Rabbinic Outcry Against Lavish Weddings in the 17th Century

You think this is a new problem? Think again.

R. Moshe Cheifetz (Venice, late 17th, early 18th century) very often picks up on the juxtaposition of pesukim and phrases that seem to have little to do with each other. Here, in his Meleches Machacheves on Chumash, he addresses the Torah’s instruction in Ki Seitzei (24:5) to a new groom to gladden the heart of his bride for a full year. Immediately after, the Torah forbids taking a pledge of a millstone to guarantee a loan. In doing so, the Torah cautions, he would be “taking a life as a pledge.” What follows is a very loose translation:

The intent of Scripture is to warn fools among us – like those with us today – who squander all their money on their weddings…Afterwards, they are in need of public assistance to feed and clothe their families. The Torah uses the common language to tell us not to follow in the way of these fools. While it is indeed good to gladden the heart of the wife one has taken, he should still not give as a pledge his “millstones,” i.e. the wherewithal given to him to be able to earn a livelihood. To the contrary. By squandering his savings on the wedding, he is “taking a life.”

We should note, however, an important difference. When people spent beyond their means in Venice four centuries ago, they were spending money that the groom already possessed, and could use as the seed money for some venture or to secure his families needs. Today, it is the parents of the bride and groom who spend beyond their means – and they don’t spend their own money, but what they have scraped together on credit, often with no idea as to how they will pay back the loan.

I guess this is what we call progress

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4 Responses

  1. Josh says:

    um, you state that “Immediately after, the Torah forbids taking a pledge of a millstone to guarantee a loan”. From the verses he uses it does not sound like he is just referring to people who are using all of their own money, rather that they are borrowing money as well. Furthermore, how in the world do you know how they got their money to make their weddings? Maybe they borrowed part or all of the money and then were saddled with debt that they could not pay back

  2. Reb Yid says:

    In my research, I’ve noticed a similar trend in American Jewish history regarding lavish Bar (and later Bat) Mitzvahs beginning in the latter part of the 19th century (around the time when Christmas became more heavily commercialized) .  Every 50-60 years we see a spate of activities from rabbis who are denouncing this, demanding less “Bar” and more “Mitzvah”.

  3. lacosta says:

    maybe the difference is in those days most people were poor  , and there was no such thing as thousands sitting de rigeur in Kollel for 5-10 years starting the day after sheva brochos on the shver’s cheshbon.     in those days,  at least a girl could get a shidduch without a promise of tens of thousands of Kroner , Mark,  oder Florins  from her father in order to procure a date.              since the gemara says ‘tav lemeitav tan du’ ,  and there will be 10% of girls  who will never get married just based on the birth rates,   what other choice do the  parents of a daughter have ?     we don’t have an option of a nunnery….

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