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Opinion: No More Expensive Gifts l Avi Gutfreund

We live in a very materialistic society. Although we often espouse the virtues of minimalism, the unfortunate reality is that the attitude of Western culture has seeped into our everyday lives. This is true in many respects, but perhaps none more than the need to forever get more and more things that are not necessary.

It isn’t uncommon anymore to see women draped head to toe in fancy clothing, gold and diamonds. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that – you can spend your money how you see fit – but the mindset of always having more has had serious negative consequences, especially for those who do not have the financial means to keep up with the rest of society.

One of the things which families often struggle with is paying for weddings. Although marrying off a son or daughter is without question one of the greatest joys in life,  what used to be a simple affair, focused almost solely on the happy couple, has turned into a major undertaking with dozens of details that must be addressed. Even a cheaper wedding costs tens of thousands of dollars, a sum most find difficult to cover.

As hard as making a wedding could be, there are few if any changes that could realistically be made. Renting out a hall isn’t cheap, food isn’t cheap, and music is expensive too. But the engagement period comes with a lot of costs that I believe to be completely unnecessary.

It starts right from the moment of engagement. At the l’chaim, the chosson and kallah generally exchange gifts, with the boy getting a watch and the girl getting a bracelet or necklace.

If I may ask a simple question – why? A chosson and kallah that went through the system isn’t buying a gift for their fiancè with their own money; it’s their parents paying for it. So why is it necessary at all? Why have we created an expectation of a gift before anything even happened? Talk about an expense that shouldn’t exist.

Call me a radical, but I believe that we as a society should stop making unnecessary gifts and expenses a necessary part of life. If you have the money to do it, fine. There’s nothing wrong with it, just as there is nothing wrong with draping yourself in designer clothing. But just as wearing designer clothing shouldn’t be considered a part of life that everyone must do, so too giving expensive gifts at the very beginning of a relationship should not be forced upon everyone either.

Of course, the big question is who will be the first to stop doing it. That is the difficult part of progress. Nobody wants to go first.

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There are 21 Comments to "Opinion: No More Expensive Gifts l Avi Gutfreund"

  • me,myself&i says:

    Making a chasunah has always been a big expense. That’s why there’s been “hachnosas Kallah” for as long as anyone can remember. Even Back in Europe, there were girls who had difficulty getting married because their parents didn’t have a respectable “naddan” to give the chosson. Exchanging gifts between a chosson and kallah is also nothing new. Even in the Torah we see that Eliezer brought gifts for the girl he would find for Yitzchok Avinu. Of course, those expenses have been going over the top in some circles, but the concept itself is more understandable to me. I think the expenses you present as a given, the expenses of the chasunah itself, are what have to be changed. The chasunah itself, which lasts only a few hours, has become a huge unnecessary expense for the average joe. B”H in recent years, lower priced halls have become more available. Hopefully the expenses for the short lived chasunah itself can be curbed even more.

  • Anon says:

    I agree with you in theory, and kind of did what you are suggesting. I would like to point out that fancy engagement gifts have been a custom for a very long time. Read some stories from a few hundred years ago and you will see. What we are lacking as a society in general is the self respect needed to live within our means.
    Takanas as you are suggesting don’t solve problems, they just shift the same problem to another area of life.

  • Anonymous says:

    Mr. Avi what do you expect a response to BE After your articles do you expect the world to change. Will you just enjoy writing what you believe. Not a personal thing. I’m just wondering.

  • Can you get numbers? says:

    I agree with you 100%.

    Most people that made a Chasuna probably aren’t aware what’s currently accepted:
    Bracelet 1500-2000
    Machzorim-500
    Rings-????
    Yichud room present-???
    In some circles the kallah gets a watch also.
    The chossons watch, cuff links, sometimes menorah or esrog box…
    Ask anybody whose married a few years, and 90% will tell you, what was SO IMPORTANT when they were engaged isn’t important anymore.

