Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bochur

A friend sent this tzedakah request from the Five Towns list serve over to my email box.

[unedited] A family in the 5 towns recently lost there business.There son is to be bar mitzvaed. [date deleted] if anyone could help with the following:
1)money for music
prizes for kids
candy to throw
Thank You
[phone number deleted]
It is there oldest son. Times just became so hard. If anyone has ideas or donations please let me know.

I have no issues with helping a bar mitzvah boy whose parents have lost their business mark the occasion of becoming a Jewish adult. Yet, this request is so bogged down in pork that it is gross. Anyone notice what necessary item(s) is missing from the request???

Certainly families who are facing rough times (and there are an increasing number of families who are facing tough times ahead) will need tzedakah and the support of the klal. I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume the family of the bar mitzvah boy is not requesting candy bags and prizes for children in addition to money for a hall, food, clothing, and music, and will assume the family that is leading this "hachnasat bar mitzvah bochur" drive only wants to put the boy on equal footing with the rest of his classmates. But, tzedakah funds are limited and are bound to become even more limited. We cannot be providing prizes for kids and music for a bar mitzvah boy at the expense of helping a family get back on their feet, budget, etc. We need to straighten out our priorities and quick. Last I checked, there is no mitzvah of hachnasat bar mitzvah bochur.

Now I would like to feature a post from the Kallah Magazine blog written by Ariella because it sums up the subject at hand perfectly:

Don't Mind the Budget Gap

You've heard of people with champagne taste and beer budgets? For some people there is a definite gap between what they could afford and what they want. In the past, wisdom dictated that such people get grounded in reality and learn to like the beer they could afford and give up on hankering for what was beyond their financial grasp. But that is not the attitude I see today. Instead, those who can only afford beer insist, not only on champagne but on the finest imported French bottles and only from the very best years of vintage, metaphorically speaking, of course. So if the drinkers of champagne cannot afford to pay for it, who is to foot the bill? Other people, of course.

On the neighborhood email list, I am constantly seeing requests for money or other types of handouts from people who are not destitute but who just don't want to do without. And those who are getting married seem to have the greatest sense of entitlement. For example, a few weeks ago a prospective groom who is getting married in one of the higher priced venues in the area (by his own account in his post) wanted someone to pay for his brother's plane ticket so that he could fly in for the wedding. Today I saw one announcing he is getting married July 6th [originally posted May 28] and can't afford a wedding hall. Well, what of the food? And it simply amazes me that he has set the date without ascertaining availability of venue. Also the date is a Sunday -- a champagne day-- one that caterers, florists, photographers, etc. are not nearly as negotiable on price for as they are for a weeknight.

Another prospective groom who is finishing his degree at YU now and marrying in early summer says he and his kallah need a lot to furnish their new home. He had a follow-up email that indicated he was not interested in suggestion so much as actual tangible contributions. In other words, he did not want directions to the pub that serves cheap beer, but a gift of a case of champagne. I don't know why he anticipates no wedding gifts that could help cover their household needs and demands that this community furnish him in advance. In contrast, when we got married, all my husband and I bought were 2 beds with dressers, tables, and chairs contributed from what was in our parents' homes. We used our gifts of china (not an expensive type), silverware, etc., and what we couldn't use we exchanged (if possible) for what we could. And, yes, we lived with no living or dining room set for quite a long time until inheriting the former and only buying the latter some time after buying our first house. I don't really think I would enjoy the taste of champagne, knowing it was given as charity when I could make do on my own.


Anonymous said...

I believe this is related and I wanted your opinion and that of the readers. Last night, I got a call soliciting money for something called "Beis Hatavshil" in Lakewood. It is a soup kitchen. The caller explained that it feeds Meshulachim and older Bochurim. Needless to say, I declined to make a commitment to contribute. I don't know why when I am struggling to pay bills that I should support Meshulachim (I have no idea whether their cause is valid) and older Bochurim who, in my opinion, should be going to work at this point in life. Hasn't anyone heard about the economy over in Lakewood? And when are they all going to wake up?

Anonymous said...

Just tell them that Barack Obama will take care of it.... you won't have to worry about paying for anything ever again....

mother in israel said...

