Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Curbing Conspicuous Consumption Afghan Style: Shades of the Gerer Rebbe…

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2011 at 5:00 am

In Friday’s WAPO , it was reported that the government of Afghanistan is aghast at the over-the-top wedding receptions that have resulted from new-found wealth in Kabul.  The new legislation would limit the number of guests, and the amount one was allowed to spend on such a celebration.  I have to confess that I don’t share in the outrage of some who would harp on this anti-democratic turn of the “new” Afghanistan.

In Israel, a similar ban was enacted thirty some odd years ago by the Gerer Rebbe who also felt that weddings for his community were getting out of hand.  He, too, placed a limit on the number of guests that one could feed at a wedding, because he saw that the ostentation of these events detracted from its spiritual purpose. It turns out that the Muslim religious establishment feels the same way.

There’s perhaps no better symbol of this city’s recent infusion of wealth than the glitzy wedding halls that have sprouted near its center, with Vegas-style replicas of the Eiffel Tower and flashing neon everything.

But the country’s government sees such celebrations as a different kind of emblem — of waste and anti-Islamic values. A law proposed this year by the Ministry of Justice would curb celebrations like Azimi’s, placing a limit on the number of guests and the cost of festivities.

The Rebbe also decreed that if the price of esrogim didn’t decline he was going to buy several for his community and ban his hasidim from purchasing their own. There may be as many as 100,000 Gerer Hasidim in Israel, so the economic threat against rapacious esrog dealers was very real. The threat worked, and the prices came down, but this time, the entire community of esrog customers was the beneficiary.

Such edicts would not fly, even among Hasidim in America, and that may be a necessary consequence of enjoying democracy, but, let’s face it, paternalistic and moralistic as it sounds and as it is meant to be… Everyone in Israel loved those discounted esrogim, and if not for the Sage of Ger, we would have been at the mercy of those greedy esrog dealers.

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