Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
With the arrival of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and gridlock shopping days, we are deluged with gift-giving advertising campaigns. Very effective are those regarding diamonds; “A Diamond is Forever,” the famous advertisement tells us, written by Ms. Frances Gerety, a Philadelphia advertising copywriter in 1947. She died in 1999, at the age of 83, never having married. In 1999, shortly before her death, Advertising Age identified “A Diamond is Forever” as the slogan of the century.
Her greatest professional achievement arguably was helping to create a sense of emotional attachment to the diamond engagement ring. In 1947, women wanted their men to spend money on “a washing machine, a new car, anything but an engagement ring,” Ms. Gerety is quoted as having said in 1988. “It was considered money down the drain.” The diamond industry advertisements had an ambitious goal: To create a climate where every man proposing marriage feels compelled to give a diamond engagement ring.
It’s hard now to imagine a time when diamond engagement rings were not the norm. Today, even after decades of bad press about blood diamonds and horrible working conditions in the mines, among other concerns, more than 75 percent of brides in the United States wear one, according to Kenneth Gassman, president of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute.
The advertising campaigns promoted the “Four Cs.” Buyers were being taught that bigger meant better. Each ad included instructional tips, labeled “How to Buy a Diamond”: “Ask about color, clarity, and cutting–for these determine a diamond’s quality, contribute to its beauty and value. Choose a fine stone, and you’ll always be proud of it, no matter what its size.” The fourth “C” stood for carats. Not highlighted was the fifth “C”–Cost. Currently, the price range for one-carat diamonds is between $3,080 and $26,950, depending on quality.
Wedding guidelines were introduced in chassidishe kehillos in order to alleviate the financial crunch of large families marrying off their children and providing for them. Larger families sometimes find themselves marrying off children yearly. Expenses in chassidishe circles are generally shared by both sets of parents. In order to meet their obligations, parents sometimes had to borrow heavily and some went door to door collecting charity.
The diamond engagement ring, a high-cost item, was reexamined. Kehillah leaders found cubic zirconia (CZ) rings are usually worn in place of the considerably more expensive diamond rings ordinarily kept in safe-deposit boxes or other safe places. The recommendation was made, and generally accepted, to discontinue the purchase of diamond engagement rings. The use of CZ stones set in gold rings are accepted as the norm and routine. The CZ is but one facet of chasunah guidelines that are credited with having collectively saved chassidishe families tens of millions of dollars. These are guidelines and not absolute. A number of catering halls participate in wedding-package plans and are popularly known as Takanah halls.
A lechayim is the name given to the moment when the engagement is formalized and is almost always at the home of the kallah, with both sets of parents present. Immediate family members, such as grandparents and siblings of the chassan and kallah, are notified immediately and they hasten to the kallah’s home to share in the joy. Sometimes, siblings of the chassan’s and kallah’s parents are also called.
The vort is the event where cousins, friends, and neighbors are called to take part in the celebration of the engagement. The new guidelines call for the vort to be celebrated no later than three days after the lechayim, preferably just one day later. The more time that elapses from the vort to the lechayim, the more expensive it becomes. The vort should be held at the home of the kallah. If that is not possible, then a modest simcha hall may be used. Once the vort is held outside the home of the kallah, expenses almost automatically increase. No fancy cakes or flowers are to be sent. The kallah’s friends are not to be called to the vort, but rather invited to come wish mazel tov on the first Friday night before the Shabbos meal, a time when no food can be served.
Regarding chassan’s gifts to the kallah, specified gifts are only to be given at designated times. No gifts are to be given at such times as birthdays, Tu B’Shevat, or graduation (presumably from high school). Deviation from this rule increases expenditures with each new “occasion.”
The permitted gifts are: a bracelet; Machzorim; artificial flowers; cubic zirconia (CZ) engagement ring; pearl necklace; Siddur; and earrings. The gift occasions are: The time when the shidduch is formally concluded (lechayim); Pesach; Shavuos; Sukkos; Chanukah; Purim; and the wedding. Gifts are not to be professionally gift-wrapped. The leichter (candelabra), if not given by a grandparent, is to be paid for equally by both sets of parents. Other presumed traditional gifts, such as a watch for the kallah, are no longer encouraged.
Kallah’s gifts to the chassan are specified and only to be given at designated times. No gifts are to be given at such times as birthdays or Tu B’Shevat. The gifts are: a gold-plated watch; Shas, medium-size; Shulchan Aruch Hivhir; Menorah; two sets of sefarim for an approximate total value of $150, such as Chok LeYisroel and/or Ohr Hachayim; and Shabbos tallis, tallis bag, and kittel. Other presumed gifts, such as a kiddush cup, esrog box, Pesach sets, gifts for sisters-in-law, and/or cheesecakes for Shavuos are not to be sent.
