Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

(Link) It Feels So Good: After 22 Years. . . . Financial Freedom

Before I get back to my previous subject, I don't want my readers to miss a great post at BeyondBT. Michoel writes about Finance Independence and Success in the T'shuvah Process where, after 22 years of support, his family has made it their biggest priority to wean themselves off familial financial support.

In the process of becoming financially independent, they are already experiencing some wonderful side benefits:

**No confusion as to whose dollar is being spent/donated.
**Time belongs to him (better learning).
**Great respect for parents as they see principled, responsible parents (the frugal can and do say no! with conviction and the children are emotionally healthier for it.

The author sums up his post beautifully:

"I had been told in my days in yeshiva, that it was a big z'chus for non-frum relatives to allow them them the pay for your tuition. This was a classic cas of mis-applied-ffb-bt-hyper-religious-gobbly-gook. First build yourself. Then worry about saving the world. And then worry about saving your family. The biggest z'chs for them is to see frum Jews living in a way that will cause them to respect frum Jews. And you might be the only example they have."

Personally, I'm baffled there is any argument on the post. Do we not read (almost) the same birchat hamazon text? Do we not pray that we not be dependent on gifts and loans from flesh and blood? Is the borrower no longer slave to the lender? Are chazal's admonitions no longer applicable?

Related post:



112 comments:

tesyaa said...

In the comments there is a rebuttal to his point about giving relatives the zechus of supporting Torah in the name of Rabbi Weinberg - the commenter quotes the rabbi directly as saying depriving non-frum relatives of supporting one's Torah activities is "stealing" mitzvot from them. Oh well in that case...

tesyaa said...

And here's another recently posted comment from prolific Beyond BT commenter Judy Resnick:

I don’t blame you for wanting to be financially independent, but Yeshiva high school tuition is enormously expensive. And, unlike college tuition, there are no government loans, no Pell Grants and no work-study programs to help cover those costs. Yaasher Koach to you if you can eventually meet those yeshiva high school tuition expenses on your combined salaries, but if you can’t, let your generous relative help out. Weddings are also extremely expensive nowadays: even a no-frills event is going to set a family back about $90 per person, and usually there are 200-person minimums. Add to that the cost of music and photos, and even a modest wedding can run $40,000.00. Maybe it’s going to be ten years or more to your first child’s wedding, but don’t be too proud to accept help if it is graciously and kindly offered by a caring family member.

tesyaa said...

And to turn the tables, a Beyond BT comment from Ben David that echoes the previous Orthonomics thread:

I am SO VERY GRATEFUL for this post. I’ve previously posted here on the sense of narcissistic entitlement and/or escape from reality’s obligations in some BT stories.

The choice to join the Haredi world – and duplicate the sense of entitlement that is rampant in that world – is definitely part of that immature, escapist type of BT pattern.

Dear BT: you are probably a BT instead of an FFB because the crushing poverty of “the old country shtetl” you romanticize drove your grandparents to despise the sages, and abandon Judaism as unworkable.

Think about that – before you reject the college education and other gifts of modern life, and go off to recreate the culture of “luftmenschen’ that was already imploding – and losing Jews – generations before Hitler was born.

… I am thinking now of several personal friends who “frummed out” when we were younger – and now speak regretfully of their ignorant, unemployable children and grandchildren, and of how little they can do to help them now that “dad/grandpa” has retired/sold the business/passed on.

Insanity = repeating past mistakes and expecting a different result.

Anonymous said...

Tessya: As usual, you beat me to it. I thought the post was great, but gagged on the suggestion that he continue to take the money because of the future weddings and that even a "modest" wedding costs $40,000. I guess modest must be in the eyes of the beholder (and the price of modesty goes up if you have a rich relative), but my definition of a modest is south of $10,000. I wonder what this lady thinks is a "modest" house or a "modest" car, a lexus? an audi?

Mark Frankel said...

Like most issues, there are never simple answers.

A parent giving money to a child does not fall under a borrower lender relationship, unless it was specifically stated that this was a loan.

A parent should encourage their children to self-sufficiency as you wisely encourage on this blog.

Parents with the means, often find great joy in giving to their children financially.

I think Judy was incorrect when she said a modest wedding costs $40,000, but the average cost of a modest wedding with everything included in the New York area is greater than $20,000.

tesyaa said...

Darn it, my wedding in 1988 in NYC was modest by today's frum standards (180 guests, an extraordinarily good deal on the catering) and cost more than $20,000. Even that same wedding today, with an equally good deal on the catering, would be $40,000.

And let's not forget what Rosie has stated in the past, that $1,500 is a really, really cheap price for a wedding gown rental

:)
:)
:)

Orthonomics said...

Mark,

I think you are absolutely, 100% mistaken. An example, I heard a complaint that came via a set of parents who believed that they were second fiddle. Their child's family was supported almost entirely ("a gift") by the spouse-in-law's parents.

We all know money isn't free and this money wasn't free in the least. The supporting parents dictate which yom tovs they get and which the other parents may "have."

And I also don't believe all parents that profess joy when giving to have that joy. Some do, certainly. Does the receiver feel the same level of joy? I think not.

And, yes, I do believe that some/much of the dynamic of borrower-lender plays out because there is a loss of independence, another set of eyes, and a set of expectations to fulfill.

Miami Al said...

If you accept money from relatives to maintain your lifestyle, whether you call it "supporting Torah" or whatever colloquialism you choose (ultimately, money is fungible, they pay for Yeshiva, which is supporting Torah, now you don't have to pay for Yeshiva, so you pay for more elaborate Shabbat meals), you are living an inflated lifestyle. In and of itself, this is nice, you live nicer than otherwise.

HOWEVER, your kids are now living a lifestyle that is beyond their parent's means, which raise their expectations in adulthood. They might think that "if I do X like dad, I can live this way," whereas it really was from their grandparents largess. This is rather unfortunate, because if you needed support to maintain the lifestyle, you are unlikely to be able to give that support to your children, hence "downward mobility."

The flip side, if you proudly turn down the money now, you may be strapped later, and it's hard to ask for it later, forcing you to shortchange your family.

My proposed compromise: accept the generous support (if given generously), but rather than inflating the lifestyle, take the same amount of money and move it out of your bank account for your children (ESA, 529, UGMA account, whatever). That way, you've taken their help, willingly given, but rather than inflating your lifestyle, you've used it to help your children get a start on their life.

Graduating from college debt free was the BEST support my parents could have given me. I had flexibility to make early career decisions that weren't 100% cash-flow driven, taking risks that I couldn't have otherwise taken if I needed to make a student loan payment each month. Those advantages have carried through my career.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Giving Tzedaka while not paying full tuition is stealing.

Not my line, it is Rav Schwab's (From Washington Heights & KAJ).

Then again, Rav Schwab was known for being pro-work.

As a side point. I feel it makes a difference if someone offers money without prompting (in which case one should not feel bad to take) or with prompting (or strings attached).

Mark Frankel said...

100% mistakenly incorrect.

There's no room for grey it's 100% black and white.

Parents should never give and children should never receive.

Quite a sad outlook if you ask me.

tesyaa said...

I agree with Nephew and Miami Al that it's often OK to take money. But a family shouldn't delude themselves that "Grandpa is getting great joy from this" or "Grandpa is getting a big mitzvah" when there might be some reluctance on Grandpa's part. If a family can sit down and talk about money honestly (not easy), taking money can be fine.

One commenter on Beyond BT said that commenters skeptical of taking money might feel differently if they could see the giver's reward in Olom Haba. To my mind, bringing the afterlife into the discussion kind of jumps the shark.

JS said...

tesyaa,

Imagine the greatest possible worldly joy. That is but a fraction of the joy these relatives will experience in the oilam shel emes!

In reality (does reality still exist anymore in frumkeit?), it's absolutely amazing how well the comments on that thread mesh with the points I was trying to make on the previous post.

It's really something to ponder. What is it about yeshiva education that produces these kinds of attitudes? WHY is it producing these kinds of values?

