Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Green Eyed Monster

I am often surprised how, for lack of a better term, well, communist the Jewish community has become. 

Two neighbors, middle-aged and not exactly financially deprived, stood together muttering at the behemoth that an obscenely wealthy man was constructing. 

"It's a chillul Hashem," hissed the woman. 

The man nodded. 

Beg pardon? Is he breaking any laws? Not paying his workers? Condoned faulty zoning? Do you know what "chillul Hashem" means

My nieces' school have enacted a whole bunch of rules for bas mitzvahs this year. When I was a kid it was just (1) if inviting half the class, then the whole class must be included and (2) everyone buys for themselves a one-time gift so parents don't have to go crazy/bankrupt by every party. Now the choice of venue has to be cross-examined, with all sorts of sub-clauses to adhere to. 

There are people in our community that, b"H, make very good livings. Or inherited livings. The point being, they have money. It is not a heinous crime if their lifestyle can be maintained by their income. We are not believers in the loafers of Wall Street whining "We are the 99%!" We are Jews (a much, much, much, smaller percentage than that), who believe no matter what we or others do, whatever Hashem decreed the past Rosh HaShana, we will receive. 

The law is "Thou shall not covet," not "Thou shall not spend." 

Rabbis enact unenforceable laws to bring down the price of wedding revelry, but you know what? If someone goes into hock for their child's wedding, he should know better. B"H in our world weddings are a constant thing, and we don't give them a second thought. We go home after the soup if the hour gets late, because we got to work in the morning. Who asked you to spend beyond your means?

People. Don't. Care. 


While people are free to spend what income they have, that does not mean one should feel embarrassed if their own finances can't meet someone else's budget.

Luke constantly talks of the most fun wedding he had ever been to. The kallah's mother was not in any state to pay for a wedding, nor was the chosson's family. Two young professionals, they paid for their own festivities in a less-than-glamorous hall, devoid of lavish details. The focus was family and friends coming together to celebrate.

On the flip side, there was this other young couple, whose parents blew everything they had and then some on the wedding of the century. The newlyweds went to Israel afterwards, and lived like churchmice. Literally. Their only food was bread and butter.

Reuven Spolter wrote on this in the Jewish Action. His nephew's wedding was very simple, he says bluntly, because of finances. Did that make it any less merry? True joy has no pricetag. 

If someone makes a snazzy party, the message isn't, "New trend!" Do what one can afford to do, because in the end "Whatever you do, you do for yourself." The neighbors aren't noticing.


Fashion-isha said...

I like your point of view but unfortunately there are many people that feel the pressure to keep up with the Joneses. But in the end of the day it's not the Joneses' fault that those people feel that way, so good point!

FrumGeek said...

Where I live, everyone is always trying to outdo each other. I think it's silly, but it doesn't really bother me. So I get to go to some nice weddings or bar mitzvas or whatever. I'm not complaining. And actually, now that I think about it, the best weddings I've ever been to where the weddings of my friends, even though most of them were quite simple. A simcha is about who you're with, not what or where or how much you eat.

Anonymous said...

I get what you're saying, but I don't totally agree with you. If you have money, of course you are entitled to spend it however you want, but you know the quote "with great power comes great responsibility"--yes, Jews don't believe in communism, but neither do we believe in an Ayn Rand philosophical world view, either. Like it or not, what you do does have an effect on others--is it really worth having the house/wedding etc. of your dreams to make somebody feel bad/pressured. At the very least, it's not worth the ayin hara.
And you are right, it is not a chillul Hashem, per say, but there is a reason why years ago in Europe rabbonim issued takanos on women wearing jewelry, certain types of clothing etc (if you've never read the memoir Gluckel of Hamlin, it is a fascinating read). Ostentation in any form certainly doesn't make make other people feel more positively about frum Jews.

Maya Resnikoff said...

This is neither the first nor the last time that a Jewish community will feel that spending has gotten out of hand and then instate sumptuary laws in response. It was done several times in Eastern Europe, at the least. It is not nice to criticize others- but where you spend your money is a demonstration of your values, and perhaps a communal statement of our hopes for those values is not actually amiss.

Princess Lea said...

There are people out there who spend simply to cause envy. I do not deny that. But there are some people out there who spend because that was the lifestyle they were raised in and they think it's normal. They aren't being malicious; they just cannot comprehend that people out there live otherwise.

I think I noticed that when it came to my own outlook, I taught myself to not internalize someone else's possession. And I found that new outlook to be very freeing. Someone, somewhere, will have what someone else doesn't, no matter what takanos are enacted. And it comes down to personal perspective rather than communal responsibility.

FrumGeek said...

I think it says in Pirkei Avos: "Who is a rich man? He who is happy with his lot."

Anonymous said...

