thing was our fault for feeding this nonsense with our dollars.

Ariella said...

That is one of the downsides of living in the 5 Towns, people do expect handouts from everyone they ask. Sometimes they don't even go door to door; they just post or have a friend post for them on the local shul list. Someone commented to me that she was surprised at "how fancy" a certain family made their house because just a few years ago, she gave to the collection for them after they had a fire in a different house.

tesyaa said...

Even if what ProfK says is true that apartments are only for sale and not available for renting, what's to stop an investor from renting apartments to young couples? In NYC, lots of people sublet cooperatives and condominiums. Isn't there any opportunity for this in EY? I'd guess that the culture is just so far removed from the concept of "renting" that this wouldn't fly.

When I was young lots of financial "experts" decried renting as "throwing your money away" and touted ownership for all. We see where that got us in this country.

A lot of times, renting makes good financial sense.

tesyaa said...

As an afterthought to my last comment, I guess it's not practical to rent while saving money to buy in the future when THERE'S NO MONEY COMING IN because the husband learns and doesn't work. So that seems to be the crux of the problem.

Bklynmom said...

I agree that you
1)should send in the letter, and
2)add to it so that it is more accessible and obvious to everyone who reads it (assuming it is published, but it really should be published).

In addition, it would be good to remember that "grow a backbone" is the solution to many economic problems that plague the Jewish community--schooling, housing, clothes, food, careers, etc.

Upper West Side Mom said...

living in the five towns,

It's not "collecting' it's begging. We all need to start calling it what it really is.

Living in the 5 towns said...

I call it "collecting" because of a joke I once heard about two guys talking about their hobbies. One says he is a stamp collector focusing on foreign stamps in the pst WWI period. the other guy says he is a coin collector. When asked what type he says 'whatever people give me'.

A reader said...

To the Prof, yes in EY there are far less apartments for rent then there are for purchase. Some neighborhoods have no rental apartments at all and some only a few. Mostly the ones I know of for rent are those where people chutz l'aretz have bought an apartment for much later retirement to EY and they rent it out until then or they have purchased an apartment for investment purposes and when the price goes high enough they sell, leaving the renters back to trying to find an apartment.

JS said...

It's not so much "grow a backbone" that is necessary, it's learning how to separate the religion from the culture. Oftentimes we elevate the culture attached to the religion above the actual religion itself. So, the wedding expenses and the apartment become more important than the mitzvah of getting married. We put off the mitzvah of getting married to fulfill the culture of lavish weddings and pre-paid apartments. You can see examples of this everywhere in frum society - a complete obfuscation of halacha and custom to the point that minhag has become paramount and actual mitzvah observance takes a backseat.

My sister-in-law has been dating a guy for 6 months now and he and his family are putting intense pressure on her to agree to get married or break it off. They both love each other, but for various reasons she wants more time to think things over and become more comfortable with him. But, 6 months is the longest you can date. It simply isn't done any other way. Already it doesn't look good. They're both completely shomer, observe yichud, etc. So, yet another example of culture pushing aside halacha (and common sense). If she doesn't bow down to culture and minhag, he will likely break up with her even though they love each other and aren't breaking or going to break any halacha.

Anonymous said...

Dowries are required in Lakewood as a matter of course. A young woman I know readily acknowledges she was given a dowry by her father, who has never worked and is supported by a family member. As much as you may decry this, it is necessary in these circles for a girl to get married. The boy's parents would not have considered the girl to marry their son unless there was a dowry. Her father gave five years' support.

Aspiring Father said...

On the cost of living in the day school rat race, with the commensurate lack of dignity:

Ariella said...

Anonymous, don't you mean that the person who supports the father's family gave 5 years of support? The extent to which we have lost the sense of na'ama dekisufa never ceases to amaze me.

rosie said...

I have a married son living in Eli,in the shomron and they pay a very low rent on a 2 bedroom apartment with 2 mirpessets, one in front and one in back. There is a lovely yard with stray cats for the kids to chase. They did live in Yerushalyim for the first couple of years of marriage and paid rent there too but the apartment was not big enough for a family. Not all apartments are updated or nice but there seemed to be a selection.

Abba's Rantings said...

my understanding is that in israel it is generally cheaper to rent than to buy.

why most israelis prefer to buy is a question. (maybe residual from when israeli currency wasn't worth anything and it made sense to sink all you had into real estate?)


i only watched half because i'm at work and couldn't control my laughter

Chavi Beck said...

>> I told him I was saving for a house. He asked me how and I told him that each pay day I put aside a few hundred dollars and I expect to be able to afford the down payment in 5 years. He answered that I should join him since his method - going from shul to shul - was MUCH faster. (comment #4 above)

This one is a classic!

megapixel said...

perhaps they want to buy them an apartment cuz that will take care of the biggest expense, and the husband will be able to sit and learn without the "OL" of parnassa? It is to enable Kollel learning. THe problem of course, is that there is probably a goodly number of young men that should NOT be pursuing long term learning at all.
THEREIN lies the problem in Israel. to work for a living is considered not second class , but more like the "untouchable" caste in India.