We managed to build a generation of Orthodox Jews across all stripes that are more Jewishly educated than Jews have probably ever been since the giving of the Torah. And THIS is what we have to show for it?

I'd like to know where the next crop of supporters for yeshiva and other Orthodox institutions are supposed to come from. And I mean at all levels of support. Where are the big donors coming from that get their names put on buildings? Where are the grandparents who pay for their grandchildren's tuition and summer camps coming from?

The money is being drained and we're not providing sufficient education and opportunities for the next generation to refill the coffers.

The amazing thing is no one really addresses the income side of the equation. The focus is almost exclusively on the expenses side - yeshiva is too expensive, camp is too expensive, weddings are too expensive, etc.

You won't see me crying if weddings are universally done cheaper, but the suggestions for reducing the cost of yeshiva are almost always meant to result in a lower quality education.

So, yeshiva becomes cheaper allowing the current generation to afford it resulting in much patting on the back and self-congratulations. But, no one takes into account that the kids being educated in those yeshivas are now less able to earn equivalent or higher salaries than their parents.

We already have this problem of downward mobility (see above and previous thread), now we're just going to exacerbate it in the name of affordability.

Anonymous said...

I've heard all sorts of nuggets of wisdom such as "g-d helps those who helps themselves,G-d gives you back all the costs you spend on Shabbos, day school tuition etc, and the best one "g-d gives each of us everything we need"- ( sorry, what about the starving people in Africa?). So now people are saying you should take the money so as not to deprive the giver of the zichut. For every saying there is an opposing saying-like "g-d helps those who help themselves" and" bizat apecha tochal lechems- you need to work to provide food. I am for the skeptical sayings- the ones where people actually need to try to be self sufficient from the beginning- make the right choices from the beginning. When you choose a college, yes, look at the cost ( here you might actually need parents to teach you financial literacy) etc. Put off marriage until you as a couple can actually support yourself. Wait to have children until you have at least saved up an emergency fund. Buy a house only when you can afford the down payment and the monthly payments yourself. ( We waited 10 years and had 3 kids when we finally moved out of an apt.) And teach your children that you will not support them once they get married- so they better figure out how to make it work before they get married. It would be nice if our schools would teach the students about financial literacy- and the importance of not succumbing to peer pressure. If everyone lived within their means-a lot of peer pressure would disappear because other people would have to look at costs too.

rosie said...

While the wedding itself is $20,000 or less, the cost rises when adding the cost of dating, shadchanus, a l'chaim or vort, ufruf, Shabbos kallah, sheva brachas, sheitels, furniture, clothing, jewelry, seforim, household supplies, travel expenses (if pertinent), invitations, postage, benchers, marriage license, kallah and chosson classes, let's see, what did I leave out? Are we at $40k yet?

Dave said...

Hmmmnnn.

We spent around $36 total on our wedding. The whole thing.

Next week is our 20th anniversary. Lavish weddings are one thing if you are overflowing with money -- if you aren't, they are just foolish.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I think the point of the BeyondBT comment was that if you have relatives with money, you too can make a lavish wedding, even if you don't have a dime to your name.

rosie said...

well, I have seen a clever email invitation. That saved a few bucks for those 2 families.
I wonder if there is any way to "home school" chosson and kallah classes.
I saw an email for a series of classes on marriage for shidduch age boys. At $200 for a series of 8 classes with a marriage counselor, it seems like a bargain.
Tessyaa, wouldn't it be great if the gown rental didn't cost the same a month of rent on an apartment? For $1500 (which was less than we paid for the gown) it would be nice if some extra perk was thrown in. Someone should suggest that those who rent gowns throw in a free veil or a nice snood or scarf to wear after the wedding. Unfortunately, the price probably reflects the extreme wear and tear on those expensive gowns.

Anonymous said...

Yes, just keep taking money from relatives until their are no relatives left to take from.

Surely the same plan will work for your own children.

Anonymous said...

Rosie, I hope you're not serious. Otherwise, I think I feel sick. Hashem yerachem!

rosie said...

anonymous, try Pepto Bismol.

what comment did I make that caused you to become sick? Yes, one of my daughters fell in love with a very fancy gown that one of her husband's family members found for her so we did not refuse to rent it but it required on the lot financing because it had 0 mileage. The next bride got it for cheaper and I got to meet the next lucky mother who was slated to wear the gown that I rented.
Yes, I agree that a village in Africa could have had clean water for several years for what we paid to rent those gowns. There should be mandatory signs in all high end places reminding us of those facts.

Avi said...

Rosie,

Yes, there are additional expenses. Let's see if they add up to $20,000:

--Date cheap. Any girl who objects has inflated lifestyle expectations that you're not going to be able to meet once you're married anyway.
--Don't use a shadchan. Date your friends friends. Then buy them a microwave as a thank you. (If this sounds like personal experience...)
--l'chaim or vort - Costco $75, bottle of alcohol, $25.
--ufruf - don't invite the entire world - just have the machatonim over for Shabbos, which shouldn't cost more than regular Shabbos entertaining. Don't throw candy if you can't afford to throw money away.
--Shabbos kallah - what are the expenses here? No, seriously. A fruit platter? Some cake? $50, tops.
--sheva brachas - this can be elaborate, or a simple as a cheap meal where everyone pays for their own food. The sheva brachos I remember most fondly was the one with my friends upstairs at J2. I think everyone paid $10. Divrei torah, bread sticks, pizza, benching, sheva brachos.
--sheitels - OR $300 on hats (I'd say $100, but I'm married, and I know how much hats cost, and you need several. Fine. But it doesn't have to be 10x that for a sheitel).
--furniture - just say no
--clothing - as long as you don't go overboard, fine, I can see this costing $100's to as much as $2000 to outfit an entire family. Much of this should be reused on Shabbos/yom tov - or reused from wedding to wedding, lowering the expense.
--jewelry - just say no
--seforim - really? He doesn't already have seforim? I sure did. Bookcases full of them. And I'm MO.
-- household supplies - huh? Isn't that what a job and a registry are for?
-- travel expenses (if pertinent) - agreed.
-- invitations - we printed ourselves for under $200 all in.
-- postage - $100 for 200 invitations, more if you're having the entire world at your affair.
-- benchers - a) nobody needs these. Really. b) If you insist, fine, I know there are minimums to get the best rates, but don't order that many - nobody wants them afterwards. $250.
-- marriage license - can't get around this, but it isn't all that expensive in most places
-- kallah and chosson classes - maybe these have escalated dramatically since I got married 16+ years ago, but it was hardly prohibitive.

You left out wedding programs. Ours was like the theater playbills (complete with fake ads) and cost ~$35 to print at Kinkos.

So... another $20K? Not unless the entire bridal party is decked out in couture.

rosie said...

Avi, shadchanus is halachally mandated at the going rate of the community, even if grandma made the shidduch.

I know that we have all had these arguments before. There were no sheva brachas when ancestors got married after disembarking on Ellis Island.

I think that you know, as well as I or anyone else, that very few people have their celebration as cheap as what your menu advertises.

I think that we all know that the sheital crowd is not going to become the hat crowd in order to save money.

I think that we all know that some gifts such as jewelry, candlesticks, and seforim, are as customary as dreidels are on Chanukah.

Orthonomics said...

Parents should never give and children should never receive.

Quite a sad outlook if you ask me.


Mark, Of course not! But what you wrote was that 1) "Parents with the means, often find great joy in giving to their children financially." I would argue that this is hardly the case.

and

2) parent giving, child receiving does not fall under a lender-borrower relationship and I think that is extremely mistaken. Yes, there are families that give very freely to each other and it is a beautiful thing. But I'd surmise for most there is a negative dynamic that builds.

Mark Frankel said...

When I am able to help my children financially, I get great joy out of it.

Rabbi Dessler teaches that giving in its various forms leads to love.

By Torah standards a parent giving a child is a gift and not a loan. This has implications in both halacha and the hashkafa based verses you cited.

