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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
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My Big Fat Jewish Wedding


Photo: Orthodox Jewish wedding with chupah in Vienna.

Orthodox Jewish wedding with chupah in Vienna.
Photo Credit: Gryffindor / Wiki Commons

צאנז 111 from bhol on Vimeo.

Not being a Chasid of his (or Chasid of any kind) I don’t really know much about the Munkatcher Rebbe. But if he is like most other Chasidic Rebbes, he will have a huge blowout of a wedding next Monday for his grandson – similar to the one in the above video for the Sanzer Rebbe. The size of those crowds are comparable to those of Presidential inaugurations. Crowds numbering 10,000 people are not uncommon. An article in Matzav.com adds:

The chuppah will take place on the promenade in front of the shul on an especially erected elevated chuppah to ensure that all participants can see and hear all that transpires.

Following the chuppah, special buses will ferry the throngs of chasidim to the cavernous Palace Ballrooms on McDonald Avenue where the celebration will continue. During the meal, thousands of chasidim and well-wishers will have the opportunity to personally wish mazal tov to the Rebbe and mechutanim.

Whenever I see one of these events, I am reminded on the so called “Wedding Takanos”. These were guidelines established by members of the Agudah Moetzes (but not officially by the Moetzes themselves if I understand correctly) in order to combat a phenomenon where tons of money and resources are spent on lavish affairs.  They include*:

The Wedding:Typical families may only seat up to 400 invited guests at the seudah. The kabbolat panim smorgasbord should be limited to basic cakes, fruit platters, a modest buggest (sic), and the caterer’s standard chicken or meat hot dishes. The seuda menu is limited to three coures (sic) plus a regular dessert.

No Viennese table. No bar.

The Music:A band should consist of a maximum of 5 musicians or four plus vocalist. Recommended: a one man band.

Flowers and Chupa Decor: Total cost should not exceed $1,800. It is one thing when wealthy people have a lavish wedding. But the “Keeping up with the Cohens and Katzes” factor has caused some people who cannot afford it to do the same thing. They borrow money –sometimes putting second mortgages on their homes just to have that lavish wedding for their own children. And ‘prove to the world’ how successful they are. All that debt for keeping up an image – and one day of fun!

Contrast this with the tuition crisis. The parents who go into huge debt to make lavish weddings for their children are the same parents who ask for – and receive scholarships based on their actual income.

I need not go into the details of how unfair that is to schools whose huge budgets go mostly to pay teachers. Teachers that deserve to be paid a lot more than they actually are paid. These budgets require huge tuition bills which are more or less based on a cost per child basis to the school. A typical Orthodox family with four children will generate a tuition bill of at least $40,000 per year and a lot more in many schools.

Most people do not earn enough to pay that kind of after-tax money and require scholarship assistance. Thus placing a burden on the school to raise enough the difference between what parents pay and what they should pay. In many cases fundraising goals are not, putting schools in to debt. Year after year of accumulating debt in order to just meet the payroll obligations to their underpaid teachers.

One can easily see the absurdity and gross unfairness of parents borrowing money way over their heads to pay for a lavish wedding (just to keep up with the Katzes) who have in the past asked for and gotten scholarship assistance.

Although these wedding Takanos are well intentioned, I’m not sure they have been all that effective. Which means that there are still people borrowing money for weddings they can’t really afford.

As an aside I have never been a fan of these Takanos because I believe that wealthy people have a right to spend their money as they choose provided they meet all their financial obligations. And the wealthy people I know do meet their obligations and a lot more. The problem is with those who are not wealthy but for some reason feel the need to project that image. If a Takana could be made so that the wealthy would not be affected, I might support it. But Takanos don’t work that way.

Which brings me back the upcoming wedding of the Munkatcher Rebbe’s grandson. This is a tremendous opportunity for a Rabbinic leader to lead by example. It would make a huge impact on his Chasidim if he were to purposely have a wedding for his grandson that follows those guidelines at least in spirit. I understand the need for a bit more than these guidelines call for. But if he would scale it down to something a lot less than 10,000 people it might actually teach his Chasidim to follow in his footsteps. And perhaps more importantly the rest of the world would take note and re-think their own ideas of what kind of wedding their children have.

Imagine the savings to parents who would not be spending tens of thousands of dollars more than they can afford and instead having a sensible and decent wedding that the wedding Taknos allow. It will certainly curb if not completely eliminate the kind of foolish borrowing that puts people into major debt for years just to have that one night fun for their children.

There are those that would argue that it would be a slight to the Rebbe’s Kavod and unfair to his Chasidim if they were not all invited to the wedding of his grandson. They see themselves as loyal subjects of royalty. That they want their Rebbe to have the big party. They want to see the pomp and circumstance. It would belittle their Rebbe not to have it.

They see the Rebbe as not just a Gadol, but a Manhig – a leader of Klal Yisroel tantamount to a king! Each Chasidius sees their Rebbe in that way. They believe that their rebbe is the greatest person alive of that generation… “THE” leader of the Jewish people. They “know” it. If only the rest of the world (including other Chasdidm) would “see” what they “see” they would know it too. He therefore deserves to be treated like a king. And it is the greatest honor to be invited along with 20,000 additional guests to see the ‘show’ and treat their leader as though he were royalty.

OK. I get that. But the fact is the Rebbe is not a king or a President. He is a Rebbe, an inspirational religious leader of a group of Jews. There are many people who inspire others. They are not royalty and ought not to be treated that way. I don’t know it for a fact but I’ll bet the founder of Chasidius, the Baal Shem Tov, did not have a wedding like this for his own children. A real leader doesn’t need the pomp and cirucmstance of a 10,000 person wedding.

The importance attached; honor given; and loyalty felt for a Chasidic Rebbe by his Chasidim makes it all the more important for someone like the Munkatcher Rebbe to make this kind of statement. The impact would be huge. People learn far better by example than they do from the demands of rabbinic ban. It’s one thing to tell people what to do. Many loyal Chasidim will follow what their Rebbe tells them. But if they see their Rebbe doing it, that will speak far louder to them than any edict will.

Will it ever happen? I doubt it. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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