Not being able to comprehend that other people can't live the life you do...that is definitely NOT a Jewish value...we are SUPPOSED to look out for others, feel compassion, etc. We are not supposed to be like out of touch celebrities such as Natalie Portman who was quoted as saying how the bad economy is actually exciting because now that people have been laid off they have a chance to pursue hobbies and passions or like Gwyneth Paltrow who said "sorry, I can't relate to somebody who makes 27K a year" etc.

FG: it's hard to feel happy with your lot if you are the kid wearing obvious hand me down/outdated clothing, bringing ancient school supplies to school, embarrassed about not be able to pay for a school trip or pizza or whatever. It's not easy if you are the parent watching your child struggling, either. That's a nice ideal to strive for but I'm willing to bet neither you nor PL were ever that kid (or parent, obviously). Have you ever been humiliated because you didn't have the extra two or three bucks for something? Easy to mouth platitudes if you've never been there.

Princess Lea said...

Anon: No, I can say I have never been in a position of financial deprivation, although I have worn hand-me-downs.

But that is an extreme that I was not considering. Nor was I bringing examples about celebrities who make enough money to finance third-world countries.

Of course we have to feel for people. But if you are in a position that there isn't three dollars for school pizza, then would it be than anyone else who does (and they don't have to be wealthy) should refrain? No child should get fresh school supplies, if their parents can afford it, or clothing? It certainly is a painful position to be in, but I am not sure what the alternative is. Do you have a proposal?

My example was adults, not children, who feel the need to compete with their neighbors. Our perspectives certainly change from childhood to adulthood, and knowing what is truly important in life.

Anonymous said...

No, of course I am not advocating an "everybody has it or nobody does" approach. You mentioned above that there are people who have absolutely no concept of what it is like not to be able to live a certain lifestyle--so are you advocating that as an something that is okay? Just as you worked on yourself not to feel resentment of others' possessions, don't you feel these people should work on themselves to understand others' struggles? How can a child who lives such a lavish lifestyle understand the classmate who can't afford the three bucks for the class pizza party? Of course that's life, the kid who can't afford the pizza will learn to live with it, but don't the others need to know that it's not okay to flaunt their pizza in front of him?
If you subscribe to the Klal Perspectives Journal (online), there is an interesting letter to the editor in the most recent issue--the letter writer noted that his younger daughter came home crying after her friend mocked her older sister's "nebby" wedding--I guess this is somebody who has no concept of leading a simpler lifestyle due to necessity (not so different from Gwyneth Paltow, at that).....
Your comments above almost seem to advocate that a "let them eat bread approach" is an acceptable Jewish lifestyle. It exists, to be sure, but that isn't a good thing.
I don't mean any of the above in a mean or snarky way, PL, because I have to say I really enjoy your thoughtful posts and I DO think you are a compassionate, sincere person. I just feel in this instance, your indignation at these neighbors is not totally justified.

Princess Lea said...

Anon: I wouldn't say I was indignant, more like bemused. Those neighbors who made comments on the castle happen to be LOADED themselves. I am not kidding you; we are talking about people who have never been deprived, who barely have to work, who vacation and eat out and have more than one summer home. And they couldn't handle it that a gazzilionaire was building a house!

Yes, I worked on myself, and I hope to be able to continue to work on myself. But if I do, that is for me; I can't expect or demand that from others. That is also something that is a work in progress: tolerance. Tolerance for the clueless and intolerant.

We don't know what other people's issues are. They could be working on something inside as well, but on their own different demons. My demons aren't necessarily the same as anyone else.

Mocking comments is always disgusting, no matter the subject matter. I have been victim to teasing in my day, although more along the line of my being "weird." Someone's perspective does not always have to be voiced; that is not the topic at hand. And for those who grew up wealthy (often not the nouveau riche), they were often taught proper form that showing off is not classy. Children, of course, should be instilled with a concept of modesty, meaning no flaunting.

I did not mean "let them eat bread" - after all, Jews believe in charity, for those in truly financial straits. I mean those people who are financially stable, but still feel the tug to go into hock to make a party that will not excite negative comment.

The solution? Make a smaller occasion, inviting only one's nearest and dearest. They will only have kind things to say, and won't question the budget.

%Shocked% said...

I agree with you regarding weddings that it's up to their discretion to make it as pricey or cheap as they want, but it didn't sound like you approve of the bas mitzvah enactments either. That I completely agree with. Kids at that age are competitive and jealous- to the extreme. The teachers/schools, I would guess, felt that it was divisive to the class and put an end to it.

I would argue that limiting celebrations in this way makes it more of a bas mitzvah celebration than a regular birthday bash.

Princess Lea said...

There is always one kid who manages to get around the requirements - if someone is insisting on spending money, they will make an over-the-top bash, no matter what takkanos are put in place.

There will always be someone who manages to outdo everyone else. So the only way to function is to teach kids to deal with it - there will always be someone who has something you don't have.