Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

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.

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