The New Wedding Simplicity

I recently attended an Orthodox wedding where the reception consisted of a buffet of baked ziti and eggplant parmigiana, along with some salads and bakery cakes. The entire wedding was kept simple- no floral arrangements, no alcohol, no elaborate decorations.The wedding was simpler than the average bris. And even simpler than the Israeli weddings of 20 years ago. It was a joyous celebration. The groom was connected to Uri L’Tzedek so I assumed that this wedding was only an exception. But as I waited outside for my ride, I asked the singles:What was their reaction to the wedding. I received a unanimous answer that they wanted their wedding to be the same way: Simple, Modest, Inexpensive and Thoughtful. They said that this way the love and the simcha shine though. We may be watching the start of a new trend. This wedding may serve as the exemplar. Wedding trends travel quickly and this one will be supported both by idealism and by the financial downturn. This wedding was based on high ideals, and the guests were all idealists but some might embrace the simplicity out of need.
The follow place card was set up on each table- I removed names.

Our Ethical Food Decisions for this Wedding

1. Why did we choose to have a modest buffet meal?

We wanted to embrace the core Jewish value of Histapkut ba’muat (being content with less) and Ben Zoma’s teaching that a wealthy individual is one who is content with one’s lot (Pirkei Avot 4:1). Rav Bachya Ibn Pakuda, an 11th century Spanish philosopher, shared this view and taught that a lifestyle of materialism and overindulgence leads one away from G-d. In fact, throughout various time periods, the Jewish community embraced sumptuary laws (laws limiting personal expenses on religious grounds) as a way of showing “deference to the poor” (Moed Kattan 27). Every simcha (religious celebration) affects the communal standard, and we would like to strive for the virtues of modesty and moderation. We are striving to have a creative and holy celebration that fosters inclusiveness and community building. A wedding, birth, bar/bat mitzvah, funeral, and the like are all great spiritual and ethical opportunities and are a time for families to engage in cheshbon ha’kis (financial introspection). We worry about the effect of consumerism on our celebrations. We struggled with whether or not to use dishes (more environmentally friendly) or disposables (lower in cost), and decided upon the latter.

2. Why did we choose to make the meal dairy?

[The birde] has been a vegetarian for about 14 years and [the groom ] has been for about eight years. One of [groom’s ] rabbis in Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, once wrote that “the dietary laws are intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently to vegetarianism.” We believe that in an age where it has become apparent that the new age of mass production done in factory farms immensely violates tza’ar ba’alei chaim (the Torah prohibition against inflicting pain upon animals), we must reconsider our consumer habits. In addition to the cruelty of how these animals are caged, fed, and slaughtered, many studies have shown the detrimental effect that meat consumption has upon human health. In a recession where our charity is needed more than ever, and as meat prices increase, the purchase of meat seems even more problematic. However, this is not an ascetic ideal. Alternative meat options are now more accessible, affordable, and similar in taste to meat than ever. In an age where vegetarianism must be viewed as a Jewish ethical ideal, we hope that more will consider this path in the pursuit of striving for truth, justice, peace, and holiness.
After the wedding, we intend to embrace a fully vegan diet as we have learned that many parts of the dairy industry have serious moral and health concerns as well.

3. Why did we choose food certified by the Tav HaYosher?

Launched by Uri L’Tzedek, the Tav HaYosher is a local, grassroots initiative to bring workers, restaurant owners and community members together to create just workplaces in kosher restaurants. Rav Yosef Breuer, one of the leading figures of 20th century Orthodoxy, famously stated that “Kosher” is intimately related to “Yoshor.” “G-d’s Torah not only demands the observance of kashrut and the sanctification of our physical enjoyment; it also insists on the sanctification of our social relationships. This requires the strict application of the tenets of justice and righteousness, which avoid even the slightest trace of dishonesty in our business dealings and personal life.” Recent studies have revealed widespread abuse and exploitation of workers in the New York food industry. Thousands of workers are paid below minimum wage. Even more are denied their legal rights to overtime pay and time off. Workers are often subjected to unsafe and abusive working conditions. Given recent events in the kashrut industry, we believe it is imperative that we implement a system that will prevent abuse and exploitation and that we must ensure these abuses are not taking place in kosher restaurants. The Tav HaYosher is an opportunity to harness some of the power and influence we have as an observant community to strengthen tzedek in our world and create a true kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name).

15 responses to “The New Wedding Simplicity

  1. I guess they had to ruin it with the card.

  2. “Why did we choose to have a modest buffet meal?”

    This wedding, at least with regards to the place cards, doesn’t exactly scream modesty to me.

    I also wouldn’t count on this type of wedding becoming a trend. Generally outward displays of wealth become more prevalent as the economy gets worse, not the other way around.

