Are Simpler Weddings Something That Should Stay After The COVID-19 Pandemic Ends?

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Under the chuppah...in the COVID-19 era

Last week I celebrated the wedding of my younger brother Akiva. It was a simple but beautiful affair, with just immediate family and a couple of close friends attending.

Yosef Greenberger, who did everything from the one man band to the zoom broadcast, shared with me that he’s done several of these weddings. And while it’s odd to see such small weddings, he also noted how exceedingly joyful they are. Everyone attending is someone who truly loves the couple and wants to be there. The joy is truly palpable.

At the end of the wedding that was a common sentiment from all of the attendees. Despite everyone’s reservations, it felt far more meaningful than the massive weddings I was used to attending. The speeches were heartfelt and emotional and the energy in the room was incredible.

This text message from the bride’s sister to a relative watching on Zoom says it all,

“There are beautiful silver linings that have come out of covid, notwithstanding the pain that many of us did suffer, but having a small intimate wedding with no worries of color schemes, what food, what clothes, … left the couple with purely happy to see each other and be together again, and everything else was enjoyed for what it was.
The food was great
The flowers were beautiful
Clothes ended up coordinating somehow
Kalla ended up making her own hair in the bathroom and loving it (otherwise considered a nightmare !)
Kalla had an out of town wedding in a new place, but as long as Akiva was there all is good. The hardest was not having family present , as it should be but they all got dressed and set their tables and ate with us and prepared birkas kohanim and musical presentations.
The ‘stripped down’ wedding laid bare to the most special intimate joyous wedding illuminating the essence, the bride and groom and they’re coming together in commitment to each other.

Weddings should probably carry on in this intimate manner post covid
A family part alone first and then friends and guest for dance and dessert portion
Forget the fuss and stress !
-My 2 cents”

So, have we been doing weddings wrong this whole time?

I’m not advocating for immediate family only weddings, but things seem to have gotten out of hand. Reading through this thread of families going into debt to spend insane sums of money on one night is eye-opening. Even if the payments aren’t coming from debt, wouldn’t that money be better saved for a rainy day fund or better spent on a down payment for a house?

After the wedding, someone showed me this letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, circa 1960. In it, the Rebbe writes that he’s not pleased with the waste of money on large weddings in fancy halls, which don’t have a spiritual or even a physical benefit. The joy found in more intimate weddings is tangibly greater than that of larger weddings in official halls.  Of course that depends on both families and the bride being in full agreement about having a simpler wedding.

 

Will COVID-19 bring that change?

It won’t be without controversy. There are many people that make their living off over the top weddings, and I do feel bad for them. But hearing from families going into debt for a party that lasts for a few hours just seems wasteful and influenced by peer pressure.

Like I say with credit cards, the system is subsidized by people falling into a trap of debt buying things they can’t afford and then paying interest. If you’re susceptible to that behavior, then don’t start in the first place.

The wedding industry seems to have similar problems. Many people are spending more than they can afford and going into debt for something they may not even want. Are weddings really worth that kind of pain, or again, is it just peer pressure and worrying about what the mechutanim will think?

Over 1,300 people signed the Simcha Initiative to have smaller and simpler weddings. The Jewish Press had a great interview with Rav Reisman about his goals with that initiative.

But will it work? Can we end the madness of families going into massive debt to pay for a wedding? What steps can people take to make things simpler and smaller? Or is a return to expensive and massive weddings inevitable?

Would you consider having a simpler and smaller wedding in the future?

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Will you try to limit wedding size and wedding related expenditures going forward?

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Another point about backyard weddings is the fact the wedding can be scheduled when it’s best for the Kalla and family, not when it works with the halls bookings…

My wedding cost a fortune. My divorce cost more.

I dont know if this was mentioned, but there is always an option of having a dinner for immediate family and later, buffet style food, along with dancing, instead of a sit down dinner. this will cut out a huge bill! my brother did that for his son’s bar mitzva. “Lchaim/vort” style.

I think it’s disgusting to see tzedaka campaigns collecting for $100k+ weddings for a kallah who had a ‘challenging childhood’. Always makes me wonder what will happen after midnight when the wedding is over

I would think one major problem that has to be addressed when trying to encourage smaller weddings, is that in Frum circles doing anything that has a remote chance of ruining a future shidduch is a non-starter.

