The obscenity of extravagance

April 23, 2015 13:17

First, the bad news. I have to tell you that the quote of £55,000 obtained by the JC for a slap-up kosher wedding amounts to a considerable underestimate of the probable true cost. The quotation didn't include the celebrations on the Shabbat before the wedding, when it is customary for the groom to be called to the Reading of the Law – and for the synagogue service to be followed by a Kiddush, which is too often over-lavishly catered. So add, say, another £1,000 (this includes honoraria to the non-Jewish waiters and waitresses).

Then there's the cost of the suits and dresses worn by bridesmaids and page-boys. The sky's the limit here, but let's not be squeamish - so add another £2,000.

The JC's quote did not include any transportation costs. There's the bridal car, of course, and where the wedding is to be held in an out-of-town location, guests may well expect cars or (I kid you not!) minibuses to be laid on. Say another £1,000. (At my wedding, the taxi that my father arranged for the convenience of the aged rabbi and his wife suffered catastrophic mechanical failure en route, thus permitting Dad to get a full refund of the cost, while the rabbi's son came to the rescue, but we cannot assume this to be an everyday occurrence, can we?)

The JC's quote included a modest £2,500 for stationery, which I imagine includes the design and printing of invitations and pre-stamped reply cards, as well as thank-you cards. But did it include "benchers" - booklets (incorporating the grace-after-meals) provided at every table during the formal dinner? At a number of weddings I've attended, the hosts have also distributed much larger specially printed prayer-books and, at one simchah, the parents of the bridegroom even provided a number of free disposable cameras at every table. So let's add another couple of thousand smackeroos, just to be on the safe side.

Thus far, I've confined myself to the wedding celebrations narrowly defined. But in Orthodox circles there will be formal sheva brachot ("seven blessings") dinners held nightly during the first week of marriage. Various family members and friends will host these, but I have been to catered functions, and I do know that in some of these instances the parents of the bride and groom have made a discreet contribution towards the cost.

If you've any money left over, give it to the happy couple

To make a long story short, we can safely increase the true overall cost of the JC's £55,000 wedding to at least £60,000, and perhaps even to £65,000 - certainly when we factor in the cost of a professional wedding planner. That works out at around £155 a minute.

Of course this is a gross obscenity. So now for the good news. It is perfectly possible to arrange a glatt kosher wedding for a fraction of the cost, without having to go to the bargain-basement extreme of a gemach affair in which the wedding dress, seat coverings, bridal car etc are provided from a communal free-loan facility – though I hasten to add I've absolutely nothing against such arrangements, which are essential where large families are concerned.

The pre-wedding aufruf ("calling up") can be followed by a modest kiddush - wine or grape juice and some nibbles. Family members and friends can be asked to ferry guests to and from the wedding. In the internet age there is no need for reply-paid printed invitations. A number of the frills that are customarily offered at the dinner venue - for instance, ornate coverings for the seats at each table - can be safely dispensed with.

There is absolutely no need for a "professional" toastmaster: at my son's wedding, the bandleader happily acted in this capacity, while the head of the banqueting suite was equally happy to provide perfectly serviceable "benchers" from stock, at no extra charge. Nor is there any justification for spending £6,000 on a symphony orchestra: many professional bands can be hired at a fraction of this cost.

The dinner itself does not have to be a lavish feast: have a reception (drinks and a buffet) for all the guests and a much smaller (and probably more enjoyable) dinner-party for immediate family and friends.

If you've any money over, give it to the happy couple. In today's property market they will need every penny!

April 23, 2015 13:17

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