Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Expense/Gift/Dowry--Which is It?

Orthonomics has an interesting report up of new wedding takanos posted in Israel. http://orthonomics.blogspot.com/ The idea is that the rabbonim involved want to reduce the cost of weddings and all the associated other parties and gifts. As SL points out, reducing the costs is one thing, but if you don't have the money for even the reduced costs, you are talking about debt financing, not a good idea under most circumstances, but certainly not for what is in essence a multi-day party.

One of my first postings was about gifts associated with marriage back when I was dating. http://conversationsinklal.blogspot.com/2007/09/on-being-gifted-klal-style-years-ago-i.html#comments

A comment made by bad4shidduchim on that posting has some relevance here. She said: " But when the gifts get perfunctory "what do we have to get" "what do they have to get", then it's just stupid. It's not a gift, it's a dowry. So why pretend? " Notice the use of the word "dowry." No one can pretend that dowries are some newfangled invention--our Jewish writings are full of talk about dowries--who gave what to whom and when. And no, all those dowries were not identical.

So, are all the expenses that people seem to think are "must haves" for a wedding a question of gifting or are they components of a dowry? And should a dowry, if that is what it is, be the same amount for every person getting married, or should that dowry depend on actual cash available? That is, why are all brides and grooms being treated in an identical way regards giving when it is clear to the whole world that not every bride and groom and their families have the same amount of money? Personally, if a family has the money without going into debt to buy X for a groom or bride, then let them buy to their heart's content. What I object to is having gift requirements for everyone that are basically the same, even if limits are being placed on the costs for those gifts.

Way too much of keeping up with the Rothschilds in our present attitudes towards gifts/dowries. Last I looked, most people could discern the difference between the Rothschilds and themselves, and non-Rothschilds weren't expected to live the same way as the Rothschilds did; they, themselves, did not expect it, nor did society expect it of them. It seems to me that the whole slew of wedding takanos out there are not taking into consideration that there are plenty of people out there who are not Rothschilds, nor likely to be. Instead of these takanos perhaps what is needed is for the rabbanim to come out with the blunt truth: if you're truly wealthy, do pretty much what you want, and if you're not wealthy, if you don't have the cash available, then do less, lots and lots less. There should be almost no requirements about weddings, with perhaps the exception of some type of wedding band for the bride.

What say you?


JS said...

I agree. I actually don't think any of this is important until it gets to the point where a family is put on the public dole. Let people spend to their heart's content as long as it doesn't put a burden on their neighbors to support them. This seems to be the crux of so many debates in the Orthodox community nowadays - you see it with number of children, yeshiva tuition, spending on luxuries, etc. At what point is not okay to spend on certain items or incur certain future costs when it means you are forcing the community to subsidize your behavior through tzedaka funds.

These debates really get people fired up and I think a big reason is that so many of these activities come under the rubric of "mitzvah" that the attitude becomes one is entitled (or even required) to engage in this activity and it's the community's job to help them do it.

I really wonder where all of this crass materialism and commercialism came from. It's especially interesting how it got so tied in to the performance of basic mitzvot.

Anonymous said...

I really wonder where all of this crass materialism and commercialism came from.

National PTSD post-Holocaust.

JS said...

That's an interesting theory. I can only speak to my own family and say that I never saw this attitude in my grandparents who were survivors. If anything, I'd say it was the exact opposite - a need to scrimp and save, "just in case." I wonder if others have a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

PTSD at a national level. Individuals will, of course, vary.

At an individual level, many survivors scrimped on themselves, but overindulged their children and/or grandchildren. Perhaps this created a sense of entitlement in some people.

ProfK said...

Not sure I'd attribute this to a type of PTSD. Instead, I think it may have been a reaction or over reaction to a type of freedom here in the States that none of these immigrants had ever lived under or even imagined there could be.

Yes, some of those immigrants still had the scrimp and save attitude--getting rid of the fear that you will need to leave where you are suddenly and run for your life doesn't disappear in an instant. But, they also saw Jews here in the States whose families had been here for decades, and they saw that those Jews could do and be what they wanted without fear.

I don't think this was an attitude particular to Jews either. Those immigrants saw the non-Jews around them striving for material goals, and many achieving those goals, and they "got with the program."

There is one difference though that I see from my parents' generation, my generation and the generations under mine. My parents didn't so much push THINGS on us as they did education and training so that we could get what we wanted--and pay for it. There were some in my generation who got support for schooling but it was relatively rare for a married couple to get that kind of support. You got married when YOU could afford the expenses.

Yes, yes I know, some of my generation screwed things up by offering support instead of training, but that is more prevalent in the third generation down.

Allan said...

I agree with your point Prof that the materialism is not just a Jewish problem. Consumerism runs amok in the general population and debt spending is common there too.

But when it comes to weddings I think we have a Jewish problem that is not seen as much in the outside world. There is more variety in the secular world as to how a wedding can be made. You can often see a wedding reception that is just cake and fruit and drinks. Their weddings tend to be smaller in number than ours are. Engagement rings are common in the secular world too but they aren't a 'law' and there's lots of variety in what can be purchased. You don't much see double meals at one wedding. And they don't have sheva brochas. Also, generally you don't find secular couples getting married and expecting that their parents will not only pay all the wedding expenses but will also kick in money to support them. That attitude seems to be mostly ours.

Miami Al said...

Plenty of secular people throw extravagant weddings. Plenty of Bridezilla moments. I was at three 6-figure weddings, one gaudy, one elegant, one gaudy & frum.

However, the non-Frum weren't religiously OBLIGATED to do it, they just threw a huge gala.

And none of the over the top secular weddings I've been to were thrown by anyone BUT the extremely wealthy.

abbas rantings said...

it's owing to
1) a level of affluence never before known (or access to easy credit if you don't have that affluence)
2) living in a host society that is pretty materialistic
3) belonging to a community that values conformity and makes those who buck conformity into antinomian outcasts
4) a (unique?) situation whereby those of different socio-economic strata are so highly intergrated