A daughter’s wedding should be one of the happiest events in a parent’s life, but it’s become a nightmare because sought-after grooms are demanding that the bride’s parents buy the couple an apartment, and preferably in a desirable location.
“It’s a known thing in our community that you have to give the whole package to get a good groom, that is, to pay for the entire wedding and buy an apartment and furniture," Says A. “My two older daughters have husbands from good yeshivas, and each of them got two thirds of an apartment from me.
"I spent my entire savings on that, I took a second mortgage and loans. Now I need to buy at least half an apartment for my third daughter, and I have no money. My daughter wanted a God-fearing guy, not a guy who works (as opposed to studying fulltime in yeshiva). That’s a problem. How will I pay back more loans? And what will remain for my younger daughters?”
Many of the ultra-Orthodox have the same problem. After paying back their own home mortgage, the parents must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their daughters’ weddings.
Among the Lithuanians the price is based on how smart and how good a student the groom is. Among the Hassidim, the price is based on the groom’s family’s prestige. When families started going bankrupt there was an outcry against the heads of yeshivas and the grooms who make excessive demands.
The price for a groom
The average ultra-Orthodox family has seven-eight children. Assuming that half are daughters, every family has three-four daughters to marry off. Anyone wanting to marry his daughter off to a talmid chacham, an outstanding student who is completely immersed in the Torah, much pay for at least half of the couple’s apartment, and preferably the entire thing.
An apartment in an ultra-Orthodox complex in Betar Ilit or Modi’in Ilit costs about USD 90,000. If you add the wedding expenditures and the purchase of furniture and electrical appliances, the expenses come to USD 110,000. If we assume that a family pays for only half a package, every ultra-Orthodox family has to part with some USD 200,000 within a few years just to marry off its daughters.
The problem is that the more impressive the groom, the higher the demands. Very high-quality grooms demand an apartment in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak that is as close as possible to the head of their yeshiva. In Jerusalem and Bnei Brak apartment prices are about USD 150,000- USD 250,000. Grooms who are outstanding students with a lot of chutzpah demand that the wife’s parents also pay a small stipend to allow them to live decently.
If a family’s boys are not considered attractive as prospective grooms, then the son also needs to have one third of an apartment. The result is that the average family has to spend half a million dollars in a short period of time, and they have no sources of income. And what is a family with 15 children supposed to do?
In order to finance all of this, parents take out many loans and insane mortgages. The loans have to be paid back, and the interest is high, so the parents make use of free loan societies. But even they have to be paid back, so the parents take more loans from other free loan societies. Another solution is to go to the U.S. or Britain and ask for money from wealthy Jews.
Before the wedding the terms of the match are negotiated. The ultra-Orthodox Bakehillah newspaper, which writes a lot on this issue, has published the price list for a groom. For a prodigy in a prestigious yeshiva such as Kol Torah or Hevron in Jerusalem, Or Yisrael in Petach Tikvah or Bet Matityahu in Bnei Brak, you have to pay for the whole package.
For a groom who is half a prodigy you pay somewhere between the whole package and 80 percent of the apartment. For a good guy you have to pay between half of the package and two thirds of it, and for an average guy you have to pay for half an apartment.
In yeshivas such as Grodna, Be’er Ya’akov, and Haknesset Hagedolah, which are a bit less prestigious than Hevron, they demand two thirds of an apartment for a prodigy and half an apartment for an average guy. In the average yeshivas they demand half an apartment.
“Sometimes you have several offers, and the money the family offers is definitely a significant factor in the decision because then you can sit in yeshiva and study the way you ought to,” says D., a student in a prestigious Jerusalem yeshiva. It’s a market thing, supply and demand. Of course you have to pay for a high-quality groom. At our yeshiva we’re the elite, and people are prepared to pay a lot for a groom.”
Why do the bride’s parents have to take a loan in order to pay for your apartment?
“It’s painful to see parents taking loans, but in order to sit and study in a yeshiva you need funding. You can’t buy an apartment on a yeshiva student’s salary. That’s why the parents need to take money. It’s a wheel that can’t be stopped.”
Sometimes the grooms are more interested in the assets they’re going to receive than in the bride they’ll spend the rest of their life with. Ultra-Orthodox newspapers are full of emotional letters from parents shouting to the Heavens in the hope of influencing the yeshiva heads. Important rabbis are now supporting the parents’ point of view and calling for an end to the economic madness.
The leader in this fight is Rabbi Yehuda Silman, a Rabbinical Court judge in Bnai Brak and an important adjudicator of Jewish law.
“In the Lithuanian yeshivas there’s a situation in which the more guys in the yeshiva get an apartment, the more prestigious the yeshiva becomes,” says Rabbi Silman. “The yeshiva heads encourage this to some extent, and in order to preserve the yeshiva’s reputation, they demand of their students that they make a match conditional on getting an apartment.”
Pressure on the guys
Many times the grooms don’t want complete apartments because they know how their parents suffer, but the yeshiva heads push them to take the apartments with no apologies. After all, the whole package is evidence of the yeshiva’s prestige, and a guy who compromises harms the yeshiva’s good name.
In addition, a guy who compromises has to go to work in order to pay for the apartment, and then he can’t sit and study in yeshiva, which also harms the yeshiva’s good name.
The grandson of Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, one of the most important rabbis in Bnei Brak, was recently quoted in the ultra-Orthodox prss as saying, “My grandfather is unequivocal in his opposition to the demand for the whole package.”
“My grandfather’s opinion is that all expenses, including the purchase of an apartment, must be divided equally between the groom’s side and the bride’s side. As for the apartment, my grandfather says that it’s better for the bride’s side to pay a bit more in order to show respect for the Torah, even a thousand dollars more.”
Rabbi Silman also has a solution: “You can get to a situation in which each side gives USD 15,000, USD 5,000 for the wedding and furniture, and USD 10,000 for the apartment.
How can the young couple afford it?
“Let them seek income on the side. You have to learn to get by in life. They’re not going to get everything on a silver spoon their entire lives.”