Rabbi Cherlow, who is not that old, said that for his bar mitzvah he invited his friends to his house one evening for herring, and gave a drasha. (I *think* he said he did that. He was certainly advocating the practice.)

Anonymous said...

I will weigh in here as someone who teaches teenage boys. Dafka because you are dealing with an adolescent child and not a grown young woman, more sensitivity and more concern for him fitting in must be put into the plans for his Bar Mitzvah. You don't have to indulge all the silliness, but you do have to cut the kid some slack. It is only he who must spend 9+ hours in school with the other boys each day. We do have to keep that in mind when helping him.

Anonymous said...

When I am asked to contribute to buying a pair of Tephillin for a bar mitzvah bachur I an happy to do so. Band and hall, no.

However, I suspect the issue is more the crushing conformity that pervades so many segments of the frum community. The need to dress and act exactly like everyone else. (Of course, this is rarely invoked by the rich family to offer schnapps and herring after davening for a bar mitzvah to act like the poorer families)

mother in israel said...

Oh, and presumably tefillin aren't mentioned because the boy already has them--they are usually ordered well in advance, and worn for a month before the 13th birthday (but it depends on the individual custom).

Ariella's blog said...

When my own son was bar mitzvah, we worked on keeping expenses to a minimum by doing much ourselves and keeping the guest list small enough. But we invited his entire class, not just to the kiddush and melave malka, to the entire Shabbos lunch -- something many of the other kids did not do. In fact, some kids had a very fancy affair that none of the classmates could attend, as they made it in Israel. So it is possible to spend a lot without the classmates actually benefitting from the event.

On attitude toward what you teach a child when you feel you are doing what's best by never saying, "No, we can't afford that," I believe that is a very damaging approach. While it wasn't about money, the fact that David Hamelech never said no to his son is faulted by Chazal. It is what they say lead to his rebelliousness. Keeping a child in check -- when the demands really are not appropriate to his/her situation -- is actually considered a GOOD thing. It seems we have forgotten this today.

Look, I've taught parents on welfare and full scholarships with paid childcare in CUNY community colleges. When the question came up what to do if a child requests, say $150 sneakers. Most said they would do it so that the child would not feel bad relative to his peers. Remember, these are people on welfare; that means that our tax dollars are supporting their living, school, and childcare expenses (daycare is also covered for mothers who wish to attend college). It is the same sense of entitlement at work and a basic insecurity that makes you think you are less worthy when you have less stuff. And you prove your love for your child by buying anything asked for.

Think about the irony. A bar mitzvah is supposed to mark the passage into maturity. Yet, we give in to really immature thinking if we believe that we must keep up with the Cohens and Schwartzes even if our income is far below theirs.
But it takes much greater love to teach resilience and independence. And those are far more valuable and enduring assets than designer clothes or elaborate parties.

Orthonomics said...

anonymous mom-My comments would be the same: we can't afford to fund everyone's idea of a dream tzedakah project. An older bochur who does not have the money to feed himself needs to think forward about how he will help support a family and get a start in the right direction asap.

The goal should be to give tzedakah of the highest level, which is helping individuals/families become self supporting. I don't see the favor in creating dependency. A cooking class would be a better investment imo.

Ahuva said...

This is absurd. When I begged my parents for designer clothes, they said no. It wasn't because they couldn't afford them; it was because they felt that it was a waste of money. I can't even imagine what they would have said if I had requested a band or a fancy hall for my bat mitzvah (since when did a bar/bat mitzvah become a mini-wedding anyway?).

Did the other kids make fun of me? Yes, some did, but it helped me to learn not to bow to peer pressure.

One of the best gifts we can give our children is to teach them not to conform at the expense of common sense. We're not doing them any favors by teaching them to expect a standard of living that we (and they) can't afford. What ever happened to tough love? The derision of their classmates will hurt, but how much more will living beyond their means and going bankrupt as adults hurt them? It is our responsibility as adults to look at the bigger picture.

Ariella's blog said...

I couldn't agree more with Ahuva. The fact that bar and bat mitzvahs have evolved into events on the scale of weddings is a sign of conspicuous consumption. My daughters' school even puts out guidelines for bat mitzvahs to try to keep them more modest affairs, but nearly everyone flouts them. So one mother told me she felt she couldn't say "no" to her daughter's request for something bigger than officially sanctined because, after all, no one else was abiding by the guidelines. One generation ago even the riches girls made their bat mitzvahs in the house. There were no DJs, hired dancing girls, or party favors like shorts or short-sleeve tee shirts (not much use to these girls) with the girl's nickname printed on them.
Yes, some girls do a chessed project, but these girls don't really do much more than color something for a couple of minutes of the party.