Orthonomics said...

Not all giving is equal. If the giving increases love, appreciation, respect, that can be healthy.

If it causes jealousy, resentment, power struggles, disrespect, it is not healthy in the least.

I can think of examples of each.

Zach Kessin said...

Well done! It is very empowering to know that you are standing on your own two feet.

Jacqueline said...

When I first became religious and found out this idea of "being supported" I thought it was nuts. I still do. If we asked my non-religious parents for tuition money, they would tell us to send to public school if we can't afford private. As for if money creates an obligation-I have relatives who give us cash gifts on a semi-regular basis. However, it's usually for a gift giving occasion (i.e. birthday, Hannukah), so it's in place of a different gift. In that case, no, it doesn't create an obligation. However, I know that if my parents were giving us regular money, I had better be looking for a job (I'm staying home with our son right now) so that we could stop that right quick.
As for weddings, I got married a year and a half ago. Our budget was 5,000 although I think we spent closer to 10,000. Still, 20,000 seems completely insane to me.

Anonymous said...

Jacqueline,

Don't worry. None of this will seem insane to your children once they've grown up frum and gone to yeshiva.

Hi said...

I'd like to know how these BTs got their non-religious parents to agree to support them. Most BTs I know are dealing with parental resistance to the changes, and even the parents who accept it aren't about to fund it.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know how these BTs got their non-religious parents to agree to support them.

The short answer is cute grandchildren. Those matchy-matchy outfits frum people favor don't hurt.

Anonymous said...

How many of those who have weddings north of $20,000 and who start off with an apartment full on new furniture, etc. are looking for scholarships in 6 or 7 years? On another blog, people say you shouldn't get scholarships if you aren't disabled and have cleaning help, have a big house, buy a big car, etc. Perhaps we need to consider how people have spent their money during prior years. Having kids and needing to fund tuition is not a surprise expense. The planning should start when the couple is engaged. Of course, its often not the young couple who decides how much money to spend on a wedding, its the parents and the wedding is often more for the parents than the kids. However, parents can help their children grow up. My father said we have x dollars. Its your choice. Its your day, not ours. We don't need to make a big wedding to impress anyone. Blow it on a big wedding that will be over in a few hours, or we'll save it and provide it later to help with education, a house downpayment or child expenses.

Anonymous said...

Spent about 25,000 on frum wedding in 2007. 300 people.

Anonymous said...

Helping adult children is fine, but the issue in my mind is what is really helping. Helping an adult child temporarily while they go back to school so they can get on their feet? Helping with a downpayment on a house where the kids can readily afford the mortgage, tax and maintenance, helping during a temoprary setback, an occassional splurge for a family trip or small luxury -- all ok in my book if the parents can afford it. If, however, the parents help means the kids are delaying becoming financially independent for more than a year or so, getting spoiled or not planning for the future, or doing it at the costs of the parents' financial security in their old age in my book is not at all "helping." Unless you are a multi, multi milionnaire and can continue the support for the life of your kids, what may feel and look like help may not truly be helping.

Orthonomics said...

Anonymous-100% My guidelines for help from the linked past post:

Working backwards, "better" help would include help that:
**does not make the receiver dependent on the giver
**does not rope the receiver into an inflated lifestyle
**allows the receiver to exercise independence and make decisions (additionally, allows the receiver to make mistakes and suffer the consequences)
**allows the receiver to use the funds for the future, not just the present

rachel q said...

$1500 for a gown rental??? I got mine for $200 (new) and it was mine!!! at least 2 other people got to wear it after me since I have no use for a wedding gown. My wedding was $15,000 everything included in NY almost 8 years ago. Having a cheap wedding, especially in NY is very very doable if you actually want.

Anonymous said...

Eh, who cares how much money you give your adult children when they won't have the means to help their own children?

If you can't be frum without parental support, better make sure today's supported kids will be able to support their own children!

Avi said...

Rosie,

You also left out the cost of the ketubah. Ours was stock and cost $20 (on the insistence of our Rav, who didn't want to deal with halachic or spelling errors in beautiful handmade ones), but I'm sure you can find someone who thinks a $1,000 custom job is mandatory. It's not.

I'm not talking about hazy fake memories of the distant past, I'm talking about my own peer group and siblings who got married in the past 10 - 20 years on the East coast of the US in the MO and Yeshivish communities. While some people did buy thank you gifts for the person that introduced them to their spouse - we gave our mutual friend a nicer present for his own wedding - nobody I know of paid the rack rate shadchan fee set by the Shulchan Aruch (show me where that is again?) and yet nobody was put in cherem! Many of the sheva brachos I attended were pot luck, or a large Shabbos meal. I'm not making up the J2 idea - I did it. The actual cost was around $10pp, and it was my favorite of the week (I love pizza, and that was the only sheva brachos where I can still remember who spoke and roughly what they said). Some families provided jewelry/candlesticks, some did not - and those who did not were shunned. Oh, no, wait, they weren't because whether somebody gives expensive gifts is none of anyone's business and has no bearing on anything in the real world. Possible exception: if you're marrying your son to a daughter of Lavan, when you arrive in Charan, he might appear to greet you warmly but he's actually trying to shake you down to see if you have jewelry on you to provide as gifts.

You can go on inventing new responsibilities and inflating costs all you want, but you're acceding to social norms that in some cases are modern inventions and that many (most?) in the community cannot possibly afford.

Miami Al said...

The use of parental support to fund crass consumerism is truly tragic:

1) It's crass, spending beyond your means to look good is just low-class, crass behavior. Chris Rock brought the lovely phrase, Nigger Rich to the American vernacular with this, describing the behavior of poor blacks to have no money for dental/health care, but expensive clothing.

2) It discourages hard work: letting 20-somethings live like they are much wealthier than they are prevents them from reaching hard to achieve it themselves

3) It elevates crass purchases of objects over building earning power and wealth. Paying for higher education enables the recipient to make more money. Paying for childcare so both spouses can work and advance in their career and increase earning power helps the family advance. Paying for expensive crap just let's the couple out of working hard to achieve it.

4) It's a downward spiral: let the kids live like they are upper middle class without the income to support it raises expectations on the grandchildren, but the parents aren't achieving to offer the same support for them, so the grandchildren have heightened expectations without the success and wealth backing them up.

Regarding community standards: If you cannot afford to live in your "chosen" communities, find one that you can afford. Pick your community based on the lifestyle you can support, not based on your wife dressing like the women in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

When I graduated college (a long time ago) I swore I would never take another nickel from my father. Because with the support came constant oversight, direction, criticism, and my father's inherent belief that I was incompetent and would exercise poor judgment unless subjected to his close supervision. So with suitcase in hand, I left home, moved to the big city, lived in a furnished one room basement and got a job quickly through the help wanted ads. When I lost a job and was on unemployment, I never told my parents or asked them for money. I continued to be independent and quickly found a job in a field my father had "encouraged" me to get into. But my father's talents were not mine, and I parted from that job amicably after several months. Checkered career! But never did I ask Dad for a penny. I then got a secretarial job at a great law firm, and when the computer came in, salaries for legal secretaries increased dramatically. I was the unintended beneficiary of my peers who looked down on secretarial work. I therefore looked great on interviews - articulate, highly skilled, willing to do work other college graduates looked down their noses at. Little did these editors and writers know that I was making much more than they were. No need to ask Dad for support. No furnished basements anymore. Lovely apartment in big city in beautiful neighborhood, and best of all, I did it myself. The best decision of my life was never to accept another cent from Dad. Now he respects me and realizes (finally) I am an adult. Well, he still treats me as a child, but that's okay. I know I did it myself (with the help of Hashem and the computer industry). No gift like the gift of independence, the gift I gave myself.

Anonymous said...

The reader might benefit if 99% of this blog site was condensed into one discussion.

Anonymous said...

