Monday, January 15, 2007

Buying a son-in-law on the open market! Madness!!

I suppose that this isn't anything new, but when I saw this article on Ynet, I felt that I had to comment. It involves the old issue of brides' families paying top dollar for a top groom.

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.

For a groom who is half a prodigy you pay somewhere between the whole package and 80 percent of the apartment. For a good guy you have to pay between half of the package and two thirds of it, and for an average guy you have to pay for 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).

However, the blame here doesn't rest solely on the boys (who should bear a great deal of the blame) and on the girls (for being suckered into thinking that anyone who isn't learning in yeshiva full time is good for nothing). A fair amount of the blame lies with the yeshivos as well (bolding mine):

“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.

In other words, the idea of a shidduch isn't to make the man and the woman happy and to encourage them to build a bayis ne'eman b'Yisroel - it's to protect the reputation of the yeshiva! The reputation of the yeshiva is more important than the families of the bride or groom or the sholom bayis of the in-laws. It's simply outrageous!

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.”

To be perfectly honest, even that's not far enough, but at least it's a step in the right direction.

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.

The Wolf


Ezzie said...

These stories make me absolutely sick.

I should only note that among my charedi cousins, who seem to (based on the criteria above) fall into the "top" category, they haven't gotten these things to my knowledge - and my cousin [charedi Rosh Yeshiva who speaks all over] does pretty well, even with 10 kids.

I do recall that he had to 'chip in' towards an apartment, but I believe that was even for his sons; and I don't think it was anywhere near the amounts mentioned, though I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

When it ends, the crash is going to be spectacular. A plane crash hitting a train wreck going over cliff into an earthquake.

The Hedyot said...

Ahhh.... The Torah World. So inspiring. So holy! So moral! Baruch shehivdilanu min hato'im!

Let us stay the course, and keep following our gedolim as they advise us!

Yeah, it makes me sick too. By the way, I just put up a new post, which, while not addressing this issue directly, I think is definitely related.

mother in israel said...

I know someone who works for Mesilah, an org. within the haredi community to help families achieve financial stability. He said that there are about to be some serious bankruptcies and predicted that the rabbanim are going to start assur-ing going into debt within the next several years. He said it's amazing how easily a family can rack up NIS 100- 150K of credit between overdraft, credit cards, mortgages, and gemachim (no-interest free loan funds).

Most families have both sons and daughters, so it's kind of disingenuous to talk about the parents of boys being extortionist. They have their turn to pay in to the system when the daughters are born.

I've noticed a trend among my haredi neighbors--marrying American/European girls. I'm not privy to the financial arrangements but it is interesting.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday's daf (Ta'anit 7) has a sugya describing, with a few different metaphors, how Torah is a good thing for those who learn l'shma and bad for those who don't. There is a machloket between Rashi and Tosaphot about what she lo li'shma means in this context. Rashi says it means in order to earn respect; Tosaphot, citing the gemarra about it being good to learn even she lo lishma because one will come to learn lishma, says it refers to one who learns in order to scoff. I am not sure where either one would place learning in order to exact a higher price in the shidduch market.

and so it shall be... said...

The Parnassah Crisis!

Coming soon to a Chaereidi Community Near You.

BrooklynWolf said...

Mother In Israel,

You'll note that I didn't say the parents were the extortionists... I said that the *kids* were the ones who were extorting money. I even pointed out that while the chosson's parents don't lose out in this scenario, they almost certainly have multiple daughters to marry off and will soon be in the same position.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...


Already the Kollel fathers are marrying off their kids and finding it financially impossible. At least 1/3 of the charity collectors in my area are for marriage debts. It is very sad to see.

The problem will end when there is a de-emphasis on full-time kollel to avoid Israeli army service. So long as one is required to learn full-time to avoid the army, the apartment must be provided for the young couple to afford to live. so when will this happen? Unfortunatley I think it will take an economic catastrophe to make it happen. I don't think the Rosh Hayeshivot could stop this trend if they tried because it has become the way of life for so many.

mother in israel said...

Sorry for not reading more carefully.

Orthonomics said...

I am planning a post on this article too, but I seem to have no time to blog lately.

Anyways. . . it seems that nearly every letter I get from Israel looking for funds mentions what I will term as marriage debt: people with large families who are seeking funds because they are marrying a bunch of children close together and they have nothing (even when they work). And, some of those letters are now coming signed by the person collecting themselves, rather than signed by a known Rabbi who is collecting for them.

I don't respond to these solicitations, but have considered writing a letter to send back to the Rebbeim collecting that what is needed is not money to prop up an ailing system, but financial education from the start that will allow us to invest in Torah. As far as I am concerned we are failing to use our tzedakah funds to invest Torah, and are instead proping up a system that fails to ensure the future of Torah: ein kemach, ein Torah. And, by the looks of it, we are headed in a bad direction as a whole.

Pesky Settler said...

When neighbors of ours were in the process of marrying off their son, they were presented with a list of obligations the Rosh Yehsiva felt they had to pay and/or provide for.

In a panic, they went to their Rav (the Rav of our Yishuv) and asked if they were indeed under such a financial obligation. Happily, the Rav told them they were not and they didn't end up going into further debt.

The problem is, you know there are Rabbeim out there who will tell parents that they are indeed obligated to pay.

Anonymous said...

This following scene will be a played out in thousands of charedei homes in israel :

The father (who is in his mid 50's) is lying on his deathbed totally broken and destroyed from eking out a living and trying to marry off his 13 children.

He notifies his family and tells them that for his last request on earth he wants to see the heads of the 2 largest gemachs (free loan fund organizations). The 2 men (moshe and yankel) appear at his beadside. He informs both of them that for many years he borrowed from moshe's gemach to give to yankel's gemach and vice versa.

He continues and says after i die, keep doing more of the same. Every few months the gemachs should borrow from each other just as i have been doing for many years.

Nebach. What a life. What a miserable existence.

Anonymous said...

pesky settler - why on earth should your neighbors listen to either rav telling them how to spend their own money? the words "please mind your own business" would surely have come in handy.