Anonymous said...

A little different angle. I think the fact that this is "it is there [sic] oldest son" is a good reason to tone down the affair in the first place. I speak from experience, having made my daughter a nice (but not large or ostentatious) bas mitzvah 3 years ago. I did the same for my next daughter this year. I have (b"h) another coming up next Shavuos, and I would like to spend less. But having done one simcha model, so to speak, for her sisters, I'm hesitant to do much less for daughter #3 because I know her feelings will be hurt. If I would have made a cheaper simcha the first time, I wouldn't have this issue.

Commenter Abbi said...

This so reminds of a post on Janglo, the local Jerusalem email list, by a yeshiva bochur requesting the donation of a car, so his wife wouldn't have to go on the bus with his new baby daughter. I was simply incredulous. He really believed that he deserved a car handed to him, just like that!

Lion of Zion said...

i have less of a problem with hachnasat bar mitzvah than with hachnasat kallah. the former is a one-time-deal with no immdediate material repurcusions vis-a-vis the larger community. not so with hachnasat kallah. there's a good chance that a couple that needs help getting married will need help for quite a few years after (whether in tzedekah or welfare).

Lion of Zion said...


"You don't have to indulge all the silliness, but you do have to cut the kid some slack. It is only he who must spend 9+ hours in school with the other boys each day. We do have to keep that in mind when helping him."

this is the wrong solution. instead of cutting slack to reflect the larger context, how about changing the larger context?

Leah Goodman said...

I don't think it's fair to say that a family with means shouldn't enjoy themselves and treat the child's friends to a lovely party.

However, if a family can't afford it, they need to do what they can afford.

Have ice cream sundaes in the shul with a boom box & a pile of MBD (or whoever) cds for music. Throw individual candies instead of candy bags. I assure you that it is possible to throw a fun and nice Bar Mitzva without renting a hall or having a band.

My brother just had a son, and the bris was a fairly elegant sit-down meal. We b"h are also having a son, and we can't afford that. We will iy"h have a light buffet, and assume that our friends and family are joining us to share our simcha and not for a fancy meal!

Lion of Zion said...


was he requesting the car as a courtesy, or demanding it as his right? there's a difference. i don't think there is anything wrong with the former.

Lion of Zion said...


i don't remembe what happended at my own bris, but i do remembe that my brother's was in my grandmother's (modest-sized) living room. i can't imagine there were too many guests or expensive refreshments.

בשעה טובה

Anonymous said...

The lavish bar mitzvah is not a new thing-- I am 38yo, I distinctly remember going to a relatives bar mitzvah in long island when I was around 14... and all the boys were wearing Tuxs and the mother of the boy had on a gown that looked like a wedding gown... My family was shocked at the waste of money. By 16 there were sweet sixteens that were outrageous. I never would have expected such things because we were poor. Although we are now blessed with a comfortable income, my kids will never be on the receiving end of such an affair.

Jacob Da Jew said...

That is such a bullshit reuqest re:the bar mitzvah.

My own bar mitzvah party consisted of basically upgrading lunch in yeshiva with some extra cake and stuff.

Anonymous said...

After telling my husband about this post, he said that he truly understood the attitudes of everyone commenting, BUT the halacha says we are to give tzedaka to the level the person is accustomed to. If the person used to have a car and driver, then that is what the community is supposed to do for them. I told him I did remember that halacha, but countered,if we give this family a "five towns" bar mitzvah, ther will be other families who could possibly starve. There is no easy answer...

Ahuva said...

"BUT the halacha says we are to give tzedaka to the level the person is accustomed to."

And this is a halacha that is frequently taken out of context. It was meant to refer to a person who has unexpectedly fallen upon hard times, like a businessman whose business suddenly failed. The community is to help the family avoid embarrassment by helping them retain their former standard of living.

