Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hachnasat Kallah: Let Them Eat Cake

Hat Tip: Ezzie

As we enter a period in time where investment values have fallen and frugality is the new black, I'm happy to see a Rabbi who can separate out needs from wants.

Rav Aviner gives a rule of thumb for what should be a cause worth collecting for and what does not qualify: "If a person wants to live with extras it is a personal decision, but living with extras with other people's money is unheard of."

Q: If someone does not have money for Shabbat or a wedding, should he
collect donations?

A: He certainly should not collect donations.
Collecting donations is only legitimate for necessary needs like food or medicine, but not for non-essential things. This is written at the end of the Mishnah in Pe'ah (8:9): “Anyone who does not need (to take tzedakah) and does so anyway will not leave this world before being in need of other people (because he is poor); and anyone who needs to take (tzedakah) and does not do so will not die from old age before supporting others from what he has acquired.” This means that a person should not ask for donations for extras. The Gemara says: "Make your Shabbat like a weekday and do not require [the help] of others" (Shabbat 118a, Pesachim 112-113), i.e. it is better to eat simple food such as bread and salt than to receive tzedakah. But if he does not have anything to eat, he should ask for tzedakah. The same applies for a wedding: a person needs to get married but he does not have to make a fancy wedding if he does not have the money to do so. I have friends who do not have a lot of money: one made a wedding in a nice outside area and brought sandwiches and the entire wedding cost 50 shekels. Another friend invited ten of us to the building of the Rabbinate which has a small hall. We drank coke and ate some cake and the entire wedding cost 20 shekels. Getting married is a mitzvah, but there is no obligation to have a fancy wedding. In Jerusalem in the Old Settlement as well as in Poland, people were poor and they made a wedding an hour before Shabbat, then davened ma'ariv and ate their Shabbat meal which was also the wedding meal. If a person wants to live with extras it is a personal decision, but living with extras with other people's money is unheard of.

I wonder how the Rabbi would answer regarding sending a child to sleepaway camp when the family must then turn around and take scholarship funds for tuition, or how the Rabbi would react to collections for Bar Mitzvah parties such as this one.

What a refreshing alternative view that hopefully will become "mainstream."

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Anonymous said...

Yasher koach to Rav Aviner, but it boggles the mind that we need a rav to come out and say this to even have a hope that someone will listen.

rosie said...

My children recently attended a chassunah where neither the chasson or kallah had family to rely on. They had to make everything themselves. They invited a small crowd and the photography, which is a large expense usually, was done by friends with digital cameras.
The average frum family though is large, with many cousins. The only thing that I have seen that works to save money when there are so many that "must" be invited is to restrict the sit down meal to immediate family and those who traveled from out of town. There are light refreshments served for those who attend the chuppah or come later to dance.
In some communities, the l'chaim or vort is as expensive as some weddings and the sheva brochas could easily be the equivalent of a wedding in another time and place.
Kallahs are given jewelry that they may not really wear that often after they are married. Since many families eventually add candles with each child, the silver candlesticks are usually obsolete when the family buys a candelabra. The type of shas often sold to chassonim looks good on the shelf but is not that great for actual learning.
A tremendous expense occurs when mailing invitations to people who will neither come or send gifts. At this point it does not appear acceptable in most circles to email invitations, print on cheaper paper, or have people email or call in responses rather than paying for return postage and reply cards (that most people don't even bother to send back).
I don't know why more people don't make use of gemachs that lend artificial center pieces or use the desert for a centerpiece on each table. The best centerpieces that I have seen are cakes in the center of the table that serve as desert.
Another expense that could be eliminated is printed benchers for everyone. I have seen budget Bar Mitzvahs where the benching was printed on paper so that all of the participants could bench.
Of course nobody wants to be the first to try something new or looked at as different, or appear poor (even if they are).

Orthonomics said...

I would be curious when the whole vort/l'chaim craze developed. I personally don't see the need for an engagement party. Eliminating just this expense alone would go a long way in saving us from ourselves.

Ezzie said...

Part of it is social, and part of it is even among people who find it unnecessary/wasteful, you'd have to convince each side and the parents that it is as well... and even then, convince them not to do it anyway "for the ____" [grandparents/neighbors/friends/et al].

Plus, why save the money - you'll just end up paying more in tuition. :P

Anonymous said...

Plus, why save the money - you'll just end up paying more in tuition. :P

Normally I would laugh at this, but today it isn't so funny to me. Tomorrow morning, my wife and I, along with another 9 families from my neighborhood are going to tour the local public school.

Mark [no bonus last year, maybe even no job this year]

Anonymous said...

Mark, you may feel like this is a tough choice, but you might be pleasantly surprised by:

1) teacher / staff professionalism
2) good discipline
3) more relaxed kids who enjoy more music, art, gym and library than they'll ever get in yeshiva
4) less homework, leaving time for afernoon and evening limudai kodesh

The downsides:

1) October (Halloween)
2) December (Christmas)

If you have a group of families, maybe the school will work with you on limiting your kids' exposure to these negatives.

Eli said...

The gemara of asei shivticha chol refers to the needy person himself. I have heard from rabonim that one does not have the right to impose such a standard on the rest of his family. Similarly, if the person is from a society where going to camp is essential than sleepaway camp would fall under the category of dey machsaro the requirement to replace that which is lacking similar to the need to help yerushalmi families buy apartments for their children while at the same time we cannot begin to fathom their society.

Anonymous said...

Eli, they can pay for it on your dime and the dime of these "rabonim" and their followers.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I have to comment on this again, eli.

