Monday, January 7, 2008

Ending the Engagement Shtuss

The word progress has a positive connotation. We move forward and things improve. For too long frum klal has been mixing up "progress" with "action." Because we do something new does not mean that the new action is progress.

Many years ago a "new action" was taken. It sure wasn't progress. And yet it has become cemented into the way that huge chunks of frum Klal do things. I am referring to the engagement parties thrown by frum people.

Let's backtrack for a moment. Once upon a time engagement was fairly straight forward. A boy asked, a girl said yes. Were they engaged "officially?" Only sort of, because the next step was for the two sets of parents to come together to meet. At that time, and assuming the parents did not take an instant dislike of each other, a l'chaim was made by the parents and the young couple. Then the couple was engaged "officially." Did the new almost choson and kallah let their friends know? Most did and some didn't.The engagement was sort of in a no-man's land: on the one hand you were engaged; on the other hand it did not have the final stamp of approval.

Far more telling back in the olden days was when a boy took a girl to meet his parents. That was really the point of "unofficial" engagement. A boy did not do this if a proposal was not imminent, and a girl didn't go if she had no intention of marrying the boy. It was the rare exception for a couple not to get engaged once a boy had taken a girl to meet his parents. The news that a girl was going to meet a boy's parents was not shared with all and sundry. If shared at all it was limited to a girl's best friend. Her parents might let the grandparents know.

The l'chaim was a fairly simple occasion. It was held in the girl's house and the parents and siblings from both sides were usually there. Also, grandparents would be invited. Whether or not aunts and uncles were invited--without their offspring--depended on the family and on the number of aunts and uncles. While the young couple would be on the phone calling their friends if they so desired, the parents would at least try and come to some tentative agreement about a date for the wedding and what kind of wedding to have.

Some people, only some, would then have, a while later, a "vort" or engagement party. In the old days some people still wrote t'noyim upon engagement, hence the idea of the "vort." Most people do not do so today because of the halachic problems that arise if an engagement is broken after t'noyim are written. But the name "vort" remains. Some people did not have this formalized engagement party but their parents would give a shabbos kiddush in shul. Sometimes a couple's friends would throw them an engagement party. Some of these vorts were held in a parent's home; some were held in shul halls. Most were nice, but in no way could they be confused with a wedding. All that was really required was cake, cookies, candy and schnaps. The "official photographer" was your Uncle Moishe with his camera. Bands? ruinously expensive floral decorations? Surely you jest.

Now look at the ballyhoo that goes on today. L'chaims that are bigger and more elaborate then most vorts were years ago. Vorts that are only a smidgen short of the elaborateness of a wedding. And for what? Yes, for what? Does a couple become more "officially" engaged if the news is publicly declared twice? So if the exact same people come to see you twice in two weeks and wish you mazel tov twice, does that double the years you will be married? No, it does not!

What it does do is double the expenses of marrying off a child. What it does do is promulgate some of the worst excesses money can buy. What it does do is raise kinah in those whose families simply cannot afford the nonsense. What it does do is obligate many people to expensive gifts and an outlay of money that would be far better spent on something the new couple might be able to use in their married life together. What it does do is expose that some frum people have their priorities all wrong.

An engagement is not a wedding. Why are we treating newly engaged couples to party after party, because that is all these affairs are--one big party. There is no halachic requirement for the l'chaim we see today nor for the vort either. It is conspicuous consumption run amok. Everyone benefits from these affairs--everyone who has something to sell that is. There is zero benefit to the parents nor to the newly engaged couple.

It is more than time that we admit that "the Emperor is naked" and end the practice of engagement the way it is done today. I know, no one wants to be the first one not to do what everyone else is doing. Just what do you think would happen if a choson and kallah, or if you as parents, decided to do things differently? You think that people would talk? Yeah, so what? You think they aren't going to talk anyway? And then watch out when everyone rushes to adopt this new style.

The rabbanim are all so worried about pritzus. Just what are all these crazy affairs if not public pritzus? Let me see them get up in shul and asser the engagement madness. It might just make me think they are worth the money we pay for them.


G said...

Amen, selah.

-I see this bleeding into other communities more and more.

David5Ts said...

Actually, I think they already did. I saw a short essay written by R' Aaron Twerski in a Chosson/Kallah guidebook about a year ago that asked people to limit their celebrations to simple l'chaims.

