Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Study in Wedding Takanot Differences

In 2002, the Agudah released a set of simcha guidelines, which continue to be posted b'kitzur in each Jewish Observer. The published guidelines, which have been more or less ignored at least from my perspective, include the follwing recomendations:
  • The Vort: Discontinue the vort. The L'chaim held at the time an engagement is announced, should not turn into a Vort. I'm curious how engagement parties became such regular affairs in Orthodox circles. Honestly, I don't really see much purpose in such affairs, but I've already said my piece here.
  • The Wedding: Typical families may only seat up to 400 invited guests at the seudah. The kabbolat panim smorgasbord should be limited to basic cakes, fruit platters, a modest buggest, and the caterer's standard chicken or meat hot dishes. The seuda menu is limited to three coures plus a regular dessert. No Viennese table. No bar.
  • The Music: A band should consist of a maximum of 5 musicians or four plus vocalist. Recommended: a one man band.
  • Flowers and Chupa Decor: Total cost should not exceed $1,800.
  • Recommendations: The full text of the simcha guidelines included far more recommendations, including recommending against the nearly universal, practice of matching/coordinating gowns for siblings of the chatan and kallah, as well as "overgifting" during the engagement.
In June of 2007, I wrote a post "Fur Roadblocks." It dealt with trying to change the wedding culture in Satmar from the bochurim up. Recently, the Jewish Press Machberes is reporting on the new Satmar Wedding Takanos (see here, 12/27/07 and here, 1/23/08). As reported, many families are falling into debt over these weddings, and borrowing money they will never be able to pay back.

Much of the Takana deals with organizational aspects of the wedding. Who can attend what events? What time each aspect of the wedding must conclude by? If you aren't Satmar, the details aren't particularly relevant. But, the gift giving details are rather interesting. Parred down parred down from previous expectations, it still sets a high standard imo. Imagine raising 10 children and doing this 10 times over!
  • What The Kallah Receives Under the New Rules ("Only four pieces of jewlery are to be given"): Watch, Pearl Necklace, Earrings, Cubic Zircona Engagement Ring (no diamond) to be given first or second Shabbos after engagement.
  • What the Kallah Could Receive: Machzor, Tzenah Ur’enah, Siddur, Kerchief and apron (white silk, ceremonial for lighting Shabbos and Yom Tov candles.)
  • What the Chassan receives under the New Rules: A watch, A Shas, Kiddush Cup, Menorah, Tallis, Tallis and tefillin bag, Kittel.
  • For the Couple: Candelabra (if not purchased by other relatives should be purchased jointly by both sets of parents), Shtreimel costing no more than $1,200 (purchased by the parents of the chassan), Sheitel or head covering (purchased by the parents of the kallah).
What is interesting to me is the difference in the style of the takanot. This is a fascinating case study in differences between communities. The Agudah guidelines do read much more as what an Orthodox wedding should look like at its height (the ceiling). While still allowing for a considerable amount of wiggle room, both a relatively fancy wedding and a very simple wedding (the ceiling and the floor) are proper, as they both fit under the umbrella of this takana. If two sets of parents were to agree to abide by the guidelines, there is still a lot left for discussion and negotiation. But, all those who adhere to the takana, from the floor to the ceiling, can say they made a wedding that met the guidelines.

The Satmar Takana, one the other hand, reads as "benchmarks," with little room for flexibility*. While many parents I'm sure will be saved a near heart attack from the old standards, those without means are still going to have to break the bank by thousands of dollars (times x number children) to pay for the required list of gifts alone. I certainly can't imagine one set of parents going in to tell their new mechutanim why the future SIL/DIL is not going to receive a menorah, pearl necklace, or watch when the standards are laid out so clearly (although there is still room to push the envelope). So, rather than creating an umbrella to huddle under, it appears Satmar adherents will have to walk on a balance beam to meet the benchmarks, not stepping to far to the right or the left.

Nevertheless, I wish all communities that are trying to fight the conspicuous consumption surrounding smachot, weddings in particular, hatzlacha in their efforts. I just with the accumulating efforts would start to speed up.

