Wedded Bling

Do the price of an engagement ring and cost of  a wedding have anything to do with how strong a marriage will prove to be?  Two Emory University economists recently studied that question. They noted that the multibillion-dollar wedding industry sends the subliminal message that large amounts of money spent on getting married can help assure successful marriages.  However, the researchers found, the evidence suggested that, if anything, relatively inexpensive weddings are associated with lower likelihood of divorce.

Correlation, it is famously and accurately said, does not necessarily imply causation.  It has been noted, for instance, that per capita consumption of cheese in the U.S. correlates closely with the number of people who died by becoming entangled in their bedsheets.  And mathematical proficiency generally correlates with shoe size (children’s feet, after all, being smaller than those of adults).

So it’s wise not to put too much emphasis on the recent research, which was based on a survey of nearly 3,400 people who answered 40 questions, much less to extrapolate from it to the observant Jewish community.

But still.

The researchers’ conclusion — “We find that marriage duration is either not associated or inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony” — does seem sensible, and correlates well, I’d venture to say, with many people’s experience.

Baruch Hashem, the divorce rate in the Orthodox community is nothing like what it is in the larger society.  But, sadly, it seems to be higher than it’s ever been; and there is widespread perception, if not clear evidence, that, Rachmana litzlan, it is growing.

And so, whether or not the recent Emory study holds any real-world meaning for us, it might certainly serve as a spur to thinking about ­chasunah and gift-related excesses, which we cannot deny exist within our community as well.

Most of us have attended a wide range of chasunos, some modest, others less so, and others even more less so.

This is only a personal observation, of course, but my enjoyment of a simchah has never had any relationship whatsoever to the presence or absence of a wet bar, number (or dearth) of cooked dishes at the reception/chassan’s tisch, variety of courses at the meal or number of musicians in the band.

In fact, when things were “fancy,” I often enjoyed the chasunah less, pained in my heart by what struck me as a wanton waste of money; and in my ears, by the decibel overkill.

Now, there may, of course, be perfectly valid reasons to host a lavish simchah rather than a simpler one.  Like the need to impress business contacts, to satisfy the mechutanim, or to create jealousy in others (OK, OK, scratch that one).  But one thing is certain, at least to me: Excess spending does not somehow create an enjoyable simchah.  Or, it’s safe to say, if only from reason alone, healthier marriages.

As to rings, baruch Hashem, neither our daughters nor our daughters-in-law had any insecurities about diamond size or flawlessness or clarity (or any of the other creative “chiddushim” invented by the diamond industry — itself based on the fiction that diamonds are somehow inherently important to a shidduch).  I think that any of them would have happily accepted a cubic zirconia ring, a lovely replacement that, were I king of the world, I would insist upon for all my subjects’ engagement gifts.

I might well be accused of holding such opinions because my wife and I, having been privileged to marry off eight children so far, baruch Hashem, always opted (as a matter of necessity — but with no embarrassment or regrets) for the most simple gifts and affairs available.  We went for one-man bands (except in one case, where the mechutanim were close to a bandleader and wanted to honor him with the job), no wet bar, limited reception food and simple seudah fare.  When a “takanos hall” — a wedding hall that subscribed to the call of Gedolim to keep simchos simple, and insisted that its patrons hew to a list of clear limitations — was available, that was what we chose.

But the simchos were beautiful, as have been, baruch Hashem, the marriages that began at each.  If any guest was disappointed at not having enjoyed a fine scotch before the chuppah or by not being regaled by a horn section or offered a choice of main course, well, I imagine he’s gotten over it by now.

The chasunos all shone.  But the shine came from faces, not silverware.