Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

Extravagant Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs Humiliate the Jewish Community

How embarrassing.



Last Sunday the LA Times ran an article about extravagant Jewish Iranian weddings in California that exposes our community as a bunch of shallow, boastful, materialists who think the purpose of a marriage ceremony is to tell your friends how much money you have. Some of the details quote in the article, confirmed to me by people who actually attended, included a bride placed in a glass coffin to be opened by her half-masked ‘Phantom of the Opera’ bridegroom. The coffin did not open for an hour and the wedding was nearly ruined by a shaken and tearful bride gasping for breath. But the coffin, on that occasion, was a telling symbol of the utter death of Jewish values that such ridiculous extravagances betray.





The article further cites the regularity of film crews at these
weddings consisting of five or more cameramen with ‘a 25-foot crane over the
dance floor.’ In television this is called a jib, and to give you an idea of
how expensive they are I can tell you that through the first season of ‘Shalom
in the Home’s’ multi-million dollar budget, we couldn’t afford one.


Strangely enough, the article then quotes a Rabbi from Sinai Temple in
Los Angeles, with thousands of Iranian Jewish members, who ‘makes a point of
not judging — and even sees virtue in the enormous family gatherings.’



Give me a break. I there really a point to Rabbinic leadership if it
does not come with value judgments? Do we in the Jewish community not –
rightly, I might add – lecture our Muslim brothers and sisters that they must o
weed out violent extremists lest their religion be brought into utter
disrepute? And while murder in the name of G-d is much more serious than
shopping in the name of excessiveness, there can be no question that keeping up
with the Schwartz’s has become a cancer that threatens to kill off the
flickering Jewish soul. How ironic that a people who have for centuries
survived forced baptisms are now drowning in an ocean of profligacy.



American Jews often exhibit the worst tendencies of immigrant
communities, endeavoring their best to show how they not just landed but
arrived. Security is defined not in terms of spiritual virtue and nobility of
purpose but stocks and bonds and money in the bank. And what’s the point of
having it your friends are ignorant of your success? The whole reason you made
the money in the first place was to show off. So go ahead. Smoke ’em if you got
’em. And what better opportunity then at the public celebrations of a Bar of
Bat Mitzvah or wedding where, at no extra cost, you can utterly vulgarize the
spirituality of the occasion by transforming it into a showcase of material
consumption and excess.



I remember growing up in Miami Beach and the over-the-top, utterly
ridiculous Bar Mitzvahs that were de rigueur. One in the late ’70’s featured
Darth Vader and R2D2 greetings guests as they arrived at the reception. To be
sure, it was memorable seeing C3PO in a tails and Chewbacca’s beard
complimented with a Hassidic hat, but one wondered, apart from its celestial
setting, Star Wars had with the spirituality of the moment. On another occasion
I arrived to see a full ice sculpture of the Bar Mitzvah boy, which perfectly
suited the freezing cold religious aspect.



A wealthy Jewish businessman shared a story with me of how he instills
values in his children. His twelve-year-old son had come to him and said, “Dad,
I want a famous sports star at my Bar Mitzvah. Let’s get Eli Manning.” So the
father replied, “Son, you have to have manners.  You don’t tell
your father to get Eli Manning. You ask him politely.” Apparently it
never dawned on the dad that his son had aped his own shallow materialism and
had, already at 12, become an insecure braggart.



A remedy is needed. Rabbis should be thundering from the pulpit that
extravagant weddings are not only a betrayal of a sense of personal inadequacy,
but are an abrogation of Jewish values. You’re so rich? Then impress your
friends by giving the money to charity. Rather than focus on the twenty-piece
orchestra for your son’s bar mitzvah, take him to twenty classes where he can
learn about the Abraham and Sara, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, and the
glory of Solomon’s Temple Give him an inner identity, based on values and
character, rather than a shallow external identity based on money and objects.



So why aren’t the Rabbis giving sermons about gross materialism which
wraps itself, in the memorable phrase of Matt Taibbi, like a ‘vampire squid,’
around the Jewish conscience? Because they are about as likely to criticize
their own congregants as Romeo is to renounce Juliet. But what’s the point of
being the head of a congregation if you’re not also the leader of a community?