As much as some parents might take joy in spoiling their kids/grandkids, it also is a wonderful feeling to be able to spoil their parents. My parents supported me though grad school. Then when I was working, before buying a house, buying furniture, a car or anything else, I saved up to spoil my parents a little. They had never spent money on themselves. The one thing they wanted to do was travel a little. I sent them on three cruises (something they always wanted to do) and a trip to visit old friends. Thank G-d I was able to do so just in time before they got too old and sick to travel.

Dave said...

It was a point of great pride for me when I could treat my older relatives (who certainly had more money than I did) to a nice dinner out.

As I've moved through the years, I've had to learn it from the other side, which is making sure you leave room for younger relatives to reciprocate even though you are better off.

Because there is a healthy pride in being able to treat someone you love, but it should never be a one way street.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Just concerning wedding dresses:

Who needs them? No, really. We still have the beautiful photo of my parents in their wedding outfits. My mother wore a tasteful ensemble and hat (the fashion in the '40s). My father wore a good suit. They then continued to have those outfits for future occasions. The were married for about 6 decades, until my father died. They raised us with dignity. The lack of a 'wedding dress' didn't seem to make much difference; as was the case for many Depression and War brides.

Similarly, my wife wore an off-white ensemble when we were married. Years later she still had it for Yom Kippur or Yom Tov. I wore my best suit. I don't see that it has made any difference in our marriage. Many of the pictures of our grandparents' and previous generations' weddings lack the signs of opulent spending that even a 'modest wedding' has today. Time to restore our sanity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mordechai. My parents too were married in regular but elegant "street" clothes. Quite frankly, I find some of the frum wedding gowns and the headpieces (particularly the tiaras), mother of the bride and groom dresses, as well as the princess dresses for the little girls (don't get me started on the fur coats and stoles) to border on the tacky, but everyone's tastes are different.

AztecQueen2000 said...

Ironically, the tiara can be the cheapest part of the ensemble. Most malls sell them for under $20.
BTW, my grandmother was married in a nice suit and a hat with a little (fascinator) veil.

aaron from L.A. said...

I find it curious that no one ever seems to talk about kids supporting parents.I did it from the time I was 22 until they passed away a decade later.It was not easy since I was a teacher at the time and could afford little for myself.Many years later,I look back on those days and realize that all the hardship I went through made me a better person.I am quite comfortable today.(I left teaching nearly 30 years ago.)My only regret is that I couldn't give my parents as much as I would have liked.I never felt,however,that I was entitled to anything other than the chance to work hard and get my own piece of the pie.Where is the character among today's youth?

rosie said...

Regarding wedding gowns,
in the non-Jewish world, it has become popular to have two gowns, a fancy one with a train for the ceremony and a short one for the reception and dancing. The short one needs to be paired with designer shoes.
The non-Jewish world also currently puts princesses on all products sold to little girls from underwear, to bedsheets, school supplies, hygiene supplies, toys, etc. It has become hard to find some pajamas for little girls without princesses all over them. I would imagine that girls who grow up in a princess culture want fancy wedding gowns.
It reminds me of my granddaughter's ballet class. The parents pay plenty of money for their little darlings to prance around in tutus and after the lovely recital with the camcorders running, the parents are inspired to pony up for more lessons. I think that same phenomenon happens when a young woman puts on a wedding gown; dad melts and takes out his credit card.

Miami Al said...

Rosie,

"in the non-Jewish world, it has become popular to have two gowns, a fancy one with a train for the ceremony and a short one for the reception and dancing."

Find me a bride with that setup whose father clears less than $350k-$400k, and generally has no children at home. I was at a wedding with that (it's NOT two gowns, it's usually a detachable train/jacket combo that leaves a sleek white dress for dancing), neither her father NOR the bride-and-groom were taking Tzedakah.

"The non-Jewish world also currently puts princesses on all products sold to little girls from underwear, to bedsheets, school supplies, hygiene supplies, toys, etc. It has become hard to find some pajamas for little girls without princesses all over them. I would imagine that girls who grow up in a princess culture want fancy wedding gowns."

No, the Disney corporation sells very expensive clothing featuring the Disney Princess line. The prices for such goods cost 2x-3x what you'd buy at Wal-Mart without such licensed characters.

Disney is VERY popular with upper-middle class white house holds, people who can afford such things. Not so much with the working poor white and minorities groups, the groups that Hareidi culture are economically similar to.

15 years back, there was a big brouhaha when a survey showed that Joe Camel (mascot for camel cigarettes) was more recognizable to black children than Mickey Mouse. Well, which company is peddling their wares in the predominately black neighborhoods. Camels sell well there, overpriced Disney stuff, not so much.

If you want to earn $250k-$300k and have 2 kids (plus $25k per additional child), you too can have all those things and spring for $100k weddings. Your secular colleagues have their children in secular private schools and spend about as much on tuition as you. However, to pretend that this upper-middle class "princess" culture is somehow the dominant non-Jewish culture is just total fantasy.

Go hang out in middle America, a LOT less Disney.

Miami Al said...

Rosie,

Hint, working class families with kids in Catholic schools and therefore short on cash (and the part of America that the Yeshivish/Hassidic world are most similar too) are NOT throwing elaborate wedding like this. Do you read Town and Country and think that it's a description of what's "very popular" in America?

There is a show on TV (or was) making the rounds, "My Big Fat Gypsy wedding" or something similar, all about these crazy over the top weddings in the Traveler culture with very young brides and stuff. This was making the rounds in our MO town, it was like a train wreck to watch... and they sounded a LOT like the Yated type letter writers.

We HAVE to have a wedding that tops what our friends did, in the right church (that's the predominate gentile place of worship), etc. Sure the families lived in trailer parks (except the traditionalists still in RVs traveling), but they spend two years salary on a wedding.

Nobody would hold that up as "proper" behavior.

rosie said...

Al, there are articles about the 2 separate dress trend but often, the bride is working and has a profession and may have paid for it herself.
I shop at Kmart and nearly everything that they have for girls age 3 and up has princesses on it, including backpacks, lunchboxes, etc. I don't know what you see at Walmart without princesses but I see them on everything, even those things sold in dollar stores. It is not limited to those with lots of money. Every poor shlepper buys his kid that stuff.

Miami Al said...

Rosie,

If something is in a magazine, it's NOT normal, it's newsworthy.

rosie said...

There are several magazines devoted just to weddings and wedding attire. There are numerous shops in all neighborhoods that sell bridal attire and untold amounts of websites for weddings and wedding gowns. Most treif bakeries do wedding cakes. I don't think that the trailer park crowd is symbolic of the average American family. Someone is buying all of that wedding stuff and keeping all of those jewelers in business.

rosie said...

Al,
How do all of those wedding gown shops stay in business if nobody normal makes weddings?

tesyaa said...

Al, I believe that Rosie does not necessarily endorse the materialistic trends of the frum world, she just reports them.

Miami Al said...

Rosie,

The high end shops sell to people with a lot of money and people with credit and poor sense of value.

The median income for an American family is 60k.

Yes, the richest 5% of Americans have a LOT of money, and there are 15 million of them, that's plenty to support a bunch of high end places.

Wedding magazines sell hopes and dreams and advertising space for people looking to sell something of value.

Most Americans don't have ANYTHING from Tiffany's, but they've seen ads for the little blue box in wedding magazines.

Look, I've been to weddings (Orthodox and secular, Jewish and gentile) where the budget was over $100k. I've been to a wedding in a small town with a small reception in the holiday inn. I've been to a wedding in the Ritz Carlton ballroom.

These things exist.

Of the big lavish ones I've been to, none were made by people with "normal" incomes, and nobody was begging for money to throw them.

I've been to "dinners for out of town guests" that exceed $20k.

$1500 is a LOT of money. $20000 is a LOT of money.

If you have it, go nuts, my wedding wasn't modest by any stretch. However, insisting that this is "required" and the "gentile world is the same" is just flat out living a lie.

If you don't have money, it is NOT reasonable to borrow large sums on a one day party. It is not reasonable to expect your neighbors to subsidize it either.

rosie said...

