Dag highlights a piece in this week's Jewish Press (I guess it's pick on the JP week here) about an effort to stem the costs of marrying off children in the Satmar community. Here are some of the highlights:
On Monday, June 4 a large assembly took place, of Williamsburg Satmar yeshiva students, all of marriageable age. The focus of the meeting was the ongoing effort to stem the accelerating costs of marrying off children, particularly the cost of a shtreimel. Traditionally, the father of the kallah purchases two shtreimels for his future son-in-law. One, more expensive, is an elegant shtreimel meant to be worn under the chuppah, as well as for special occasions. The second, somewhat cheaper, is called a raigen shtreimel meant to be worn in inclement weather, thus preserving the other more costly shtreimel. The price of a first class, top-shelf shtreimel has exceeded $4,000.00.
The students at the meeting, future chassanim agreed to become part of Ateres Chassanim, and will not accept any shtreimel costing more than $1,200.
I think that this effort, while admirable, is flawed on several grounds:
Firstly, they addressed the wrong crowd. The assemblage was made up of young yeshiva students of marriageable age. They agreed to become part of a group that will not accept shtreimels costing over $1200. The crowd that they should have addressed was the fathers of girls of marriageable age. They are the ones spending the money, not the yeshiva students. If a prospective father-in-law wishes to dole out $4000 for his future son-in-law and presents him with an expensive shtreimel, what is the bochur going to do? Turn it down? Well, a few principled ones probably will... but the vast majority of them will accept it anyway, especially if his future father-in-law insists; and that would defeat the entire purpose. To make it more meaningful, they should have addressed the people who are doing the actual spending. They should have told them that they shouldn't spend so much on a shtreimel. Will some of them flout the decree and continue to spend more? Certainly... but it would still provide cover for those who don't want to (or can't) spend upwards of $4000 on a shtreimel.
Now, I'll admit that I don't know what the actual price of a shtreimel is. If it normally sells for less than $1200, then the next paragraph is not needed. If, however, it customarily sells for more, then this decree will still not work. Why? Simple economics.
Suppose the average cost of a shtreimel is $1500. That price, of course, is determined by market forces. It is reached by the combination of the fact that this represents the most that people are willing to spend for a shtreimel and the lowest amount of profit that the furrier is willing to accept. Unless the $1500 is an artificially high price, then a price cap imposed by the community is not going to work - market forces already dictate that $1500 is the lowest price that this commodity is going to be available at. If someone else could successfully sell them at $1400, then someone would certainly come along and do so to undercut the competition. The fact that no one has done so is because it is either impossible to make a decent profit at a lesser cost, or no one has come up with a more efficient way of making shtreimels which would reduce the cost of production, lowering the overall cost.
In any event, don't get me wrong. Despite the fact that I think the proposal is flawed, I sincerely hope that it is a success and that it proves me wrong. We should be doing everything in our power to facilitate people getting married and setting up Jewish homes... not setting up fur roadblocks.
Of course, I could go on about how a shtreimel really isn't necessary at all -- after all, not one single rav in the world will tell you that wearing a shtreimel is codified as halacha in the Shulchan Aruch or any other classic Jewish law text. Someone who is willing to buck the trend could easily save $1000, buy a nice hat, and be on halachic grounds that are just as secure. The $1000 could easily be put to better use helping the couple set up house, paying tuition at a yeshiva, or in some other manner. Normally, I wouldn't care -- after all, it's their money, they are free to spend it as they wish... but when it's clear that it's becoming a problem (as indicated by the need to have this gathering in the first place), then one has to start truly weighing the costs of whether money could be better spent on food and education than on fur.