Anonymous said...

About 4 years ago when all my friends started getting engaged and married my sister and I agreed we would never have vorts. She managed to stick to it and had a small L'chaim just our family and his family, grandparents and some of her closest friends. (and some neighbors who heard early enough to come over) and I also plan to stick with it when the time comes. Vorts serve absolutely no purpose and are a completely unnecesary expense if you really feel the need to spend the money use it to upgrade something for the wedding or better yet give it to the couple for rent or furniture.

Anonymous said...

My son's machatonim insisted on all the shtick when he became engaged to their daughter. By the time it was all over I could have sworn they were married at least twice already. I am not going to do this for my daughter and she agrees. I hope that my next set of machatonim will be reasonable about this.

Anonymous said...

It's not going to take the rabbis to end the engagement craziness. It's going to have to be coming from all of us. It's all a fad so the fad leaders are gong to need to decide that smaller is more elegant and then everyone else will follow.

G said...

Let me see them get up in shul and asser the engagement madness.

Actions speak louder than words.
Six months of anybody with title Rabbi not attending such an affair would just about end them.

Anonymous said...

Unless you mean any man with smicha I don't think it would work.The shul rabbi isn't usually invited to the lchaim anyway. And unless he is asked to speak a few words at the vort the thing is such a madhouse of people that no one would notice if he came or not.

Anonymous said...

It's not just the engagement that is getting out of hand. To get one couple "properly" married you have a lchaim, a vort, at least one shower for the kallah, a shabbos kallah, an aufruf kiddush and lunch, a wedding, and a week of sheva brochos. Add in all the required gifts for both sides and all the required stuff for the house and what you have is a recipe for financial disaster. There really has to be a saner way of doing this.

Anonymous said...

very thankful to be living out of town when you hear about what goes on in NY. Just tell me though, how do people afford all this?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 907-
They can't afford it. Some of them are mortgaged up to the full value of their homes. Some borrow against their 401ks and pay the penalty, some take out loans from banks, some borrow privately at exorbitant rates, some hock almost everything they own. Thanks to the wedding nonesense and support there are going to be lots of jews in poverty when they hit retirement age. Even the ones with money can't afford it because they make even more expensive parties then the rest.

Anonymous said...

It's not just the parents that go broke. Our first niece got married last year. We were required to send flowers to both the l'chaim and the vort. Then there was an engagement gift. I was invited to the shower and an aunt can't buy a little nothing gift. She got flowers for her shabbos kallah. There was the wedding gift and all the clothes that needed to be purchased for our kids for the wedding. Then we gave sheva brochas. Her wedding cost us over $5000. And we have 16 more nieces and nephews to go. Enough already!

Anonymous said...

My dad solved the problem for us. He gave us a dollar amount and said that has to cover everything from engagement to wedding and all the shopping. Thought it was a whole lot of money until I started pricing things. We didn't have the vort and had a small lchaim. It was kind of strange not having what all my friends had but we didn't go into debt either.

G said...


Flowers x 3
Gift x 3
Clothing for children x ?
Sheva Brochos

This came to >$5,000?

No offense, but it sounds like you're part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

Shoot me for being curious but what did you do for your kids by the engagements? Are you just talking at us or did you follow your own advice?

ProfK said...

Anonymous 241,
We have not yet been zocheh to marry off any of our kids. But they all know and agree with us that there is no way that we will follow all the nonsensical "rules" in affect today. I really did not raise "follow the crowd" children.

Orthonomics said...

Your posts are right up my ally! I have a wedding post of my own coming up.

About 6 months ago, I met an engaged couple at a shalom zachar. I wished them mazal tov on their wedding and asked them if they had set a date. They told me that still have to throw a vort, so they were not quite to that stage. I stood there in disbelief. . . . . .since when did an engagement party take center state and for what good reason?

I know couples have two plus vorts/l'chaims. One is in his hometown, one in hers. . . and if he/she is living in a locale different from the parents, often another couple hosts. This, of course, in addition to the aufruf, Shabbos Kallah, Wedding, and Sheva Berachot. We got married with no engagement party(although my husband insists we had one because my parents and his parents were present enjoying a meal when we announced our engagement and a bottle of wine was poured for the occassion) and you can live without another party!