Becoming known as a cheapskate or someone who has no taste with regard to marrying off their children is scary for many people.

Dan,

Appreciate the wedding expense debate. I think the most significant issue that needs to be discussed is the non-deductibility of PPP expenses. Most people think these funds are not taxable as the CARES act claret states. The IRS simply went around congress and simply disallowed the expense deduction effectively making the funds fully taxable. This is a tax in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Many local businesses took out significant loans assuming that they will be forgiven and tax free. They will be taxed as now the expenses are disallowed. Congress introduced S 3612 the Small business expense protection act to reverse the IRS and allow the deductions but so far has been unable to come to a vote in the Senate as it needs more support. If the expenses are not deductible you will see a business massacre come tax time. Business are barely hanging on-they won’t have the cash to pay a massive surprise tax bill on forgiven debt they thought was tax free.Everyone needs to do whatever they can to try to push this bill through. This need to be highest priority. If this bill dosnt go through you will see tremendous pain and suffering for businesses across America including neighbors in your own community.

well my wedding didnt even cost a penny

Was it a kosher wedding? A bottle of wine, the ketubah, etc costs something

sheva pruta for the kiddushin to be chal, thats like 3 pennies.

Yes

There is an awesome rabbi who runs a Breslov Yeshiva in Williamsburg, Rabbi Yoel Roth, who for years has been advocating for simpler “b’dampte” weddings. Most people thought he was dreaming. I wonder if he will have the last laugh. Anyway, many big schools rely on the extra cash that their halls bring in. I can’t imagine that they will want this to further impact their deficits. However in the long haul it will be very well worth it, because families will now have more money to pay tuition.

i thought of that too. there’s so much business in all these events, that there’s less incentive for people to really fight it. it’s clearly crazy, but think of how many caterers, food suppliers, photographers, musicians, dj’s, florists, clothing retailers, make up artists, hair stylists, jewelers, printers etc etc would be out of serious money. many of the rabbonim’s yeshivas are supported by these halls for income. even though the hamon am would benefit, there’s so many people earning so much money off these massive events, that i could see a real lack of support to get an initiative like this off the ground…. they have too much at stake to keep this ridiculous system in place by cutting down all the expenses. people literally don’t realize that all you need is 2 aidim and a mesader kedushin to get married. it’s really mind boggling that it ever became like this! for what? do you know there are thousands of non jewish weddings where people walk into city hall, pay $15 , take their vows, and walk out happily ever after? i understand that’s not quite how it’s done in our circles, but it was once not like that 150 years ago. the town got together, 4 people held up a talis, they had a chuppa, the couple got some chickens and feather pillows, and people danced. why does it have to be so much more complicated than that? there’s really more important things in life. our focus is so misplaced :(.

my wedding didnt cost a dime!
bc im not married yet

another victim of the shidduch crisis

Here is my suggestion to make this a reality. I think there is already a critical mass of people who are into this that can make this work. Instead of just having tons of ppl sign on to the initiative, someone should find a small group of people in different communities that are expecting to make weddings within the year. Have them all commit to making a scaled down wedding. Once enough people do it post-corona, it will be an acceptable type of wedding. It doesn’t have to be the norm that everyone does it this way – that may never happen – but it will at least become a reasonable, non-weird option. People who need to impress will continue to do so, even outside their means. But at least those who are more responsible and are currently just over-spending because there is now no other choice will have the option of making a normal scaled down wedding. We need some Nachshons to jump into the sea.

Everyone will sign and accept and do whatever you want until they make a wedding and realize that they are going to insult half their neighborhood and most of their friends and then it will all come crashing down.

I agree it will be uncomfortable at first, but it will take sacrifice to make change.

I heard another idea.
Need to get impassioned people to lecture about it at seminaries and smicha programs/yeshiva gedolahs.
I personally was embarrassed to be at my own fancy schmancy wedding. And my parents could BH afford it. At least my wife appreciated it.
I hope the young people convince their parents they dont want it and dont need it.

The saddest part to me is that even though people break the bank to go all out on their weddings, no one is even impressed, because they’ve already been to 2 other weddings that week which were as nice or nicer, and they don’t even notice or care how much you’ve put into the event…..

