Enough Already! Jewish Consumption Guidelines for Our Time
Community celebrations have marked the rhythm of Jewish life throughout the ages. And for nearly as long, Jews have been asking the question, “How much is too much?” Over the centuries, different communities have responded in a variety of ways:
- In Forli, Italy, in 1418, community leaders instructed Jewish families to invite no more than twenty men, ten women, five girls, and three generations of relatives to wedding celebrations—and half as many for a bris/circumcision.
- In Furth, Germany, in 1728, local rabbis told Jewish families to invite only relatives to their weddings and not to serve any tea or coffee. No more than ten horsemen and four attendants could bring the bride from another town to the festivities.
Though the suggestion that we limit wedding transportation to only ten horsemen from the neighboring town may sound antiquated, the underlying impulse to keep celebrations simple holds some wisdom for us today.Indeed, in New York City in 2002, dozens of Orthodox rabbis issued a modern ruling in this same tradition, setting a maximum number of wedding guests and musicians and specifying appropriate centerpieces, flowers, and menus. “The concept of modesty, not only in dress but in behavior and expression, is central to the Torah,” Rabbi Avi Shafran told The New York Times. “Limiting excess, whether in general lifestyle or celebrations, is an inherently Jewish ideal.”
This guide’s primary purpose is to ask questions and offer suggestions about how to bring our community’s celebration-related purchasing in line with our values. It does not attempt to establish the kind of precise consumption guidelines that communities in Forli, Furth, or New York have done, but brings forward the tradition of conscious celebration into our own Washington-area Jewish community.
This guide invites you and your family to explore these questions:
- What is our upcoming Jewish celebration for?
- What is the highest purpose of this celebration, and how can our purchasing decisions for the event best achieve that purpose?