It was never meant to provide a "keep up with the Cohens" lifestyle for those who could not otherwise afford it. The original email *might* fall into that category, but that's for a rabbi to decide and it's also for the rav to decide what dollar amount of support is appropriate. A friend should not be sending out a tzedakah request like this since it isn't clear what the halachic requirement is.

Ariella's blog said...

Ahuva makes an important point. IN truth we are barraged with requests of this sort on the 5 Towns shuls list. The moderators once even inadvertently posted an individual's ballistic response to the request that the community donate to provide someone with Pesach in a hotel. Given that there are limited resources, do we have an obligation to give to every cause or to determine which causes merit more support? I know I have my favorite tzedakas. And I 'm not sure that the principle of "aniye ircha kodmin" applies to enabling people to make a grander affair than they could afford in their present circumstances before giving money to supply basic food to people who really have nothing. Perhaps some halachic authorities should look into this.

Anonymous said...

To play devils advocate here for a second regarding the post of the young couple looking for a hand out for furniture, is it possible they were looking for furniture from people who were giving it away? When my wife and I first got married we were quite successful in getting a bunch of furniture and other household items by looking on the community lists and getting things from people giving them away (a nice china closet from people who were "updating", a very inexpensive nice dinette set from people getting rid of it, bookshelves from people making aliya). In turn we also try to do the same with items we are no longer using. Community lists are great resources for young couples looking to furnish a first apartment on the cheap.

rosie said...

Anyone can ask for tzedukah and people have the choice whether or not to donate. For example there is a charity for terminally ill kids called Make a Wish. However, for the same price that an American family with a dying child can be sent to Disney land, probably 100 African children could be treated for serious diseases. Americans who identify with the American family might be more inclined to donate to Make a Wish instead of giving to a fund that provides medical care to Africans. With tzedukahs it depends on how the sale is pitched. Could a family really enjoy making a lavish Bar Mitzvah for their own kid when the kid next door can only afford a kiddish with cake, herring, and soda?

Ariella's blog said...

just to clarify, honestly frum, the person who made the request for the wedding, etc. did a follow-up post saying that they were getting advice of places to go to (I suppose gmachs and such) but that was not what they were after. So it seems they really wanted new things. And there are tzedaka organizations that provide brand new furniture, linens, etc., Yad Batya lekallah.

I once got the account from someone on the receiving end of this. She was very happy to get the free stuff and to have individuals (not friends or family) provide her with money, etc. for her wedding needs. Her parents were only willing to give her a few thousand toward the wedding, and she had very definite ideas about what she wanted. She actually took great pride in the fact that she did not have to compromise her standard because she was able to get people to pitch in for her.

Ariella's blog said...

one other thing I wanted to say, when we upgraded our dining room and later when we moved we gave away or sold some furniture for just a few dollars. I remember there was a young couple that took the table and chairs that had served us for at least 3 years. But I get the sense that most people today would look down their noses at the used stuff. It is part of that culture of entitlement. A furniture dealer told me that there are hachnosos kallah tzedakas that will even pay for those "chasson kallah" suites of furniture sold for as much as seven thousand dollars. He said that they believe the young people should have the dining room and bedroom sets right from the beginning. When my husband and I married, the only new furnishings we bought were beds. Other furnishings were from my home, and we had no sofas or easy chairs at all until we literally inherited them close to a year after we were married.
So what should people expect, and who should pay for these expectations?

Anonymous said...

Ariella, this brings back memories. We got a bedroom set after about 8 years of marriage, which is still going strong (looks brand new 12 years later), but when we got married my husband's night table was one he had as a child (or something like that), and mine was a wicker bathroom piece that my in-laws didn't need anymore. Our dressers were from Caldor (remember Caldor), and to be honest they fell apart pretty quickly. And we were both working! We just didn't see the need to spend money like that.

I love getting (and giving) free stuff, but here's another surprise. On my community board people are always trying to sell used stuff for 90% of what they paid for it. They have no idea of depreciation, that just because they paid $60 for something, they shouldn't be able to get $55 for it used. Whereas on places like Craigslist and Ebay, sellers have much more realistic ideas and you can get much better bargains.

Anonymous said...