The story goes that in Israel, a few decades ago, the Gerer Rebbe,
head of one of the largest Hassidic sects and seeking to stop a destructive
game of material one-upmanship, enacted an edict that none of his followers can
have a wedding with more than 200 guests, still large by some measures. One of
his wealthiest followers and supporters approached him and said, “Rebbe, surely
this does not apply to me. I’m a very rich man,” to which the great Rabbi
responded, “Very well, then. If you’re so rich, go buy yourself a new Rabbi.”


Yes, some things in life can be put on a credit card. But rabbis who
preach values and can’t be bought? Priceless.

Comments read comments(18)
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Paul WIllson

posted August 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Kudos Rabbi for making this stand against such lavish weddings & Bar Mitzvah s. I would add weddings i9n my , Christian tradition. The amount of monet that gets spent on these events is staggering and could be put to better use elsewhere . For example in giving aid to the needy in our cities or overseas in forgien aid .
And then you have the we are better than you factor, better in that we could do this event more lavishly than you could afford. Shames the less affulent, that is bad thinking and I am sure offends the deity. Shalom

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Jewish Ideas Daily

posted August 25, 2010 at 4:01 am

Some very important points here, both on the materialism which is out of place at events which are supposed to be spiritual and on the need for real leadership. The Gerer Rebbe had it right!

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posted August 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

I agree with you that extravagant weddings and bar mitzvah parties are unseemly. But plenty of christians also have wildly extravagant weddings without it being commented on by the national news media. Jewish families should not be singled out for attention and judgement.
Also, christian children have extravagant christmas celebrations every december! Year after year from their infancy they are showered with lavish gifts. At least for the bar mitzvah boy, it’s only one day of his entire life.

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Karen Prager

posted August 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Once again, Shmuley Boteach’s point is well said and worth saying!

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hector ben amos

posted August 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm

1. WHO, at Jewish Ideas Daily, posted the above comment? Elliott Jager? Yehuda Mirsky? Why the mystery?
2. Of course the right-wing Jewish Ideas Daily would cite the Gerer (“Calvary HIll”) Rebbe – he’s a wus-wus (Eastern European Ashkenazi)- while ignoring that sumptuary laws were also enacted by a 19th century Moroccan Sephardic rabbi.

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Ann Schlabach

posted August 25, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Rebbe: Why should anyone be so extravagant? It seems to me that leaders, whether parents, civic, and especially political, should lead in ways that are humble. Our religious leaders should guide all of us in ways that are not selfish, self centered and uncaring. Certainly we should celebrate joyous events, but could we not celebrate by giving to the needy as well? Ann

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posted August 25, 2010 at 5:24 pm

All one has to do is tune in to the WE channel and see examples of overt consumerism being promulgated by the bridal industries for monied families. And then it dribbles down to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah extravaganzas years later. You are so spot on, Rabbi. As life passages and spiritual landmarks these events have lost any real meaning other than as occasions where wealth is flaunted and the Joneses play the oneupsmanship game.

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J. C. Moore USN Ret

posted August 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

Ostentatious weddings, bar mitzvahs and other occassions are not promoting a love of G## but of self. How many weddings have you and I attended that have dissolved a year or scant few later? This is pure self-promotion.

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Greg F.

posted August 27, 2010 at 11:38 am

When will ALL Rabbi’s of the wealthier congregations have the courage to point out that such overt excess is not only embarrassing to us as Jews, but perpetuates the myth (or maybe the reality) to non-Jews and the Jewish hating crowd that the negative stereotypes are all true.
But alas, this trend has been accelerating for at least 30+ years. Just another PR opportunity our religion has blown.

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Your Name

posted August 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

Years ago, on a comedy record, there was a shtick on unique and extravagant bar mitzvahs. The punch line was that the ‘bar mitzvah safari’ was being delayed by three other same parties ahead of them…
Extravagance on view has its reverse side. Cheapness. If the rich don’t spend lavishly, they are criticized for being tight-fisted instead.
You can’t win this game except by ignoring it. We are either rich or socialist, or both.