Look, I wish that all of the pressure in the frum world to spend crazy amounts of money would stop but at the same time, emotions besides envy, jealousy, and competition are the driving force for the way we celebrate. We want life's most important occasions to be as special as we can make them. Most parents want to see their daughters in a wedding gown but I realize that many of the bloggers on here don't feel that way.

Miami Al said...

Rosie,

Everyone here would be thrilled if their parents could throw them a princess wedding for $100,000. I think it would be wonderful if one made so much money that a $100,000 wedding was a reasonable expenditure.

Most bloggers here think it's outrageous to decide that your secular uncle should pay your tuition bill so that you can throw a $40,000 wedding.

rosie said...

Al, since the recession, the economy has hour-glassed, meaning that the high-end and low end have done better than mid priced stores such as Sears and Kohls. That means that spending in Louis Vuiton and Herme's has gone up.
I am not sure who pays for weddings in the non-Jewish world and it may be that grandparents help pay for these things in some non-Jewish communities.
Among frum Jews, we would basically have to eliminate all but the most basic ceremonies if it were to be totally affordable for the poor. I don't know too many people who are ready and willing to do that. I see people giving tzedukah so that others can have weddings with gowns, flowers, shmorg, etc. They aren't telling the people to get married with just a minyon so that the yeshivas can have the money. Life would be very bleak if that were the case.

tesyaa said...

Rosie, I understand that life is bleak without some little luxuries, but people have to realize that private school for a bunch of kids is already a BIG luxury.

For the frum world, why isn't the luxury of Torah learning worth much more than any fancy gown?

rosie said...

I think that the reason that the fancy gown trumps the Torah learning is that a bride has always symbolized the continuation of the Jewish people and the marriage of Hashem to the Jewish people that occurred on Har Sinai.
There are obviously less lofty reasons why fancy gowns trump Torah learning. Why do we drink cola when it is so bad for us?

Anonymous said...

The problem is not the lavish wedding by itself -- its the luxury on top of luxury that gets treated as a necessity, ranging from year in Israel to summer camps to cleaning help, all on top of private school tuition. One would think that the priorities in a religious community would be spending on helping the needy, sick, disabled and elderly.

Anonymous said...

FYI about Italian weddings: Their engagements are long, seems a year and a half at least, and during that time the engaged couple are both working, saving their money, living with their parents, to have a beautiful wedding and honeymoon. I know this from my office - the engaged couple lived at home so they could save money for the wedding. It's an Italian tradition to have a long engagement and a fancy wedding.

rosie said...

When a non-Jew who thinks of himself or herself as upright and moral, spends $800 on a pair of Christian Loubatin shoes (or Jimmy Choo or other high end brand), do they not think about all of the starving children in the world that could be helped? Do they ever feel that twinge of guilt that at least the wearers of Tom's shoes don't feel? An expensive bottle of wine could be a wheelchair for the disabled.
Anon, do you ever treat yourself to a meal in a restaurant? How about some totally empty calorie snack? Do you ever stop and think about the elderly people could be helped with the money that you spend on those indulges? Do you ever do something for the purpose of entertainment or enjoyment such as a concert? Shouldn't that money be spent on the sick?

AztecQueen2000 said...

Rosie,
You're equivocating a $2-3 bag of chips with a (perceived as mandatory) $50,000-$100,000 wedding? It's not even the money, it's the misplacement of values. Why isn't it considered mandatory to try to live modestly? (After all the emphasis we as a community put on tzniut, I think there's more to it than just making sure that a woman's knees are covered.) What about the curse of Adam, mentioned right in Bereshis?What about all the stories of our grandparents, fresh from the alte heim, getting married with a seudah consisting of bread and herring?
BTW: I avoid princess stuff like the plague. My older daughter wants to be a firefighter, not a princess.

Anonymous said...

I don't care if non-Jews buy $800 shoes - they're not purporting to be a light unto the nations. Frum Jews are. Maybe we should drop the self-aggrandizing religiosity and just admit we are materialistic Americans who coincidentally happen to be descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

rosie said...

aztec,
when your little firefighter meets a nice Jewish boy, I hope I am around to come to the wedding. I would like to see the bread and herring that you are planning to offer in order to be tzniut. If I come, I hope that you will at least offer me a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. I will try to wear clothes from Kmart in order not to appear pretentious.
My point is that before we pass judgement on people who overspend on weddings, marry off your kid. I am glad that you found an alternative to that disgusting princess fad. There is no guarantee though, that she will want to be married in her rescue gear. Somewhere in your house, I suspect that there is a daughter who will want to be a ballerina (or at least synchronized swim).
I am not sure how many bread and herring weddings occurred either, even in the alte heim. That was never viewed as desirable.

rosie said...

anon,
read the Bible; Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov were wealthy. Yaacov had a bout of poverty but recovered financially with his speckled and spotted sheep. Yosef was also highly prosperous. Do you really think that they shopped at Payless? Yosef's famous coat was not cheap.
We are incidentally, materialistic Americans but remember, when the wealthy Jews brought bikurim, they decorated the ox's horns with gold and brought their fruit in gold baskets. Where in the Torah does it say that we need to behave as though all Jews are poor?

Anonymous said...

Rosie, it's ok for Jews to be wealthy, but let's not forget that so many are just pretending to be wealthy, borrowing money they can't repay to make weddings, relying on government "programs" (read social welfare), etc.

No one begrudges the rich bride her finery; it's the wannabes who can't afford it, and who put their futures in jeopardy for fleeting material pleasures, who are the object of scorn and pity.

Zach Kessin said...

Rosie, no one said that we should act as if all jews are poor, but nor should we act as if all are wealthy. There are some at each end. On the other hand if we keep acting as if we are wealthy when we are not we will be poor!

At some level you need to "Act your wage".

Lets face it many people would love to go buy a new BMW, but realize that spending that kind of cash on a car is crazy, so they go buy a used Honda which still gets the job done. Does this mean I am angry at the folks who can afford that BMW, no it just means that I am not one of them.

rosie said...

I am not sure even who views the poor who become even poorer with scorn but possibly you are right about the pity. I don't think that scorn is the proper way to view a poor person, even one who makes dumb financial decisions. There are some communities with funds for poor brides that have a package deal and all of those weddings look the same. They provide more that bread and herring but are those weddings are not pretentious. Other communities need to follow suit.

rosie said...

zach,
a wedding is probably the most important occasion in the life of a person. The parents of that person are also at a special point in life where the culmination of the years of parenthood bears fruit. I am not saying that we have to invite every friend and acquaintance to eat the catered meal of a wedding. It is certainly proper to invite only family and out of town guests to that, however, some on this site talk about $75 l'chaims from Costco and that is not reasonable either.

Anonymous said...

rosie,

The MARRIAGE is the most important thing, not the wedding. Our families foolishly went overboard and are still many, many years later paying off the debt from our wedding.

Zach Kessin said...

Hey I made a brit for my 2nd son in my living room. I don't remember what the total cost was but it was cheap.


I also remember someone my mom knew who spent like $100,000 on their wedding and were divorced 6 months later. I would hate to be paying off the debt for a wedding years after the couple got divorced.

If having a nice wedding for your children is important for you, then I would suggest starting to save far in advance. if you put $25/month in to a mutual fund from when they are small when they get married you will be able to afford a really nice wedding.

We do know from the day that they are born that there is a pretty high chance that they will get married (if not specifically when and to whom)

Commenter Abbi said...

Aaron from LA: My father and his brothers are supporting their elderly mother, because my grandfather essentially left nothing after he died. It's important for my father and his brothers to provide her with a decent middle class lifestyle (winter in Florida, apartment in her hometown in the spring and summer). But it does drive my mother crazy the way the spend on her. Not that she doesn't deserve it, but at the same time, one must be realistic about spending, even an 85 year old. So, unrealistic spending can go both ways and poor financial planning always leaves others to pick up the mess.