  3. Since the ULT people have facebook and twitter to meet, they do not need large social events like weddings. I think this is part of Tyler Cowen’s idea about the internet contributing to, rather than obviating, the great stagnation. See for instance

  4. This post seems to fit with the trend against Modern Orthodox upper class values ,This fits with the concept of cooperativeschools,smaller less frill Schuls etc..

  5. Jordan Hirsch

    This kind of wedding will have other unintended negative economic costs. It also makes assumptions about which values and choices re the ones that represent modesty.

    • No its just about signalling. There is no unintended anything. Its an intentional signal! Duh. The deflationary point is that, with increased signalling opportunities from the internet that are less correlated with spending money there will be a permanent decline in expensive signalling. For instance, in the example Tyler Cowen gives, if you read Tyler’s blog about ethnic restaurants and seek out the best $3 Sichuan food in N. Virginia, you can signal high status consumer behavior of seeking out exotic foods without breaking the bank on dinner at Masa. Similarly the hatan and kallah here signal their various high status ethical concerns which are not shared by their poor friends who they graciously protect. All while saving a few bucks on the chicken with mushroom sauce and potato chip thing we have all seen a million times anyway. Its a real win win for everyone who is not a caterer. Although one could say that lowering the threshold to status displays could lead to greater overall expenditure on status displays, contra Cowen.

  6. Jordan Hirsch

    There are a number of ways in which one can call into question how the choices were made. First of all, the bride and groom themselves acknowledge the choice between paper and real dishes, and the consequences of each choice. They chose to save money. In other words, a Rabbi who founded an organization which puts a responsibility to do business at a higher cost on the business, by fulfilling ethical and halachic concerns regarding the treatment of workers, a stance with which I agree, was willing to make am actively bad choice for the rest of society in order to save a little gelt. In other words, yenems money is his to monitor, but his own money is not so easy to part with.
    Another question. As a musician, I actively engage in making sure that when I present a product to a client, I try to hit the sweet spot between too much and not enough. I charge a price that takes into account the fact that we try to pay a living wage to our workers, plus honor a union contract that provides health care and pension payments for our workers. Did this young couple consider the consequences of doing a job on the cheap? Why is it that wedding workers don’t have to be part of an ethically run business? Did the vendors they dealt with offer discounts for cash?
    I am sure everyone is congratulating themselves on outwitting those nasty wedding vendors. I am not. I will be more impressed when the Tav HaYosher seal can be found on bands and caterers who play fair. I know I do.

    • Tav HaYosher on wedding bands? Remember that the expansion of hashgachos on previously uncertified products such as water and drain cleaner came at the request of the producers who sought a competitive advantage. The OU would never have thought of it on its own.

    • At my wedding, my parents made a point of paying union scale to the band, which was, in the event, Dad’s hk”m first cousin Sid Beckerman a”h and a couple of session guys (possibly yblcht”a Pete Sokolow and someone else). But then, Dad and his family were mostly musicians.

      (P.S. it was at the memorial service for Sid that we found out that we were leviim.

  7. Jordan Hirsch

    True enough. But my point is really that across the Jewish world, there are a number of different businesses in a number of different fields, and those who claim to speak for a more righteous position in how business is conducted need to realize that there are a variety of ways in which an ethical position is pursued that extend far beyond the production of food. By all m,eans, the OU shouldn’t certify non kashrus items, but an organization such as Uri L’Tzedek needs to understand that Jewish Business ethics play out in a number of spheres, and living up to our highest ideals may cost money as well.

  8. And my point is that Jewish businesses that engage in ethical behavior should be inviting in Uri L’Tzedek to raise the standard.

  9. I am a supporter of Uri L’Tzedek. At this point I don’t see how they could possibly get their message across without some moralizing.

    The wedding business has obscene profit margins…maybe not all vendors, but many. Of course there are endless ways of getting it done, but the fact that most everyone has to economize is an indication of the problem. Donald Trump has this witty line that goes “Ivanka had unlimited funds and she still went over budget.”

  10. What Lola Wants

    I agree with Jordan here. Not only with regard to paying wedding bands and other vendors a living wage but but good ethics in all businesses should be included. I like the idea of an Uri L’Tzedek hechsher for businesses. Is the attorney you are about to hire charging a living wage for himself and his staff or is he padding the client’s billable hours because his business is down? Is he charging you $2.00 for every copy from a black and white copy machine when in fact it cost him about 25 – 50 cents? Is the real estate broker in town making seniors sign a blank listing contract while saying, “trust me darling!” or actually suggesting and elderly or ill person have another family member present to explain what everything says? I would welcome my business being examined for an Uri L’Tzedek approval!

    • If ULT is against maximizing revenues and in favor of leaving money on the table they will not be long of this world. I could always be wrong.

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