Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
Chasunah takanas, wedding-expense guidelines, widely accepted in chassidishe and yeshivish communities throughout the world, limit gifts between chasan and kallah and their families during their engagement. Before Purim, chassidishe communities were reminded that kallahs’ families should not buy Megillahs as gifts for the chasan.
With world economies continuing their sluggish state, many families, especially larger families, continue to have great difficulty in financing the weddings of their children. Every day, mailboxes at observant Jewish homes receive numerous letters requesting contributions to help marry off an offspring. Solicitations for hachnasas kallah are made during Shacharis, Minchah, and Ma’ariv, as well as at simcha halls and door-to-door throughout observant neighborhoods. Those collections are generally for very poor families, often living in Israel, who have no choice but to appeal for charity.
Private solicitations, sometimes for loans that are unlikely to be repaid, are taken up for friends, neighbors, or relatives. For those that are able to afford costly affairs, the plight of their friends, neighbors, and relatives weigh on their conscience. The evaluation of what is important, the determination of what is frivolous and unnecessary, is equally important to all. Very simply, extravagant affairs cause a great deal of envy and result in people assuming tremendous debts to pay for unnecessarily gaudy celebrations.
Rav Shach zt”l, 1966
Rabbi Eliezer Mon Shach, zt’l (1898–2001), revered rosh yeshiva Ponevehz, wrote in Nissan 1966 about the excessive, wasteful spending in celebrations such as bar mitzvahs, t’naim, and weddings. He also expressed concern for the great suffering of parents who felt compelled to borrow large sums of money to pay for these affairs. Parents of large families face financial ruin in trying to emulate the financially well-to-do.
In Israel, Gerer Chassidim have instituted strict rules about the amount that may be spent on weddings. Newlywed couples are directed not to live in Jerusalem, where the price of apartments are exorbitantly high. They are told to live in other communities such as Arad and 17 other cities where apartments are priced considerably lower. The Gerer Rebbe warned the manufacturers of spodiks (tall fur hats similar to a shtreimels) that if the price 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, or at most four musicians. The stated reason for these restrictions is not just that they 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 chasan).
The Gemara at Moed Katan 27a–b teaches: Originally, rich people received their mourner’s meal in silver and gold containers, while poor people received theirs in simple baskets. This caused the poor to be embarrassed. As a result, regulations were instituted that all in mourning should receive mourner’s meal in simple baskets.
Originally, drinks were served to rich mourners in crystal glasses, while the poor were served in inferior glasses. This caused embarrassment to the poor. As a result, regulations were instituted that all mourners receive their drinks in inferior glasses.
Originally, rich people’s bodies were exposed to lie in state, while poor people’s bodies were not (because they were emaciated, discolored, and not pleasant to look at). This caused the poor to be embarrassed. As a result, regulations were instituted that all bodies should be covered.
Originally, rich people’s bodies were carried on dargashes (the daf describes it as a decorative bed), while poor people’s bodies were carried on plain stretchers. This caused the poor to be embarrassed. As a result, regulations were instituted for every body to be carried on plain stretchers.
Originally, people spent so much money on fancy shrouds that people sometimes abandoned their loved ones rather than incur great expense. Then Raban Gamliel left instructions for himself to be buried in a very simple shroud. People followed his example. Rav Papa says that people even began to use shrouds of cheap canvas.
Furth, Germany, 1728
In 1728, the Jewish community of Furth prohibited serving coffee or tea, as they were then outrageously expensive. In addition, a limit was placed on the number of musicians at festivities, and festivities had to end no later than midnight.
Satmar Chasunah Guidelines Become Official
Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe, officially instituted strict wedding guidelines at the annual Satmar Dinner held at the Rose Castle on Sunday, January 6, 2008. His words were heard by more than 2,500 chassidim that filled the hall. The Kol Satmar (718-305-6942) and the Kol Mevaser (212-444-1000 and 718-906-6400) hotlines, each of which has a capacity of serving more than 4,000 simultaneous calls, broadcast the speech live. The hotlines record and retain the speech where it can be heard by calling those numbers and making the appropriate choice selection. Listeners had called the hotlines during the speech while it was being broadcast live. The more than 4,000 calls that came in on each of the hotlines were from all over the greater New York metropolitan area, as well as from California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Europe, and Israel. Many of the calls were hooked up so that entire shuls were able to listen.
The guidelines are the culmination of a survey that was conducted. Questionnaires were widely distributed in the beginning of December 2007 with immediate responses requested. The line-by-line questions included in the questionnaire had been prepared by a committee of kehillah activists (Vaad Chasuna Tekanos), members of which were selected by the Satmar Rebbe. The questions had each been carefully considered and worded and had the Rebbe’s express approval. The results were compiled and presented to the Rebbe, who then consulted with the committee, and they together formulated the kehillah’s regulations and guidelines.
The questionnaire was in reaction to the ever upward spiraling cost of weddings, sheva berachos, t’naim (engagements), bar mitzvahs, and vacht-nachts (meal on the evening before a b’ris for extended family members, friends, and neighbors, almost always at the new baby’s home or maternal grandmother’s home). The Rebbe tackled the issue of runaway celebration expenses during his keynote address at the annual 21st Kislev anniversary event, December 1, 2007. The Rebbe had been pursuing the enactment of strict kehillah guidelines that would drastically curtail such expenditures, especially expenses that are blatantly superfluous.
On Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, October 11, 2007, certain takanos (regulations) went into effect for all members of the Satmar community. The takanos regulated that bar mitzvah parties can only be held in Satmar’s Menucha V’Simcha Hall in Williamsburg and at a kehillah hall in Kiryas Yoel. That no more than 40 couples can be invited. The affairs come as a prearranged packages without any additions possible. Costs are as follows: 20 couples, $800; 25 couples, $875; 30 couples, $1,000; and 40 couples, $1,200. These prices include the hall, waiters, etc., and this obviates the need and corresponding expense of a party planner, flowers, hired photographer, music, vocalist(s), party favors, etc.
The new regulations/guidelines were enacted for celebrations of shidduchim, chasunahs, and sheva berachos. The guidelines have received wide acclamation from within the respective Satmar communities and had wide-ranging effects. The new takanos were in addition to the previously enacted bar mitzvah celebration guidelines. The Satmar Chassidishe community is one of the largest and its successful implementation of these takanos was replicated by many other chassidishe communities.
In order to ensure grassroots compliance of the Satmar guidelines, local committees were organized in each Satmar shul. The committees met and reviewed adherence and, at times, granted dispensations for special circumstances. The Satmar Rebbe has invested much effort and much of his prestige in the formulation and enactment of the takanos.
Additional takanos were enacted in regard to sholom zochor-vacht nacht-bris (birth of a boy) and kiddush (birth of a girl) celebrations. The expressed purpose of the guidelines is to enhance and to increase the joy of simcha, not to diminish them. The following are the guidelines:
Vort-T’naim: The T’naim certificate should be read at the home during the vort or at the kabbolas panim at the chasunah. At the vort, usually celebrated at the home of the kallah at the time of engagement, only light refreshments (i.e., soda, liquor, cake, and cookies, etc.) may be served. No additional event may be held to celebrate the engagement, even if only light refreshments are served.
The New Guidelines
Gifts to the kallah: Only four pieces of jewelry are to be given. They are: (1) engagement ring with a cubic zirconia stone; (2) watch; (3) pearl necklace; and (4) earrings. The only additional gifts permitted are machzorim, Tzenah Verenah, Siddur, kerchief, and apron. (The kerchief and apron are usually of white silk and ceremonial, worn when lighting Shabbos and yom tov candles.) The engagement ring, the first gift, is to be given for the first or second Shabbos after the engagement.
Gifts to the chasan: Only four pieces of jewelry or items of expense are to be given. They are: (1) watch; (2) Shas; (3) kiddush cup; and (4) menorah. They are in addition to a tallis, tallis and tefillin bag, and kittel.
No other gifts: Except for the gifts specifically enumerated, no other gifts are permitted at any other time or function. Not to the chasan or kallah, not their siblings, and definitely not to the in-laws. The Shabbos candelabra, if not received as a gift from other relatives, should be purchased and paid for jointly by both sets of parents.
Times of the gifts: The above enumerated gifts for the chasan and kallah shall be chosen and may be presented at the following times: The first Shabbos after the engagement, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkos, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach, Shavous, and the Shabbos before the chasunah, all within to the timespan of the engagement.
Shtreimel: Shall be purchased by the parents of the chasan. In accord with the recent change of attitude to the purchase of shtreimels, only one shall be purchased, at a cost of no higher than $1,200.
Sheitel or head coverings: To be purchased by the parents of the kallah.
Ladies kiddush: No longer permitted, not at the Shabbos aufruf and not at the shul fieren (the escorting of the kallah to shul on Shabbos sheva berachos).
Shabbos aufruf: All meals during the Shabbos sheva berachos are to be eaten at home. Only grandparents and siblings are to be invited. Future father-in-law and mother-in-law are only invited if they reside out-of-town.
Bentching at the wedding: Absolutely no later than 11:00 p.m.
Wedding celebration ends: No later than 1:30 a.m. The mitzvah tantz (dance) with the kallah shall have the grandfathers, separately, dance; then all brothers and brothers-in-laws, cousins, nephews, etc., all at one time together, and not individually, with the chasan; then the father of the chasan; and then the father of the kallah, separately; and then the chasan.
Shabbos sheva berachos: Ideally, at the home of the kallah’s parents. Alternatively, in a small catering facility. Only grandparents, kallah’s siblings, and, chasan’s siblings only if they reside out-of-town. In smaller families, the chasan’s siblings may be invited. Other close relatives, such as those of the kallah’s parents, should eat at other relatives’ homes and join the sheva berachos only for the bentching. Sheva berachos of Shabbos shalosh seudos should be conducted in shul for men only. For ladies, the shalosh seudos should be conducted at the kallah’s parents’ home with only the grandmothers and mothers of chasan and kallah. During the summer months, when Shabbos days are longer, lady guests who reside out-of-town may also be invited.
Sheva berachos at chasan’s parents: Preferably at home only. Alternatively, in a small catering facility. Only parents and grandparents of the chasan and kallah as well as chasan’s siblings are to be invited. In smaller families, the kallah’s siblings may also be invited. No professional (that means paid-for) badchan or photographer, nor gifts, music, party planners, singer, etc.
Other sheva berachos: Only at home and only inviting the chasan and kallah, their parents, and necessary panim chadashos (men who were not at the wedding or previous sheva berachos). After the meal, guests may be invited and only served light refreshments. 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. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at email@example.com.