  • Ep says:

    I agree to cut corners on unecessary and elaborate wedding expenses but I don’t agree on cutting out the jewelry etc.. This is an old minhag from the earliest of times.. You are supposed to give jewelry to the kallah.. Every family according to what they can afford. (P.S. There are some girls that may never receive another piece of jewelry after they marry and the basic diamond ring and bracelet is a well- deserved eternal sentiment of committing to their marriage)

  • my take says:

    I agree that the chasuna has to be downscaled. only close ppl should be invited for the meal and everyone else for dancing. The gowns should be cut down or eliminated altogether. I still think the expenses on the kallah are necessary but within reason.
    The basic gifts ARE necessary – vort gift, engagment ring. Even the rabbonim say this so the kallah can feel good and want to go ahead even if she gets cold feet. Even if she knows it’s the parents and not the chosson, it still helps to foster good will.

  • concerned parent says:

    what are you smoking? A kallah should not be given jewlery? She should be told she is like a queen and must start out life poor? Minhagim are to be ignored? perhaps yo should re direct your austerity advice to chaburah matzos and chazon ish shiur hadassim which are also way too expensive. vacations in the country are also too expensive. so is seminary.

  • Lkwd mom says:

    To concerned parent: 1) ” what are you smoking” is rude, bc his thoughts Don’t line up with yours?. 2) machzorim, chosen watches and cuf links, elaborate candle sticks/lechter ARE NOT A MUST for a couple to start out with. And what I just listed are worth hundreds of dollars. Maybe it’s a start!

  • concerned parent says:

    Rav Chatzkel Levinstein ZTL was given a gold chosson watch. Not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps instead of bashing parents who try to have a respectable chassuna we should bash the halls and caterers that charge soo much? by the way lakewood mom, you did not adress the chabura matzo prices nor the arba mininm sellers whose esrogim start at 150 and go past 400 dollars a piece. How about a shadchan that charges $2000 for 10 hours work???

    • Chayim says:

      In order to bash halls and caterers for charging too much, yu would first have to define the too in that much. Do you have any clue how much it actually costs to run a hall or cater an event? Or do you just feel the fact that the price is high means they are charging too much?
      Perhaps you believe that people should do hard work and slave away for you or your needs and not be compensated?
      Or perhaps you agree that they can be paid for their efforts but only , say, as much as a rebbi, or an accounted, or, maybe… not more than you!?
      I think that there is a general misconception that people equate large profit margins with overpriced items, to that end, Bloomberg magazine had a report where they stated that only $72 of every iPhone is profit. The rest of the 700 – 1000 dollars is all expenses. people dont realize that IPhone is profitable because of sales volume, not markup.
      This concept holds true with many businesses that people complain about. There are a lot of complaints about JEWISH WOMENS CLOTHING stores being overpriced, with people saying they can find the “same thing” at target or walmart for cheaper. First of all, no you cant, many jewish designers pay for higher quality material that unbeknownst to you makes a difference that you feel but cant discern. Second, is that department stores are able to charge cheaper because of their volume, and that is why they put regular small vendors out of business on a consistent basis. That being the case, the jewish stores are doing quite a fine job. I could go on and on, but the scoop hasnt offered me an opinion column yet 🙂

  • logic says:

    First we should ask a girl do you want a long term learner? if yes, that’s a fake diamond. PERIOD.
    You can’t say you want a long term learner, where his parents should help out, AND you get your diamond ring, etc…

  • Just a thought says:

    why stop presents? Presents have been given since the times of Avrohom avinu. Presents are for the couple…. Maybe we should start cutting weddings, bands, amount of people getting invites, lavish meals,…. That should be a good start

  • LkwdGuy says:

    Many great points.

    I’m wondering if the writer is married, and if he is and did get these gifts then he has no say now. It’s the same as everyone who yells “stop the building” only after they buy a house. If he didn’t get gifts and is just bitter about it, then that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

    The actual gift is not a problem, the cost is.

    Some circles have eliminated the diamond ring and only give CZs. Not everyone is willing to do that, but the point is that there is an affordable way for all gifts. Jewelry, watches, esrog boxes, etc. can range from less than $100 to tens of thousands.