Imamother Chassidish participant writes vis a vis flexibility (edited): ". . . .these takonos are so important. In our sect there is no such a thing as a backyard chasunah, Balloons instead of flowers and buffet style instead of a full meal. Everyone has the exact same type of chasuna whether you have the money or not. The same goes to jewelry. There is no such a thing that a girl should get less then a 1ct diamond ring, Bracelet, pearls, watch, earring etc.. Really the ideal would be you have the money you make a big fancy chansunah spend what you want and if you dont you dont make a big chasunah this is what our grandparents did inderheim. There was nothing embarrasing about it. But I am looking forward to see how it plays out. . . . . ."


Lion of Zion said...

satmar runs a much tighter ship than agudah, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

mother in israel said...

"Everyone has the exact same chasuna."

I see this as an attempt to get rid of jealousy. Kind of like socialism. And we know how that went.

Anonymous said...

Well said, SL. I also felt the permissible bar was set too high. I couldn't care less how it plays out. I gave up on caring a long time ago. What I have found as an indicator of the true lack of prioritization and leadership in the Yeshivish world was the so called Wedding Takanos list put out by the Agudah and the lack of adherence to it. Daas Torah is a confused, convoluted, and elusive hit or miss mess within the Chareidi/Yeshivish world.

ProfK said...

I found it interesting to compare the two sets of takanos. The aguda takanos spell out in detail what should be done about the "party" aspect of the wedding but do not talk about the gift aspect of the marriage process, an aspect that can and does run to as much money as the wedding itself costs. The Satmar takanos spell out in great detail the gift aspect of the wedding but do not talk about the wedding itself. While the takanos limit bar mitzvah celebrations to 40 couples maximum at a stipulated price, they do not mention this regarding weddings.

Thus, both sets of takanos are only dealing with half the problem. Admittedly it's a start, but it's interesting that the two groups are approaching the problem from two different perspectives.

Just a note: limiting the size of the band is often not up to the baal simcha. Some halls are bound by union rules which decide what the minimum number of musicians can be for that hall.

miriamp said...

"recommending against the nearly universal, practice of matching/coordinating gowns for siblings of the chatan and kallah" Well, at least I sew! (I have 7 dresses to make for a family wedding, and if I find the fabric very on sale, I may be able to do them all for about $100)

I think I was one of the first to follow the takanas, before they were even written, and I had the best wedding, if I do say so myself. But this wedding we're in... sounds like it's going to be big. They did have both a L'chaim and a vort... and the vort reminded me of Kabalas Panim at many weddings I've been to, It was a nice party though. The kallah is an only daughter, and her parents apparently planned ahead to be able to do this.

When my children are of marriageable age, I totally plan on low key but fun weddings. I don't really care what the "trend" is. But then, I'm clearly in the minority.

ProfK said...

Sorry for the second posting but I forgot this. We talk about the gifts to the kallah as if this is some new modern idea. Afraid we can blame Avraham Aveinu for this. The chumash tells us that when he sent Eliezer out "shopping" for a kallah he sent him with jewelry for that kallah, in the plural. I don't imagine that gold was much cheaper then then it is now, relatively speaking.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK-I'm willing to guess that Avraham Avinu did not borrow money from a gemach or ask hachnasat kallah to pay for the wedding because he already is borrow to the hilt after spending money of watches for a young couple. But, that is just my guess. :)

P.S. I have a posting in que waiting for you as promised.

ProfK said...

No I imagine he didn't. And let's not forget that his mechutan was loaded.

Can't wait for the posting.

Anonymous said...

Due to steady increases in prices of gold internationally, Indian women and their families are buying up in anticipation of their weddings when the Indian brides wear pounds and pounds of gold.

Commenter Abbi said...

Since I'm not in the charedi world here in Israeli, I can't speak definitively, but I can guarantee that weddings here are cheaper by thousands of dollars, and I think the gifting is much more modest here, simply because pple don't have the money, even to borrow.

I know some of the larger wedding halls that cater to charedi weddings offer deals of $9-10 per plate. And most people would think a band of more than 4-5 pieces is outrageous.

Orthonomics said...

Abbi-Perhaps you should see this link:

I can't verify the truth because I don't live amongst Chareidim in Israel. But, it seems that the costs are possibly more crippling, even where the catering costs less.

Ariella's blog said...