What a phenomenal chutzpah. A needy person is obligated to provide "shabbos level" food for his family above and beyond the "standard fare"? A poor person doesn't suffer enough? There are people who genuinely cannot afford food and now it's not enough to have enough to eat, they need to have a "proper" meal to eat? What a chutzpah to the poor and what a terrible message to the community. Whereas we could feed more people with "lesser" food we're being taught to feed less people with "better" food?

And on top of all that we should waste our tzedaka money because someone thinks it's "essential" to go to summer camp? We should spend hundreds of dollars to send a person's children to summer camp instead of feeding needy people, instead of training this needy person to have a better job and be self-sustaining? We should spend our tzedaka money to give this person an apartment for his children? Seriously?

On top of this amazing chutzpah, is the fact that tzedaka money is finite. So we should put this limited resource into this nurishkeit? We shouldn't feed starving people? We shouldn't help them raise themselves up? If all the tzedaka money that went into nonsense like this and the one's in the post was instead used to help genuinely needy people our entire community's financial situation could be bettered (let alone if it were put into yeshivas and other actually worthwhile mosdot).

rosie said...

From my understanding of the laws governing tzedukah is that need, is defined both in physical, emotional and survival terms. Usually the job of helping the poor goes to those in the community that raise money for communal needs. After they raise the money, then they decide who to help and for how much.
The giver can also disperse money depending on his feelings toward specific types of poverty (orphans, the Holy Land, kallahs, bikur cholim, etc.)
A healthy child might do just as well at day camp, however camps such as HASC or camp Simcha may give exhausted parents of sick or handicapped children, a needed rest (as well as therapy for the child). A student who spends the summer on Birthright might decide to marry a Jew and raise a Jewish family. We might weigh the severity of starvation with the need for a summer in Israel but unless there are organizations to direct tzedukah traffic, every giver's money will go where he or she sees the need. Some people never see a starving child but do see the teen in need of a Jewish identity.

Ariella's blog said...

a young woman wrote a piece about making her wedding herself with less than $10,000 from her parents. While she did not regard her family as poor, she was a recipient of tzedaka for her wedding and household. Further details revealed that a number of people covered key parts of the wedding -- the gown (not from a gmach but a sale/rental place), the flowers (also not from a gmach), the centerpieces, etc. A friend of the family took care of the photography. Also she was a recipient of Yad Batya, and was delighted to get their gifts of new beds, linens, kitchenware, etc. Someone in the furniture business told me that some young couples get their "chosson/kallah" full bedroom and even dining room sets from tzedaka organizations.

Orthonomics said...

Ariella-This is exactly why hachnasat kallah funds don't make it onto our tzedakah priority list.

Anonymous said...


Sorry, but I think tzedaka should follow, to the extent possible, Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Most of the things tzedaka actually goes towards is near the top of that pyramid. I'm sorry, but a person starving is far more important than a person who's healthy and satiated getting a camp or a trip to Israel.

Chaim B. said...

>>>than sleepaway camp would fall under the category of dey machsaro

I don't know what rabbonim say this, but see the Aruch haShulchan Y.D. 249:3-4 who explains that dai machsoro is an ideal that can be reached only when there are a small number of poor people relying on an affluent society for support. Practically speaking, where the # of poor is large and/or the financial resources of the community constrained, then each person must make due with less and that is the mitzvah of tzedaka. What source tells you otherwise?

Anonymous said...

Similarly, if the person is from a society where going to camp is essential than sleepaway camp would fall under the category of dey machsaro the requirement to replace that which is lacking similar to the need to help yerushalmi families buy apartments for their children while at the same time we cannot begin to fathom their society.

What society makes sleepaway camp a general necessity? (I can understand that there may be special cases in individual circumstances. Indeed, I know a couple such cases related to serious medical problems) Only one where everyone is compelled to do exactly the same thing, regardless of whether it makes sense for the individual. It is this need for crushing conformity that is at the root of most of these problems.

Leah Goodman said...

I agree that Camp Simcha and such are an emotional necessity for some parents. Generally, though, those programs are well-subsidized.

The people who fund Birthright, Nefesh B'Nefesh, and Camp Simcha (and other programs)are well aware of what they're funding, and feel it is a worthwhile cause - no one has told them that this is charity in the starving children sense of the word.

Leah Goodman said...


I went to public school for elementary school. You will have to really be an advocate for your children, explaining their dietary restrictions to the teachers.

I suggest that on chol hamoed Pesach, you make an effort to get your kids out of school for lunch time. (For some reason, my worst experience in grade school was eating my hard-boiled egg and matzah in front of the other kids)

I didn't find Halloween that annoying, but Xmas - with all the caroling... not great.

If you want more info, you can leave me a comment with your email address on my blog, and I'll get back to you (and not approve your comment so no one will see your address)


Orthonomics said...

Regarding Pesach lunches in public/non-Jewish school, my problem was that everyone WANTED my matzah.

I still have fond memories of my Pesach lunches. My mother really went full out to pack the best lunches, including strawberries and green grapes.

Anonymous said...

"Regarding Pesach lunches in public/non-Jewish school, my problem was that everyone WANTED my matzah."

It's the darndest thing. I went to school with one of Pat Robertson's grandkids, and she always went around on Pesach asking for matzah. Non-Jews love matzah, and I really just have no comprehension of that phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

My non-Jewish coworkers all wait for post-pesach sales to stock up on matzah and macaroons. I think macaroons are vile. Matzah... well, it's crunchy and fat free. I suppose if you don't have to eat three pounds of it without condiments and within 30 seconds, maybe it's not so bad.

The other thing everyone stocks up on is cane-sugar Coke. That one I understand completely (and I've been known to do a bit of hoarding myself).