Anyway to get these comments printed out in a Shabbos friendly fashion?;)

What about the people flying business class even if they are middle class/low income earners. Redeeming miles is not considered free, its also worth money.

Luxurios travel is a new high standard that people want to be part of, even if they technically cant afford it.

For the record, business class is just a few hours as well, and can cost a nice amount of money (aka miles) per year.

ive got news for you there is a peer pressure to sit in business class, and there is an additional pressure of spending time searching and searching for award avialability and earning points becuaase you have peer pressure you want to sit in business

are you seriously trying to have a relevant conversation here? you’re comparing the need for business class seats – an issue that affects next to no one? expensive weddings is an issue that affects practically everyone.

the real problem is why does this even matter, unless you are looking at your neighbor?

Dan, can you bring up the issue of ppl not buying life insurance?

Isn’t whole life insurance expensive?

isn’t collecting money for the 10 orphans expensive?
What about term?

the real problem is the halls ripping everyone off….its like twenty buck for a little chicken

All my wedding gifts were from having a nice wedding in a williamsburg hall, so right there is $30k fornthe couple. In general when theres a happy looking cutsie fun chosson and kallah and good dancing and food people tend to give more gifts and money, now ofc this can be in a simpler setting

That can be the next topic of discussion…. The pressure for people to break their budget shelling out $100+ gifts dozens and dozens of times a year, for weddings they didn’t want to go to but were invited to by parents who didn’t want to invite them but thought they’d be insulted if they weren’t.
You can’t make this stuff up….

People give money generally because of their relationship with the parents not because of a cutesy looking fun looking chosson and kallah.

True but they seem to add a little more to those couples

I’m about to make a wedding for my daughter firstly in UK where I live most weddings cost about 15,000 we have a small shabbos kalla for friends and we’re making shabbos sheva brochos at home for immediate family Because this is what most people have my daughter will not feel deprived having such a wedding.I don’t know how Americans do it but everything is more expensive like summer camp etc now with lockdown what upsets me the most is potentially not having all my family and friends there as that what makes the simcha zoom is nice but sad especially if they live around the corner I also feel that every chosson and kalla deserve a decent wedding luckily what we in the UK see as decent is affordable. We are waiting for weddings to become legal and we will do what we can to make it extra special in these difficult circumstances as they deserve

The wedding should be paid not charged. Every couple were not born yesterday. Put your effort in those teens years and savings into a chosson and kallah free loan fund, to be drawn out for your own wedding., And allowed to borrow like amount..no more …to be paid back within five years. Put a cap on the years for the withdrawal as an incentive to get married or the deposit becomes a donation. Enough of learning to freeload or waste.

I got married end of March.
Right in the beginning of covid. We had 10 men and mother and sister. The men were neighbors in their backyards and some siblings. One neighbor sang from his fence and was beautiful!!! Wouldn’t want to marry any other way..

You’re full of it.

Wow.. ok.. want to see my photos?

Yeah!:)

Notice how he didn’t mention his mother-in-law. That’s why he enjoyed it so much.

Exactly!! They were stuck in israel

Everyone has their ideas of which items are considered essential and which they can do without. When it comes to weddings, there are lots of opinions to take into consideration.

I think its a great idea

I think however there is a percentage of those “Upper Class” who have completely missed the point. I have been seeing these beautiful backyard weddings done with the same fan fare and pizaz as if it were a regular wedding, with celebrity singers / entertainers, the most expensive and famous caterers and party planners, with the designer gowns, and hair and makeup done professionally by the top ones in the industry.

I personally am confused, how is this any different than if it were done Pre-Covid Era?

Here’s an idea, have weddings start earlier.
Let’s say 2:30pm start time, chuppah at 3:30pm. Invite everyone!!! but only people who really need to be there will find a way to come. Everyone else can come for a lavish buffet and dancing at 6 pm.