Commenter Abbi said...

"I think that the reason that the fancy gown trumps the Torah learning is that a bride has always symbolized the continuation of the Jewish people and the marriage of Hashem to the Jewish people that occurred on Har Sinai. "

Rosie, are you suggesting wedding gowns are somehow a minhag from Har Sinai? Are you for real? The modern white wedding gown is a mihag going back to the heilige Queen Victoria when she got married to Prince Albert in 1840. So really, why isn't anyone crying "Chukas Hagoyim" like they do about Thanksgiving?

Anonymous said...

"Yosef's famous coat was not cheap." Yes, Rosie, and look where it got him -- sold into slavery and envy among his brothers because of his father's favoritism.

Anonymous said...

Rosie-
I can only speak about what we had
5 years ago (in NY).
- L'chaim can be done with just immediate family and pizza.
- no watches, or shas, or pearls (just a small set of lichters)
- my engagement ring is CZ, and only my husband and I know that. He paid for it himself and has been saving up to replace it with a diamond eventhough I told him it wasn't necessary.
- my tiara was from Claire's and cost $10.
- my gown was from david's bridal ($200) and my grandmother sewed on sleeves
- we had 200 ppl, but in one of the cheap brooklyn halls.
- we had a guy with a piano- thats it (no band)
You can make cuts if you look to make cuts. We had a beautiful wedding that lasted ONE DAY. It was within the budget that my parents and inlaws could do because otherwise they said we would need to chip in and we wanted to save the gifts we got to use toward a down payment. Most importantly, WE WORKED AND CONTINUE TO WORK, so we understand the value of dollar and don't just spend to succomb to peer pressure. My daughter loves princesses but we dont get her ballet lessons. We did however find a summer day camp that offers ballet as one of their regular activities (since we pay for summer camp anyway bc we BOTH WORK).

Miami Al said...

The thing I find strangest is that if you read secular personal finance books (about life, not the managing of money), the general gist is that: buying expensive things gives you a temporary high, but it's fleeting, whereas things of real value make you happier. Things in that category are involvement in your community, church, etc., things all missing in secular upper middle class American life that are present in the more religious middle class.

So I don't understand why religious Jews are taking their social queues from secular America instead of religious America.

Why are Brooklyn Jews of moderate incomes acting like their poor black neighbors (showy uses of money, extravagant brand names but nothing in the bank, etc), instead of more modest middle class America. Why are MO Jews acting like childless empty nesters looking for meaning in ever more expensive "things" (wine, whiskey, etc) instead of like the purpose driven Americans that "give back" to their community.

That's the part that makes no sense to me.

I enjoyed my wedding, it was a nice day, the family and friends that came to celebrate were wonderful.

In terms of "most important" it doesn't hold a candle to holding my children when they were first born with their entire life ahead of them.

So would I rather a "fancy wedding day" or "money for my children," whether it's a downpayment on a house so they grow up in a nice home, money for tuition, money for college, etc.? It's a no brainer.

Parents of means that want to throw a big event to celebrate a child's wedding with their friends and family, by all means, go nuts. But this endless list of luxury needs is ridiculous, especially since you don't enjoy any of them because they are "needs."

People in happy marriages, with nice homes in exclusive Jewish towns, with 3-4 kids in private school whining about their lack of luxuries in life is beyond absurd.

tesyaa said...

I don't think scorn is an inappropriate response to people who make dumb financial decisions and overspend massively on a wedding, especially when they come begging for a scholarship a few years later. Doesn't anyone expect people to take personal responsibility for their actions anymore?

rosie said...

to me there is a big difference between 200 guests in a cheap brooklyn hall with a one man band and a wedding with just bread and herring.
Al, what the research has shown is that people are happier spending money on an experience, such as a wedding or vacation, than on a purchase.
wedding gowns were not always white but brides always beautified themselves prior to their weddings.
tesyaa, there is a difference between massive overspending and saying that weddings should be bread and herring for the immediate family only.
Al, the birth of each child is a momentous occasion that could not have been as momentous if you did it while not yet married.
The point about Yosef's coat is that the Torah does not obligate us to give every cent to the poor and never enjoy anything. There are situations where people have to give every cent, however such as in times of famine.

Miami Al said...

Rosie,

Had we gone to city hall, gotten a marriage license, and I signed up for the military (something contemplated right after 9/11), our marriage would not be any less meaningful than our big lavish affair with two bands, all the trimmings, and hundreds of people.

Nobody is saying "weddings should be bread and herrings," people are saying, "that's the minimum, anything beyond that is a luxury, spend what you can afford."

There was a BIG deal made of Mitt Romney's comment about a $!0,000 bet with Rick Perry, and how that seems extreme to Iowans earning $60k/year. Do you think a $40k wedding seems "normal" to Iowans earning $60k, or excessive?

We're NOT telling you to give "every cent" to the poor. We're talking about, should we give "every cent to the poor" via scholarship 6 years later so that they can have a lavish wedding?

tesyaa said...

Rosie, no one is saying that the wealthy should give every cent to the poor. We are talking about the problem of people who are already poor, or struggling, trying to emulate the rich and overspending on luxury. Why is that so hard to understand?

And massive overspending is relative. For some people, spending $10,000 might be massive overspending, given their means. Why is that so hard to understand?

And I don't know what white gowns have to do with it - why is a cheap gown from eBay with appropriate alterations for tznius unacceptable to the frum community? If you are struggling and likely to beg for charity down the road, a designer gown is in extremely poor taste.

Dave said...

Al, what the research has shown is that people are happier spending money on an experience, such as a wedding or vacation, than on a purchase.

Well, then there is a bit of savings -- cut out all of the "mandatory" Choson and Kallah gifts. After all, they are purchases, not experiences.

tesyaa said...

I would add that I think most of the emphasis on fancy wedding accoutrements and "mandatory" gifts comes from talk of the so-called "shidduch crisis" and the fear that a girl won't get married by the age of 21 if the family doesn't agree to do things "just so".

So many times people say "I would do things inexpensively, but the mechutanim would be upset." I'm sure people live in real fear of broken engagements if the bride's family doesn't spend on the wedding and the fancy gifts are not presented by both sides.

What happens to these couples, who see that money is the most important part of their engagement, when they have to make tough money choices down the road?

Anonymous said...

Tessya: The problem is that so many of these kids aren't being taught personal responsibility. They are being taught that a big, lavish wedding and the $1500 gowns are a "birthright." With all the time spent in yeshiva, day school, camp, etc. and the rush to marry young there is no time for actual part-time jobs and the concept of saving up for something, apart from a few babysitting jobs. When I was in high school I worked full time in the summers starting at age 16. These were not summer camp jobs either. Senior year I also worked part-time. My husband and I saved up to finance our own wedding. How many kids in today's orthodox communities have the opportunity to gradually learn how to be self sufficient and to understand that that $1500 gown Might translate into 100 hours of work after withholding. Do they know that the $1500 for the gown invested wisely could translate into a year of tuition payments. Why aren't the parents and schools teaching any of this?

Anonymous said...

Rosie: What did you mean by saying "Al, the birth of each child is a momentous occasion that could not have been as momentous if you did it while not yet married." I think you missed Al's point, the birth of a child is going to be as momentous for a couple who spent $200 dollars on the wedding as the couple who spent $200,000. And, by the way, many unwed parents would disagree with your statement about marriage and birth. Have you read single jewish mom by choice's blog?

JS said...

I think it's pretty simple. For whatever reason, it's more embarrassing to have a "herring and cracker" wedding than it is to take out loans from gemachs, go door to door and openly beg for money, or go to tuition scholarship committees and beg for money.

I don't understand it, but that's the only conclusion I can draw.

Avi said...

