Now, let me be clear about something up front - I have no objection to parents helping their married children out. Just to be fair and offer full disclosure, Eeees and I received help in the purchase of our house and still receive help from my in-laws. However, I never expected it from them, nor asked (or, heaven forbid, demanded) it of them. It was done strictly out of their love for their daughter and me (yes, I always got along very well with my in-laws).
That being said, the fact is that in some segments of our community in Israel, grooms are being bought (literally!!) by the fathers of marriageable age girls. In order to get a top groom, the bride's family has to pay for the entire wedding, an apartment for the young couple and furnishings.
As the article notes:
An apartment in an ultra-Orthodox complex in Betar Ilit or Modi’in Ilit costs about USD 90,000. If you add the wedding expenditures and the purchase of furniture and electrical appliances, the expenses come to USD 110,000. If we assume that a family pays for only half a package, every ultra-Orthodox family has to part with some USD 200,000 within a few years just to marry off its daughters.
The problem is that the more impressive the groom, the higher the demands. Very high-quality grooms demand an apartment in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak that is as close as possible to the head of their yeshiva. In Jerusalem and Bnei Brak apartment prices are about USD 150,000- USD 250,000. Grooms who are outstanding students with a lot of chutzpah demand that the wife’s parents also pay a small stipend to allow them to live decently.
If a family has several girls to marry off within the span of a few years (as many Chareidi families do), the family could end up with expenses totaling from a half a million to over a million dollars in that very short time span - and then pay for support for the young couple afterwards.
Lest you think that it is only the very top grooms - the elite of the elite - who are making such demands, the article continues:
Before the wedding the terms of the match are negotiated. The ultra-Orthodox Bakehillah newspaper, which writes a lot on this issue, has published the price list for a groom. For a prodigy in a prestigious yeshiva such as Kol Torah or Hevron in Jerusalem, Or Yisrael in Petach Tikvah or Bet Matityahu in Bnei Brak, you have to pay for the whole package.
In yeshivas such as Grodna, Be’er Ya’akov, and Haknesset Hagedolah, which are a bit less prestigious than Hevron, they demand two thirds of an apartment for a prodigy and half an apartment for an average guy. In the average yeshivas they demand half an apartment.
So, in order to get an "average guy" in a yeshiva, you have to shell out somewhere in excess of $50,000 (on top of the actual wedding costs).
“In the Lithuanian yeshivas there’s a situation in which the more guys in the yeshiva get an apartment, the more prestigious the yeshiva becomes,” says Rabbi Silman. “The yeshiva heads encourage this to some extent, and in order to preserve the yeshiva’s reputation, they demand of their students that they make a match conditional on getting an apartment.”
Many times the grooms don’t want complete apartments because they know how their parents suffer, but the yeshiva heads push them to take the apartments with no apologies. After all, the whole package is evidence of the yeshiva’s prestige, and a guy who compromises harms the yeshiva’s good name.
In addition, a guy who compromises has to go to work in order to pay for the apartment, and then he can’t sit and study in yeshiva, which also harms the yeshiva’s good name.
Lest all the news sound bad, there are some voices calling for sanity. There are some voices in the Israeli chareidi world calling for an end to the madness (apologies to Chananya Weismann):
The grandson of Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, one of the most important rabbis in Bnei Brak, was recently quoted in the ultra-Orthodox prss as saying, “My grandfather is unequivocal in his opposition to the demand for the whole package.”
“My grandfather’s opinion is that all expenses, including the purchase of an apartment, must be divided equally between the groom’s side and the bride’s side. As for the apartment, my grandfather says that it’s better for the bride’s side to pay a bit more in order to show respect for the Torah, even a thousand dollars more.”
Personally, I find the whole situation bewildering (to use kind terms). The only reason that brides' fathers pay such exorbitant amounts is because they feel (or perhaps their daughters feel) that without such payments they won't get married, or they'll have to marry someone from the Dalit.
But what is it that fuels this madness? What is that makes a father of a bride pay such a high price for a groom who is considered less than "top notch?" I suppose that there are several mindsets at play here:
The grooms are not being taught the true meaning of marriage. The point of a marriage is not to see how much money you can get out of your future in-laws. The point of a marriage is not to score political "points." The point of a marriage is find a spouse who will make you happy, whom you are physically attracted to, whom you share the same hashkafos with, someone with whom you can raise a family that will transmit the Torah and it's teachings from one generation to the next.
The brides are being brainwashed into believing that only men who learn all day are worth marrying. Seriously, if that wasn't the case, why the demand for an enormous payout for a boy who doesn't even go to a "top yeshiva?" Why would a boy who is simply average at best (or possibly even below it?) command so much more than a working boy (who, presumably doesn't command such prices)? The only reason is simply because the girls are taught that the only type of boy to consider is a learning boy. They too are forgetting that they're not marrying the boy's rebbi or the yeshiva he learned in - they are marrying the boy himself - and, like their future husbands, are forgetting the things about their future spouses that should matter the most - and which yeshiva he learns in should not be a top priority.
The brides' fathers are being extorted by their daughters and their sons-in-law. These poor guys (who are still workers in this generation -- I'd hate to see what's going to happen in the next generation when the fathers-in-law are learners) are being given unreasonable demands by their future sons-in-laws and emotional pressure by their daughters to pay out huge sums of money that in many cases, they cannot afford. If all the fathers banded together and agreed, as a community not to give in to demands, the whole system would collapse.
In the end, everyone loses. The groom simply becomes a piece of meat to be auctioned off to the girl whose father presents the most attractive package. The bride and groom both lose what is important in a marriage. The brides' parents lose any money that they may have managed to save over the years (perhaps looking toward retirement). And, of course, while the groom's family may not lose out this time around, almost certainly they have several daughters who are of marriageable age - and then the shoe will be on the other foot. In short, everyone loses.
This situation simply has to stop, and it will.
It will begin to come to a stop when the first yeshiva bochur tells his Rosh Yeshiva that his future sholom bayis and the sholom bayis of his in-laws is more important than the reputation of the yeshiva.
It will begin to come to a stop when the first father sits his daughter down and explains to her that an extortionist is not a good person to marry, and with the first daughter who understands what her father is telling her.
It will begin to come to a stop when fourth and fifth daughters find they cannot marry because their parents have been financially tapped out.
It will begin to come to a stop when boys and girls begin to learn what is truly important as the basis for a marriage - that who the chosson or kallah is as a person is far more important than what yeshiva they learn in.
It will begin to come to a stop when fathers begin to get sick (and they will) of paying huge amounts of money just so their daughter can marry someone who is an average bochur.
It will begin to come to a stop when people begin to realize that people who work are not unmarriageable and that one can have a very fine, distinguished and successful son-in-law who will make their daughters happy even if he is only kovea itim.
At the latest, it will have to come to a stop when the current generation of bochurim have their own daughters of marriageable age, limited job skills and a limited income and simply cannot pay what the next generation of bochurim demand.
It will end, either on good terms - with reason and sensibility, or on bad terms - with bankruptcies and good girls who simply cannot get married. But it will end.