In truth, I find most weddings much the same. Even if some spent more on the flowers or the music, the clothes, or the food (unless it is inedible), the experience as a guest is pretty much the same. But the problem is that people do not abide by the takanos. They still make lavish vorts, hire 10 piece bands, etc. So I do not believe the attempt to force people into the cookie cutter mold will work. Individuals simply have to realize that there is no point in outdoing each other and just make a wedding suitable to their means without engaging in conscpicuous consumption. And sensitivity to the effect we have on the bar for others cannot be forced but must be learned to be truly internalized.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who feels like an idiot for ever giving to hachnochos kallah schneurrers? Why am I paying to buy someone an apartment while I have a mortgage? Are there really no mortgages in Israel?

Now apparently my money also pays for jewelry I can't afford, and Judaica I don't have.

I always thought hachnochos kallah was for poor kallah's who really couldn't afford even a backyard wedding.

My wife commented that the real crime here is that when people DO fall on hard times that are not their own fault, it becomes harder to fundraise. We just got a letter personally addressed to us from Israel about a man who married his 5 daughters off to "distinguished Torah learners", and his debts are overwhelming him, and now he needs money to marry off his sixth daugther. Presumably, I got this impassioned letter so he could buy his lazy son-in-law to be a set of chosson shas, an esrog box, a tallis with atara, streimel, etc. So, basically he wants to live like a wealthy merchant with Torah scholars as son-in-laws, but without earning the money to afford it. How is this a good idea for me to fund?

More to the point---is it even a mitzvah to give? Isn't this like giving a drunk a drink?

Commenter Abbi said...

anon 7:33: Your comment reminds me of when I did a "chesed project" when I was in seminary for the year. I as assigned to help a mother overnight care for her sick baby. I was supposed to sit up all night and help take care of the baby if he cried, so the mother could rest. I was led to believe that this was a poor family, and indeed, when I went to their building in Meah Shearim, it looked like a hovel.

But when I went inside, the living/dining room was decorated like my Hungarian grandmother's place. Silver everywhere, crystal chandelier, beautiful living room and dining room sets.

I just couldn't help thinking- if this couple can live like this, why can't they afford overnight help? (I was subbing for a friend, who went regularly twice a week) (Since the husband learned in kollel, it was obvious why not). The whole thing just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Charlie Hall said...

There are SO many ways to have a beautiful wedding without having to spend so much money. Here are some that worked for us:

Ditch the wedding palace and get married in a shul. My wife and I did and it was beautiful. I think we paid the shul $250. The beit knesset was nicer than any wedding palace we've ever seen.

Ditch the vort and the l'chaim. Some friends threw us an inexpensive potluck, reserving a room where I teach for free, with a boom box and some tapes for entertainment.

Ditch the gifts for chatan and kallah. My wife had a set of talit clips for me in the yichud room. (I wore a talit before I was married.) That was it.

Ditch the tuxes and expensive gowns. I bought a new suit; my wife got an inexpensive gown which she donated to a wedding gemach shortly after the wedding.

We also had no videographer and ordered the only still photographer to stay far away from the chuppah so that our guests could see the action. Yet we have great photos!

# of bridesmaids: zero.
# of groomsmen: zero.
We did have three little flower girls who sort of volunteered themselves; we didn't have the heart to turn them down. They wore their own dresses, with matching inexpensive headpieces and gloves.

We did splurge on a nice band because we both love music. But we did order them to keep the volume down to a level that permitted conversation, even during the dancing.

A frum wedding requires two kosher eidim and maybe a rabbi. Then a minyan for the seven blessings. Everything else is gravy. It is possible to have a wonderful wedding without going deeply into debt.

The entire cost was about ten thousand dollars, mostly for the nice dinner for the 140 guests. We would not change a thing. Enjoy it here:

Anonymous said...

On a similar note, the NY Times had an article on the front page Sunday describing a growing epidemic of single men due to the large cost of getting married..... in Egypt!

The whole article is fascinating. I kept wondering -- how is the frum world different?

A) Frum people are more willing to go into debt / have more access to borrowed funds
B) Frum people have more economic opportunities, even if some people voluntarily don't take advantage of them
C) Frum people generally become less religious if they can't get married, not more religious.