I am not yet married; however, I am currently engaged, and have had some interesting discussions with people. My chosson and I both work, and only buy what we can afford. In terms of furniture, we are checking out the local consignment shops, and saving up for what we want.
I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that I could call the local hachnasas kallah and they would provide me with all the things I needed and wanted, and it would be new and free. (I think at the time I was mentioning the cost of various items.) I remarked that I did not want to be taking away from someone who really needed these items, and that if I could not afford to purchase them, perhaps I did not need them. The individual I was speaking with told me that everybody gets from the hachnassas kallah, and it was perfectly fine. This individual could not understand that I would not take advantage of this, and that I would only purchase what I could afford. I was baffled by this, and still am.

Orthonomics said...

Whether or not the community should support this family at the means they are used to (and since they haven't yet made a bar mtizvah, I'm not sure they have a "standard" to follow) is definitely a question for a communal posek, not for a friend/neighbor to decide and solicite funds for. Those giving should be assured they are giving tzedakah/maaser according to a halachic opinion.

I still can't get past the fact that a family that losses their income source(I will assume that, like most Americans, savings are insufficient) and will need significant support including day school tuition for a number of children, can think about throwing an "affair" on the community's dime.

It seems to me that chazal 1) told us to support those who become impoverished at their level and 2)that one should do everything possible to live independently and not be a receipient of tzedakah.

Commenter Abbi said...

LOZ: After a short email exchange in which i suggested that he might consider getting a job in order to fund a car, he seemed to think that the world owed him a car.

For the record, my husband and I are still using my parents old scandanavian dining room set that's about 25 years old and still looks great (we re-covered the chairs about a year after we got married).

We did get new living room furniture because I was bringing a lift for aliya.)

Leah Goodman said...

Yeah - there's a point.. nobody owes you anything.

Over the past 2.5 years, my husband and I have gradually been replacing the stuff that people gave us and that I picked out of the trash - although some items have been fixed/cleaned up and are permanent fixtures at this point.

We were married almost 2 years before we had a table that could seat more than 4. Our baby's changing table was picked out of the trash. The stroller and crib were bought second-hand. We still live without a car, despite having a second child on the way.

We waited until we could afford things, and we continue to wait. My husband, b"h, has a good job, but I'm not able to work when I'm pregnant (currently on bedrest)and we simply can't afford EVERYTHING.

Instead of whining about what we don't have new, we prioritize, save up, buy second hand, take people's hand-me-downs(for baby clothes especially - and say thank you!) and thank Hashem that we're able to eat well, live in a nice (rental) apartment, and not worry about our finances too much.

mbfme said...

I'm still stuck on the fact that the poster desperately needs English lessons.

Chaim B. said...

>>>"BUT the halacha says we are to give tzedaka to the level the person is accustomed to."

This is an ideal that applies when the wealth of the community allows for it, but for all practical purposes, considering the many needy people and scarcity of resources, has no relevance. See Aruch haShulchan Y.D. 249

Leah Goodman said...

Most "healthy" people would be horrifically embarrassed to take tzedaka, and would rather live with less than accept help.

What happened to people that this stopped being the case?

Ariella's blog said...

tesyaa, I do remember Caldor (and Bradlees; now we have shifted to Target and Wal-Mart).
You community board sounds similar to mine. I always wonder if the people who try to sell their custom gowns that they say is valued at $2000 for $1000 succeed in getting anywhere near their asking price. What's even more surprising to me is the number of women seeking to sell their custom wigs that they paid over a thousand dollars for and then decided they don't like after having worn it a few times. They also seek to recoup about 75% of their cost. Now the whole value of "custom" lies in its personalization, so it has far less value for another who did not get the color, fit, etc. made to order.

Anonymous said...

A bar mitzvah boy needs tefillin and an aliyah. In my case, I also had a small party at home.

This whole hall thing for every celebration is completely out of hand. It is unfair, ruinous, and in my opinion assur. The Rabbis need to grow a backbone and state it as such.


Orthonomics said...

mbfme said...
I'm still stuck on the fact that the poster desperately needs English lessons.

Me too!

Chaim B-Thank you for chiming in with a great understanding of the halacha. I know the non-profit sector is really hurting and common sense should tell us we must be great caretakers of the tzedakah dollars that are out there.

Zach Kessin said...

Can I just put in that I am somewhat resentful of the fact that people who try to play by the rules and buy things for themselves seem to get the short end of the stick.