My 6 yr old loves princesses, fairies, and monsters. Disney has lines for two out of the three, and Star Wars licensees cover the third. I'm not sure that her love of princesses will lead her to want a fairytale wedding over a Jabba the Hutt themed one, but Rosie is right about one thing - Disney's Princess line and its imitators have infected products aimed at every socioeconomic level - including the Dollar Store and Walmart for poor/rural consumers, Disney Stores for upper middle class, and Target/Kmart/JCP/Macy's for anyone in between. As a huge animation fan, this doesn't disturb me as much as it probably should.

Also, the issue shouldn't be whether "average goyim" spend $20K on weddings. They do. $26K, in fact, if Google is correct. The point is that people in our community who cannot afford to spend $26K on weddings should not do so, and we must fight against social norms that suggest this is "expected" if the reality is that these couples are going to be asking for tzedaka for the wedding or for any part of life afterwards.

Rosie, $75 buys an awful lot of food at Costco. Add $25 for a bottle of scotch if you're into that sort of thing and you really ought to be fine. I didn't have one of these, but my siblings did, and it was not an elaborate affair. A vort/engagement party is all about people gathering, shmoozing, congratulating the couple, and divrei torah, right? Why do you think it needs to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars?

rosie said...

what I actually see happening in some communities (and I said this before but no one paid attention) is that communities raise money to help poor people have nice but not expensive weddings. In Chicago, the money pays for food in a shul hall and volunteers cook and serve. In Toronto, there are package deals where a group of vendors work together to lower the price to something reasonable. I doubt that very many people would be happy with a trip to city hall and a stop at McDonalds on the way home for a wedding and that is why most Americans have some sort of celebration. Personally, I also had a very cheap wedding but at least it was in a hall, with some dancing, food, and photography and I have happy memories of it.
As far as single parenthood, I have a relative who has several foster children that he is planning to adopt as a single parent. Single parenthood by choice is probably less stressful and more fulfilling than parenthood that follows an accidental pregnancy.
I am actually in favor of cutting back l'chaim's, sheva brachas, and gifts but $75 seems to me to be a bit too unrealistic of a budget for a party, even at Costco.

rosie said...

as far as gowns, I have seen many brides, as well as their mothers and sisters borrow from gemachs and most frum newspapers and community links papers have ads for used gowns if someone wants to buy a gown. If a family buys a gown, it often gets loaned out to friends and family members so I don't think that the designer gown that costs thousands just to rent is the "norm" in every community. We should not portray every Orthodox girl as "needing" a brand new designer gown because that is far from true.
I also wonder what the poor would feel like if they were told that they should make a wedding with crackers and herring rather than hope for better. I would really have to admire anyone who wanted to remain in such a community, since there probably would be people who could help make it a nicer affair. Their devotion to Hashem and his Torah would be an inspiration for everyone but that would be a huge nisoyin for many people.

Avi said...

Well, I certainly agree with this "Rosie." Anyone know what happened to the old "Rosie?"

rosie said...

Avi,
I asked a rabbi when I saw some community members raising money for what appeared to be a bit more of a fancy wedding than what I thought that the community should provide. His answer was that the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah was a very lofty mitzvah and that if the community was capable of meeting this couple's emotional needs in this way, then it was certainly praiseworthy, even if the community would not be able to do the same for future couples. That shut me up.
We can't, as a community, fault people for wanting more than pickles and herring at a wedding celebration. We must, as a community, come together to set norms and standards that everyone can live by.

Dave said...

We must, as a community, come together to set norms and standards that everyone can live by.

Why?

Orthonomics said...

I don't think the approach is to set standards for all. There will always be people who simply can't afford anything more than city hall.

A more successful strategy is to simply bring the standard down and make all options from "cake and punch" followed by a modest family to a more normative wedding to be considered ordinary. No everyone has to do the same thing.

Those of us who do have more to work with should lead the way and make more modest affairs.

At the time that the Agudah put out their wedding takana, which never caught on to say the least, there were some who complained it would hurt vendors and their parnassah. I thought it serving a greater good to lower the standard. But I don't think it would be right to impose a standard that threatens vendors immediately. Just open up a wedding within the means to be the standard. For some that will be a dessert type reception. For others, a more standard wedding.

Zach Kessin said...

I think we need to teach people to have enough backbone to say "I can't afford that". Howe we can get there I have no idea.

rosie said...

what I meant by a standard is that if a person needs tzedukah help from the community to make a wedding, the community needs to decide how to help so that everyone who needs help can get help within the boundaries of what the community can give. It is a valid use of tzedukah money to help with weddings expenses. This is the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah and it is a time-honored mitzvah and is not consider squandering community money. Obviously, those who are not coming to the community for help can do whatever they choose. I think that it would be very wrong to tell someone that because they could not afford full tuition, that they were not entitled to get married anywhere except city hall or serve anything more than bread and herring.
Zach, tzedukah exists because there are needs, both physical and emotional, that others can meet for those who can't afford something. I don't see why a person who is getting married has to be made to suffer and if some of you would have been just as happy getting married in ordinary clothes and eating pickles and herring, then you are truly unique. Many people would feel very grieved at having to get married that way because weddings have been celebratory occasions since time began.

Anonymous said...

Rosie: No one is saying that weddings should be sardine and crackers or that the community shouldn't help the truly poor have a nice, dignified wedding. The problem isn't the truly poor who accept assistance for a celebration. The problem is those who have the $50,000 wedding instead of the $20,000 wedding (not exactly herring and crackers) and then in a few years are looking for scholarships when they could have saved some money to be self-sufficient. The problem is that weddings, with all the presents and accoutrements, have gotten over the top. The expenses for luxuries are sucking up tzedakah dollars that could go to far better causes.

Miami Al said...

If the truly poor are given tzedakah to have a $10,000 wedding, than the middle class needs to spend $20,000 to show that they aren't the poor. You are putting upward pressure on every else when you lift the bottom.

Personally, I don't care for "casual" weddings in "ordinary" clothing, it's a special occasion, one should be dressed up. But you're using "ordinary" dismissively, everyone involved has a perfectly fine set of "church clothes" and an upgraded bridal dress for $200 and a fancy tie/vest for the groom for $100 and you'd upgrade everyone's shabbat outfit to an occasion.

Does it suck that the daughter doesn't get to dress like a princess because her parents didn't save enough money for her wedding, absolutely. Like all things in life, we can learn a valuable lesson.

The Orthodox attitude that "there are zero consequences for poor financial decisions" is ingrained in all of these events, and it undermines proper decisions.

The fact that regardless of whether you save and scrimp OR spend lavishly on things:

1. You live in the same neighborhood
2. Your children attend the same schools
3. You have the same clothing
4. You celebrate weddings the same
etc., etc.

is part of the problem. To be honest, it's totally rational to spend like drunken sailors, it doesn't seem like it makes a big difference. Now, at the end of 40 years, there's a big difference between finances, but during the years when the decisions are made, it all seems inconsequential.

And we're seeing escalating costs and declining income... the problem with socialism is that pretty soon, you run out of other people's money.

Frumkeit is running out of other peoples money.

rosie said...

Ok, how would you folks handle this real live situation?
There is a handicapped young man on SSI disability who is dating a normal girl with a good job and the match looks promising. His parents are divorced with not much income there and her parents are not frum so they are probably not too excited about paying extra to eat kosher. He is an only child. He does not mind if his wedding is a picnic in a public park but he will probably need some help from the community.
What would you do?

rosie said...

also, truthfully, I see more kallahs in borrowed gowns or gemach gowns that cost less than $200 to rent than I see buying or going to expensive rental shops. I don't live in Boro Park, Flatbush or Williamsberg and what is spent in other communities does not really affect my reality. I have not seen anyone make a $50,000 wedding and then turn around and ask for tuition assistance. I am not saying that it never happens but I personally don't see it. Poor people are making less costly weddings but it is still a step up from crackers and sardines at city hall. Most poor that I see, get married in shul halls with smaller crowds and the meal is the same at each wedding. In Crown Heights, there is a tzedukah to make these weddings cheaper and those who have no money can have a home cooked meal made by volunteers in a small hall for a small group of people. Usually that is done for BTs with no family support and no money. Many of these have green cards or visas.
In Toronto, the package deal weddings were supposed to help the poor and then the rich started using these packages as well. I could imagine communities putting together packages that involve less experienced or popular vendors in order to make a nice wedding at a lower cost and give these vendors a chance to break into the business.
I do take issue with buying expensive jewelry for a kallah but it is nice and customary to give some jewelry. The jewelry alone can amount to thousands if there is no cap on it.