This will also solve the issue of wedding being soo late at night…

Ps… I have a 23 year old daughter looking for the right man…

or if they are not very close friends of the wedding party – they wont feel hurt and will understand that weddings are expensive – i cant tell you the number of times i’ve gone to a wedding where people are talking or on their cell phones during the ceremony – very rude and seems they only came because they are acquaintances and not close to the family – also the wedding will be a lot less expensive

for people that are not the immediate family invite them to sheva brachos

Dan great topic! I agree 100% percent with you.
It seems so silly to go into debt, or if wealthy to spends thousands, to suffer stress and sleepless nights over how you will be able to afford this affair for a fleeting 4-5 hour night. Does that make any sense! As a nation that prides itself in chochma, I find the whole ordeal of spending massive amounts of money for one night preposterous!

What do you think about though those in Israel and in America who go into debt or go collecting in order to buy an apt/house for the newlyweds? I understand real estate may be a better investment but should parents suffer stress, go collecting or go into debt for this?Maybe an ideal for another post?

I meant to just put it out like you did with this topic even though here too you cannot probably relate to extravagant weddings.

I wasn’t necessarily referring to luxurious fitted apts.
Rather topic would be:
Should parents collect or go into debt just to purchase/or put down sizable down payment for an apt or starter home for the newlyweds?

lol moish humble beginingstein “we didnt have it easy growing up, your mom and i had a simple wedding, you better eat every bite of that dad worked very hard to pay for it”

The real way to effect change is to change the wedding schedule. Dancing should be right after the chuppa and then pictures after dancing followed by the sit down dinner only for close family and friends. The shmorg should be open until second dance.

Kabbolas Punim
Chuppah
shmorg
Chassan Kallah enter
First dance
Dessert
Second dance
Pictures
Dinner for close family
Third dance

Great job dan!
You often hear people say how they enjoy the aufruf or shabbos sheva brachos more than the wedding bec of the smaller size and more intimate nature of the event.

Ain’t gonna happen. Wish it would, but it won’t. End of story. Sorry.

Hey, good luck to you. I just don’t think it’ll happen. The amount of ga’ava people have about these things is immeasurable. All the great rabbanim have pushed this many times before. Even were great gvirim to forego lavish weddings as a demonstration to everyone else that it’s “ok” to do this, they would be looked at as one-off exceptions.
The only thing I can see even having a chance is if all rabbanim get together and agree to ban anyone from shuls who does not comply. And what chance is there of any large, diverse group of rabbanim agreeing to do that? Any yokel can set himself up as a “rav” or “rosh yeshiva” these days, especially with the right funding behind him. And then someone who doesn’t want to comply just goes there.
Look at all the underground (and even sometimes not underground) minyanim and parties that have continued during the height of COVID. Enough people just don’t care. If we lived in real communities, or if we had some central body of authority, it could be easier. Smaller towns (or even larger towns where the rabbinic leadership is in sync, e.g., Baltimore) did better during COVID for this reason, but when it comes to weddings, you’re crossing between communities, so now 2 sets of people have to compromise their standards.

My kids are teenagers so I am a least a few years away from making weddings. I do have a handful of friends making weddings right now. Some of their kids are lengthening their engagements with plans to get married in January or February. Others are embracing the now and keeping their wedding dates. While most of the weddings I’ve been to have been around 300-400 people, I definitely appreciated the smaller weddings (under 200 people) for the reasons Dan points out above – the intimacy, the level of love for the couple, etc.
(I recently attended a cousin’s wedding in Israel that had this level of intimacy and was an amazing experience).

As someone who has been B”H married for 21+ years, and as wonderful as my wedding was (and as grateful I am to my parents and in-laws for putting it together and paying for it), it’s just a blip on the radar of all of the amazing experiences we’ve shared as a couple and family over the last 21 years.

When we got married both sets of parents said that the less they spend on the wedding the more they can give to us and help us financially so we went with very nice, elegant and simple. Neither us are from big families. This was 1989 and wedding were less ostentatious than they are today, but even so, we got the message and put our priorities in order. It gave a us a leg up we needed. We’ve told our kids the same thing, pg when the time comes, and I hope they make sensible decisions.

It would be so nice if this trend continues. I would also like to see the parents less pressured to spend so much. But I do have a concern, that If the weddings are made simpler, that it would be common place for then parents to pay for the down payments on the kids house (or house in Israel-which is common in Israel). That could actually be a more costly impact on parents. As with everything new, like a new law, there needs to be implementation guidance so unintended effects don’t happen…..

Please do not play this on Shabbos or Yomtov.