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Sadiq Alam

posted August 28, 2010 at 11:35 am

I whole heartedly agree with Rabbi. I come from a Islamic background and I can testify that such wastefulness and showiness goes against Abrahamic value, which as Muslim we also inherited.
Rabbi focused it right, if someone has so much – why not be thankful and give in charity for those who have so little, not far from them, but in their very neighborhood and perhaps across the street.
May G-d open our heart and mind to be mindful to our purpose and the eternal values that makes us being of conscience.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 1:02 am

The bridal industry has been out of control in America for a long time. I read somewhere that the average wedding, adjusted for inflation, is four times as expensive as it was in 1940–and the marriages don’t last as long. On the one hand, it’s sad that the Jewish community, which should know better, is as wrapped up in this as the rest of our society. On the other hand, I don’t see why the L.A. Times chose to single out the Iranian Jewish community in L.A. to talk about this issue.
My grandparents got married in the late 1940s. My grandmother wore a simple, white dress she bought at a local store–it wasn’t even technically a bridal gown, just a white dress. My grandfather wore a suit he already owned. The only guests were his parents and hers and a couple of close friends who served as bridesmaid and usher. The only refreshments were punch and cake, the latter baked by one of their mothers. There are a few photographs of the occasion, I believe taken by the usher.
Their marriage lasted 54 years, until my grandfather’s death.

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posted August 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Talk about embarrassing, there’s this from the Jerusalem Post.

A singer who performed in front of a “mixed audience” of men and women was lashed 39 times to make him “repent,” after a ruling by a self-described rabbinic court on Wednesday.

How Iranian. How like Sharia.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 11:06 am

You are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. As a human having all human traits and frailties you can be faulted on any piece of behavior. Even God can be faulted by His behavior – millions have been killed in all sacred literature. A decent maxim to keep to and perform is the one written by the prophet Micah : ” And what does thy God ask of thee – love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly in the path of thy Lord God all the days of thy life.” Enjoyment and frivolity is fine as long as you adhere to a set of moral and ethical dictates. Anything can be overdone , from food , drink and sex, to acquisition of money, property, and power. The Talmud teaches us we are born with a clenched fist, and die with an outstretched palm. We come into this world with nothing, and we leave it all behind.

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posted August 31, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Thousands of dollars spent for a wedding by no means guarantees the success of that marriage. As for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, which I think celebrates the boy/girl are now considered adults in the eyes of the community, proves that they still are children. Yes, adults celebrate, but if this is supposed to be a spiritual/religious celebration of adulthood, it seems to me that that has all been lost by the examples given. What a shame.

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Berel Nissan

posted September 1, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I believe that Rabbis can preach about moderation, but can not regulate other than religious proscriptions in the Temple. Our first Bar Mitzvah in 1966 was at out temple on Long Island [conservative, before woman’s lib]. We sponsored the Kiddush luncheon after the service. The congregation was invited as were family and close friends. There were no flash pictures [Sabbath!], no band, no “tummler”, no special “Yichus” for us or the Bar Mitzvah boy. Two months later my sister and her husband hired a catering hall, with a band, a tummler, special stuff for the bar mitvah boy, amplifiers that I wanted to shoot down. flash photography. I don’t remember if it was on Shabbath, but most of it didn’t relate to a synagogue. They couldn’t afford it at the time, and my Father wrote them a large check to help out. He had asked me if we needed help, and I thanked him, and said “no”. A large check came in the mail, with a note:”Do something meaningful with your family”. That December we all took a Zionist trip to Israel, and saw Israel in a period with few other tourists. It was wonderful and it had a good effect on all of us. After the Six Day War, I put a Division of the firm I worked into Israel, making export packaging. Run by two Palmach alumni, and grown to 200 employees, getting citrus into Europe more economicaly than either the US or Arab citrus producers. That was my major gift to our children–that they helped Israel. Dayenu!

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