Early this year, my family celebrated the wedding of my nephew Simcha in Baltimore, Maryland. The wedding was lovely. The chatan and kallah radiated a sense of infectious joy. And since I live in Israel, it was wonderful to see members of my family who live in America, albeit briefly.
I greatly appreciated another aspect of the simchah as well.
The wedding was held on a Thursday night in the new hall of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, an OU-member shul. The smorgasbord consisted of a few salads, a platter or two of chopped liver and a tray of potato kugel. The band was comprised of four musicians; the event began at 6:30 pm and ended by 11:00 pm.
The “bar” consisted of two bottles of wine: one for the chuppah and one for Sheva Berachot. No ice sculptures melted as guests sipped their coffees. The wedding was not held in a fancy hotel miles and miles away, and it was not on a Sunday night. There was no eight-piece band. The smorgasbord did not include a meat-carving station, or numerous pastries or unlimited salads.
To my mind, it was a perfect wedding.
Why did my sister make such a “simple” wedding? Undoubtedly, the motivation was financial. But was anything lacking because she “left out” so many features common to Orthodox weddings? If so, I didn’t notice. The dancing was lebedik, and the band wasn’t overly loud. I left the hall sated, but also pleased that I hadn’t eaten the equivalent of two whole dinners.
Is a shmorg remotely necessary, especially with the ever-expanding Orthodox waistline?
So if a “cheap” wedding has all the elements necessary for a wonderful simchah, why do many of us do so much more? Do we really need six-or seven-piece bands? Is a shmorg remotely necessary, especially with the ever-expanding Orthodox waistline? Must we really pay for the members of our community to liquor up? Does that really add to the simchah?
The culprit is, of course, peer pressure. We make extravagant weddings because it is accepted, because it is what’s done. Somehow, our community has adopted certain conventions that are financially unrealistic for most, and people often spend way beyond what they can afford to fulfill unreasonable, unnecessary and ever-increasing expectations. We don’t need the Slurpee machine for dessert at the Bar Mitzvah and yet we feel compelled to order it nonetheless.
I left my nephew’s wedding hoping that it would serve as a model for the rest of the community. Perhaps the notion of making simple semachot will catch on, and people will stop asking what everyone else is doing, and start asking, “What can we afford?” and “Is this really something that we need to spend money on?” And especially, “Will this added expense truly add to my simchah?”
Almost always, the answer to the last two questions is no.
True joy at momentous occasions has little to do with the size of the band or the selection of alcoholic beverages; it has to do with having a profound sense of gratitude to God for the blessings in our lives, and sharing our thankfulness with dear friends and beloved family members.
If we remember that, then our semachot will be far less extravagant and far more affordable.
Rabbi Reuven Spolter currently teaches Jewish studies at the Orot College of Education, a teachers’ college in Elkana, Israel. Rabbi Spolter served as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oak Park in Oak Park, Michigan from 2001 to 2008, and was rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in West Harford, Connecticut from 1998 to 2001.