Mishloach manos should not be sent by the chassan to the kallah’s parents and not by the kallah to the chassan’s parents. The kallah’s parents and the chassan’s parents should not send mishloach manos to each other. However, if they sent each other in the past, they may continue to do so. The kallah’s parents and the chassan’s parents should not send flowers to each other, even for Shavuos.
The shtreimel (or spodik), for the chassan, is to be purchased by the chassan’s parents at a cost not to exceed $1,200. The sheitel, for the kallah, is to be purchased by the kallah’s parents.
Family meals during the Shabbos aufruf are to be at home, with only the chassan’s brothers and sisters and their families, as well as his grandparents. Siblings of the chassan’s parents may be invited if they live outside of the community.
No more than 120 couples are to be served at the wedding meal. Invited guests should only be siblings of the chassan’s and kallah’s parents, siblings of the chassan and kallah, and cousins who live outside of the community. In exceptional situations, adjustments may be made. Music is to be from a one-man band, without any assistants. No professional singer is to be hired. Bentching, grace after meals, must begin before 11:30 p.m.
If at all possible, the Shabbos sheva berachos should be held at the home of the kallah’s parents. Guests may include the kallah’s grandparents, her brothers and sisters, and their families. Half of the chassan’s brothers and sisters and their families should be invited for the Friday night meal, and the other half for the Shabbos noon meal. Siblings of the kallah’s parents are to be invited if they live outside the community.
The Shabbos sheva berachos should not have any additions such as a sweet table or miniature confections. The only additions permissible are plain cakes, cookies, and cordials.
Preferably, no kiddush should be served on the Shabbos when the kallah is escorted to shul. Should a kiddush actually be served, it may consist only of plain cakes.
Only two weekday sheva berachos celebrations, one from each side, are allowed, regardless of who makes them. If grandparents of an uncle and aunt of the chassan makes a sheva berachos, that is counted as the one celebration allowed from the chassan’s side. The sheva berachos can be held in a modest hall without the services of a party planner, musician, singer, or badchan. No sweet table is allowed and music can only be prerecorded or from a CD. (The issue of royalties to the original artists recorded on the CD is not touched on, however this is not the place for that discussion.) In-laws of other married children are not to be invited, nor friends or distant relatives.
Should one feel that inviting others is proper, such as members of a shiur or business partners, a second table should be prepared with only plain cakes and cordials, without any warm foods, such as kugels or salads. These guests should be invited to come after the meal to participate in the sheva berachos of bentching.
Sheva berachos celebrations other than the two given formally by each side of the two families should be an ordinary supper meal served at home with no more than a minyan. Music can only be from a CD.
The Skverer chasunah takanos are similar to those formulated in Satmar by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe. The Satmar Rebbe and the Skverer Rebbe are brothers-in-law, both sons-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, zt’l (1917—2012), revered Bnei Brak Vizhnitzer Rebbe. The Skverer guidelines are more limiting, in all likelihood because the Skverer community is more close-knit, with a lower per-capita income, and its guidelines are more readily enforceable.
In Israel, Gerer Chassidim have instituted strict rules about the amount that may be spent on weddings. Newlywed couples are directed to live anywhere but Jerusalem where the price of apartments is exorbitantly high. They are told to live in other communities such as Arad and 17 other smaller cities where apartments are priced considerably lower. The Gerer Rebbe warned the manufacturers of spodiks (tall fur hats similar to shtreimels) that if the price of spodiks becomes too high, he would order his chassidim to stop wearing spodiks.
Agudath Israel, 2001
Agudath Israel introduced and instituted its simcha guidelines at its annual Thanksgiving convention in November 2001, specifically in reaction to the 9/11 tragedy but with the same purpose of limiting unnecessary, meaningless expenses. The Agudah guidelines have the endorsement of the Moetzes Gedolei Torah and have had considerable, though far from absolute, compliance. The Agudah called for such measures as eliminating the vort or tenaim (engagement party), limitations on the wedding smorgasbord, elimination of the bar and Viennese table, a ceiling of 400 invited wedding guests, limits on the menu and dessert, and recommendation for a one-piece band (maximum of four musicians). The stated reason for these restrictions is not limited to financial considerations that place a great burden on individuals of limited means, but primarily because they simply detract from the simcha by adding extraneous burdens on the ba’alei simcha (parents of the kallah and the chassan). v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.