Whats wrong with starting out with a folding table and plastic chairs? It might not be what you *WANT* but it will get the job done.

Anonymous said...

"that I picked out of the trash "

Please be very, very careful with this, especially if you live in the NY area. Trashed furniture (including hard furniture, like desks and headboards) often contains bedbugs these days.

Leah Goodman said...

I'm not from NY, and I checked over everything I picked from the trash pretty carefully. Don't worry.

Anonymous said...

Regarding some of the comments from Ariella and anonymous teach:

I can not believe that people running hachnasat kallah orgainizations are spending communal funds on expensive/luxury new furniture--and further giving it to people who are not poor! I will make some of my own inquiries, but if this is in fact the case I will, bli neder, never give to hachnasat kallah except at the request from a community Rabbi or request from someone I know well after the Rav or someone assures me of the recipients worthiness.

I can not believe that people have the gall to except holy tzedakah money collected from communal funds when they are not deserving. I am married ten years and still I'm living with hand me down or self assemble Sauder/IKEA type furniture. People accepting money from charity should be able to do without $7,000 "suites" of furniture.

Thank G-d I have been blessed to be able to pay off my student loans and have always had the ability full tuition for my children and have contributed generously to the local Rabbi's discretionary fund. Yeshivot and such have been contacting me with urgent requests to help make payroll -- and our community spends charitable resources helping children who have no business getting married play house! (chazal teach us that anyone who relies on parental support [someiach al shulchan aviv] is for certain legal purposes considered a koton or child.)

If people want to induldge their own children, that is a question of parenting philosophy. If you are asking me to indulge your child --at least call it that and don't say it is "hachnasat kallah." Send me a wedding invitation with a gift registry notice so at least I won't fol myself into thinking I am giving to charity.

There was a tremendous mitzvah of hachnasat kallah in a time where social mores dictated that a young woman needed to provide a dowry in order to find a husband. Raising money for a poor girl was the only way to make sure she was able to fulfill her destiny as a mother in Israel. Will people stop getting married today if they can't live an upper middle class lifestyle the moment they are married? (Let alone a liesure class lifestyle with a paid apartment in Jerusalem/Lakewood with internationnal travel and stylish fashions provided before each holiday.) Do people in this position think they are entitled to charity? Do they even think of it as charity or do they think of it as terumah or maaser that they are entitled to?


Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

I haven't read all the comments to this post because, quite honestly, I just don't have the time. So, someone may have already said this, but it bears repeating.

The title of this post is "Hachnasat Bar Mitzvah Bochur." I'm not sure if the ba'alas ha'blog came up with this term herself or if it's an actual term used in Orthodox, or perhaps only Chareidi/Yeshivish circles, but there's a point missed here: THERE IS NO SUCH MITZVAH AS HACHNASAT BAR MITZVAH BOCHUR. PERIOD. There is a mitzvah of hachnasat kallah, and it is a very important mitzvah IN A CASE WHERE THE FAMILIES ARE POOR OR THE KALLAH AND/OR THE CHATAN ARE POOR. Not poor because they're wasting away in yeshiva instead of earning a living but truly unable to pay for a wedding. THAT'S the mitzvah.

As far as a bar-mitzvah bochur? All he needs is a pair of tefillin, and an aliyah to the Torah, and perhaps a mezonos or a bagel breakfast after davening to wish the boy a mazal tov. There is absolutely NO mitzvah to have a giant fancy seudah that costs more than many people make in year. That's just ridiculous.

Orthonomics said...

Am Kshe-Tounge in cheek blog humor. Regular readers hopefully would pick up the humor immediately ;)

Esther said...

I think AKO's point was regarding the subject of your post, not just your wording in the title. =-)

I've heard the remark that people focus more on the bar than on the mitzvah. I've also heard the comment that the correct terminology should be "become" a bar mitzvah instead of "have" a bar mitzvah. I've heard these in the context of criticizing the non-Orthodox world for their approach to this simcha, but I think that this has become part of the frum mentality as well, even though there is of course emphasis on the religious component as well.

Orthonomics said...

Couldn't agree more the emphasis should be on becoming a bar mitzvah, rather than the 'bar.'

I don't favor overdoing the bar mitzvah celebration. . . . ESPECIALLY when someone else is paying for it.

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