All of this can cost a huge amount of money. Who can really blame a wealthy person for wanting to treat his or her guests according to their own standards? The problem is that social pressure develops within communities to make big weddings that many cannot afford.
For communities to place restrictions on the size of weddings is therefore a wonderful idea. According to a Ynet report, some Hasidic communities have adopted new rules pertaining to weddings that will save parents up to $20,000.
But this does not tell the entire story. In many of these communities, parents of the bride are obligated to buy the young couple an apartment – a stupendous expense. At the very least, in many haredi communities, both sets of parents are obligated to pay the couples expenses for the first year of marriage.
These costs run into thousands of dollars and many parents have to go into debt to afford it. It is disappointing that the wedding expense guidelines don’t deal with those issues as well.
Haredi families often have many children and each wedding can end up being a massive drain of family expenses. The wedding, however, is only part of the picture – at least for haredi parents living outside of Israel.
My wife and I, thank God, have four beautiful children. Since we send them to a Jewish religious school we have to pay for their education. Each year it becomes more and more expensive.
Of course I am not complaining; it is my responsibility to work hard in order to cover these expenses and I happily do so. But there must come a time when, based on their education, my children will have the talents and expertise to go out and earn a living on their own.
New guidance needed
Whilst it is laudable, for parents who can afford it, to continue helping children for as long as one can, it is unfair that this should be a societal expectation. Seniors in many haredi communities feel financially strapped all the way into their golden years because of the past debts and continued expenses that are associated with their grown children. There needs to be some new guidance on these important subjects as well.
In many ways, the current wedding guidance is backward. Parents are asked to put on a small wedding so that there will be money left over to continue supporting the children after the wedding.
As Rabbi Avi Zarki says in the Ynet article: "When I see people investing money in a wedding instead of in an apartment, leading to debts, I ask the permission of the parents and the young couple and advise them to change their list of priorities."
But why shouldn't grown children who are old enough to get married be expected to buy their own apartment or pay their own living expenses? The answer is that the yeshiva education system often does not give young people the professional skills needed to make a decent living and many communities expect young men to continue in yeshiva for a number of years after they get married.
But the cycle of support is nonetheless expected to continue. This is a part of the culture which many seem unwilling to examine and potentially change.
Unfortunately, until the community’s economic model becomes self sustaining, saving $20,000 on a wedding will not fundamentally make a difference to the strained finances of so many in the haredi communities.
This wedding expense guideline is but a small band-aid that is trying to hide a gaping wound that has the potential to mortally wound the entire community. It’s maybe a good start, but it does not go far enough to make a real difference.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life