    I know someone who’s wife wanted something very expensive that her friend had which was above their means, and he thought that there was no way he can get it for her and didn’t know what to do.
    I told him to get her exactly the same thing but in a cheaper version and she ended up being fully satisfied with that.
    Yes, her friend’s was a little nicer but she understood that their budget was not on that level and she wasn’t really expecting that.
    Kallahs and all Women (and men occasionally) need gifts, it’s absolutely necessary!
    It’s not all or nothing. Most gift items come in different price ranges, not just wedding stuff.
    Some kids are happy with a few jellybeans. Some kids need a whole bag in order to be happy.
    The training and expectations start at home, when the kids are young. The standards we set are the standards our kids will expect. For the most part, when they get older gifts will be expected based on what was given to them as a child. The price is set based on the birthday gifts they receive when they are 5-10 yrs old. It could be a $5 or a $500 toy, it’s your call, they really don’t care unless you give them reason to.
    Most of all, if we give our kids the emotional needs they so desperately need, they won’t be jealous that their friend has the more expensive thing, because they won’t feel that they are lacking anything. Does anyone here have a need for a $50 million yacht? There’s a reason for that.

    • YachtBarNat says:

      A $50-mil yacht sounds pretty nice. Maybe it has a wedding hall on board I can use for weddings?

  • Malky says:

    Maybe you should be the first to try it. I am not a person of means at all, but the first place I would start is not with taking away gifts for the Chosson and kallah. Their New relationship must be solidified with some nice gifts. And it goes without saying that the parents pay for those gifts. Since the time of Avraham avinu, Gifts have been exchanged between the Chosson and kallah. Now, if you want to work on smaller houses, that would be a good idea to start with…

  • tr says:

    Sorry Gift giving to a Kallah goes back to Avrohom Avinus time.. It is a Minhag Yisroel.. Everyone should give gifts according to there financial ability. As far as a wedding expense there are various options today.. Takonas Chasana, Complete Chasanah packages to all different budgets
    May K’Lall ysroel to continue to make chasunas and build erlicha yiddish doros……..

  • Please keep your DS yourself says:

    Please keep produce yourself these presents were given for thousands and thousands of years and if you don’t if you can’t afford it you work it out if you really can’t afford it he could think it should be a public is gushiPlease keep produce yourself these presents were given for thousands and thousands of years and if you don’t if you can’t afford it you work it out if you really can’t afford it you could think you should be Public discussion.

  • I already was . . . Over a decade ago says:

    When I got married, I told my wife (whose family was struggling) that I wanted nothing. I got a great girl, Hashem was good to us and I now have all of those in important “gifts”. It’s not important but . . . . People aren’t going to change.

  • Laya says:

    When I married my in laws gave me a speech…”We are very happy for our son, but we are not here to pay your way”. I got a kiddushin ring. No diamonds at all. Paid for my own wedding…all of it. I then moved on to support the family while he learned well into our 2nd decade together. I never will be a homeowner nor drive a car less than 10 years old. And Im fine with that. Not every girl would be and that is also ok. It just should be understood that all the gifts are just that…gifts. They are not something that anyone is entitled to receive and mean nothing in the broad scheme of things when immersed in a Toradik life.

  • LkwdGuy says:

    @Laya, WOW! That is pretty impressive if you. I’m surprised they could even get something cheap like a CZ or even fake jewelry or something. If they were not even able to do that then I guess they did their best and you are a hero for accepting that.

  • Not living in a vinkel says:

    Avi, this is a tired argument and topic, may as well blame tzniyus as the cause of this as well…Please refer to the many sources in Shas regarding “Sivlonos”, i.e gifts which are traditionally part and parcel of the marriage process. They play a bigger role than you think,; regardless it’s tradition. Regarding wedding costs, the Rambam writes that the minhag was for the chosson’s friends to split up all the costs. Yes, believe it. Look it up. Interstingly, the Bucharian yidden still practice this! At their weddings there’s a big box and you are OBLIGATED to show up and put in a big check, the closer you are the larger. No check, nobody comes to your wedding, or worse…IMO write this article and change the topic to 30k for seminary…no minhag yisroel there