Anonymous said...

If it were just the weddings, that would not be a problem by itself, and I can certainly understand that young couples want to have a celebration at least somewhat similar to what other community members have. The problem is that so many things that most of the world (even in the U.S.) considers a luxury becomes a necessity in the O.J. world, from the clothes to jewelry to private school, to year in Israel, to big families to summer camp, not to mention ritual articles for whcih we justify spending unlimited amounts as hidor mitzvah. Then, combine that with discouraging secular education and postponing marriage and childrbirth for a few years so the newlyweds can finish their educations and get a start in their careers. The other problem is all the apppearance of living lavishly seems incongruous with the notion of modesty and living a spiritual life devoted to good works.

rosie said...

anon, what you said is something that anyone can agree with. Designer clothes for babies is a luxury that many frum people indulge in. I know of a family in NY that moved to Texas in order to live the modest and spiritual life that you speak of. They felt that they could not withstand the pressure of NY living. While I don't want to say where I live, many families here buy their children's clothes, even yomtov clothes, at second hand shops and cheaper stores such as kmart. If a woman wears the same dress to shul every week, she is no less popular than an a lady with a big wardrobe. No one here would look down on a small simcha and many get married in the modest shul hall. Shaitels from the Korean wig shops at under $100 a wig are often seen on the ladies here. The frum jeweler has a reduced price collection that is suitable for brides without costing a fortune. Few families here, eat out.

Anonymous said...

The more I think about it, although we are taught not to concern ourselves with our neighbor's tent and that coveting as ashour, close knit OJ communities place a high value on conformity and, being close knit, we do know what is going in other's homes and what people buy and how they spend their mony. It is very hard to have conformity and a close knit community without kids (and adults) expecting to have and do the same things that everyone else does. Perhaps that is why overspending and the commoditization of luxuries may be a growing problem in the community. That is also why it is more incumbant on leaders to and teachers to help "normalize" a modest lifestyle. If we can preach against a woman showing her elbows, why not preach against a show of excess consumption. In other words, the same forces that create the problems can be used to help solve them. Driving a lexus or an audi should be considered just as immodest as knees or uncovered heads.

rosie said...

what would have to be determined though, is whether or not the problem is actually growing or shrinking. Where I live, the average child probably attends school in shoes from Target or Payless. I see kids attending shul in their sneakers. Many families here eat from a food bank and if they would drive a lexus, it would likely be a very old one with lots of mileage on it which would not exactly make it a luxury car anymore. I don't see much conspicuous consumption here. If anything, I see just the opposite. That may not be the case in other communities and some of my married kids live in areas where conspicuous consumption is a huge problem.

Anonymous said...

Back to the issue of family support for BTs unable to pay tuition, I wonder how many non-frum people helping to pay tuition realize that the recipients are often being indoctrinated in racism and homophobia. Too many naive people think that Orthodox Judaism is all about wonderful holidays and not using electricity on Saturday. Theologically, it's more problematic.

Abba said...

ROSIE:

"The point about Yosef's coat is that the Torah does not obligate us to give every cent to the poor and never enjoy anything"

no. the point is that there is no indication ever sought out a penny from others to pay for the coat or anything else. he gave the coat as a gift because he could afford to. end of story.

Anonymous said...

ANON 1:00 P.M. Verty true. And thanks to the internet, more of those families are going to learn what these BT relatives are being taught about the rest of the world, let alone their relatives.

rosie said...

abba, that is not the end of the story.
The Torah allows us to enjoy our wealth; it does not all have to go to the sick, disabled, and needy.
The Torah also allows those who are in need to solicit funds to cover their needs, be they physical or emotional. Whether the needs can be met, depends on the givers ability and willingness. Hashem also sometimes mixes in. If a person's plumbing breaks, the plumber becomes rich.

JS said...

I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend who sits on a school board in his community where his children also attend.

He told me that sitting on a school board is a gut-wrenching experience. He is a business owner and is very careful about how his business is run, he plans everything, budgets carefully, and doesn't spend money he doesn't have.

And yet, he is constantly forced to make business decisions for the school without proper planning, budgets, or money to pay for the expenses. He explained that running a school gives you a real appreciate for "siyata d'shmaya" (relying on Heavenly assistance). He told me he constantly feels like he needs to stand up and yell about how the place is being run, but there's no other way to run things. Parents don't pay on time leading to budget shortfalls and cash crunches and unplanned events come up requiring immediate action. He says the school is always "this close" to falling into the danger zone. He told me he wonders how much longer schools like his can survive. From what he has heard from other local schools, the situation is the same.

He also told me he's constantly hearing sob stories from people who can't afford to make their tuition payments. Not just people who had requested scholarship, but people who mid-year can't make the payments they had committed to. The vast majority of these cases are true hardship instances where the parents are at most guilty of assuming they could pay more than they could. But, he said there's a disturbing minority that is actively or passively trying to not pay tuition. "Active" meaning they all out lie or deceive. More commonly, the parents have passively made themselves poor by buying a larger house or incurring other major expenses.

The schools won't kick kids out and have yet to try to force parents into selling their homes or returning a newly leased car. So, he told me, you have the aggravating situation of parents in small houses struggling to pay their fair share while parents in large houses or with newer cars are getting breaks. He said it was a small minority, but that minority causes a lot of strife since it's not exactly a secret.

He thinks it's going to end up with the schools being forced to close and the rabbis finally agreeing it's ok to flood the public schools with the former yeshiva kids and setting up a formal cheder afternoon program.

Was a sad, but eye-opening, conversation.

CJ Srullowitz said...

"Nobody I know of paid the rack rate shadchan fee set by the Shulchan Aruch (show me where that is again?)" - Avi

Avi,

While I generally like your comments, on this blog and others, I was a little disturbed by this flip one.

The fact is that Shadchanus - paying a fee to the matchmaker - is an established practice with halachic parameters. The Rama, Vilna Gaon, Avnei Neizer, Noda Beyehudah, et al, discuss it (in Chosen Mishpat), as they would any other halachic issue.

No matter how much it offends one's romantic sensibilities, the Halachah views matchmaking as a business transaction requiring the payment of a fee.

How much the Shadchan is paid, however, is not (as you rightly, though somewhat snidely, point out) carved in stone. It is subject to "communal norms." This is where it gets interesting, since in America the concept of "Minhag Hamakom" is disjointed. It's more a question of one's social circles.

Therefore, if you and your wife grew up in a chassidic enclave, you might owe a real (read, four figure) fee. Other yeshivishe people might owe less. In YU circles, perhaps, a token gift might be the norm.

But no one should think that Shadchanus is optional and up to the couple to determine what they "feel" like giving.

CJ Srullowitz said...

"The vast majority of these cases are true hardship instances where the parents are at most guilty of assuming they could pay more than they could." - JS

It's not just the frum community. As the mortgage "crisis" has shown us, the same accusation can be levelled at the United States at large. Many (most?) people commited to a lifestyle whose funding was beyond them, and didn't "discover" that tiny fact until it was too late.

To paraphrase the poet: If one's reach does not exceed his grasp, then what's a bankruptcy court for?

Avi said...

CJ -

Agreed, I was overly flip, since I am aware of the halachic literature on this. I'm sure Avraham Avinu paid Eliezer a pretty penny to shlep over to Charan and find Rivkah (nose rings FTW!). But even in the yeshivish circles my siblings run in, being set up involves parents and lists, not a professional matchmaker demanding four figure fees. Of course, if you are in a community where using such services is mandatory and the community cannot afford them, then the communal norms need to change.