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Mastering the Mechutanim Maze

Maayan Cohen

Sometimes the kol sasson and kol simchah of two families being joined metamorphose into voices so heated and loud that none of the joy can be heard. How can mechutanim avoid the bumps along the path to the chuppah and share a close relationship despite their differences? What can both sets of parents do to guarantee that when they meet at the wedding hall their mazel tovs aren’t spiked with underlying tension?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

mazeIn the beginning, all is rosy. Crystalschnapps cups are raised, warm handshakes are exchanged between the fathers, and emotional embraces between the mothers. A three-foot- tall flower arrangement fills the entranceway, there’s dazzling divrei Torah, a festive engagement party, and, of course, a starry-eyed couple.

Framed photos capture the mutual feelings of joy. Two proud sets of parents standing on either side of the evening’s main players — the chassan and the kallah. Two middle-aged couples with one goal: to see their children happy.

But the cheerful balloon of joy and goodwill is often quick to deflate. As the wedding day looms ever nearer, conversations get ever more strained The chassan and kallah are still floating somewhere in seventh heaven, but the mechutanim? They can barely carry on a civilized conversation. Resentment simmers beneath the surface, occasionally rising to the fore in the shape of barely veiled barbs and snarky comments. What happened?

Dollars and Sense

In most cases, discord between mechutanim is a result of fiscal disagreements. In many frum circles, it’s accepted practice that parents try to guarantee their children’s financial security before the engagement is official. Yet despite lengthy negotiations, discussions, and pledges that go on before the l’chaim, finances often become the central grounds for battle.

Yossi Brown got engaged to Fraidy Mintz. Before the l’chaim, the senior Browns and Mintzes met for a long hour to discuss finances. Mr. Mintz pledged $50,000 for the couple to secure in bonds or another investment — or so the Browns claim. During a meeting with a financial adviser, it emerged that there had been a misunderstanding. “What I meant was that I’m offering a total of $50,000,” Mintz explains, “including gifts, wedding expenses, rental costs, etc.!”

And pandemonium broke out.

After a drawn-out battle, Brown called Mintz to a din Torah for backtracking on his commitments. Not a very promising start to a fairy tale marriage.

Despite all the turmoil, the couple did get married, and are hopefully living happily ever after. However, at the time, their best interests were completely disregarded amidst the tumult that followed the revelation that “They deceived us!” (Browns) and “They’re trying to squeeze every penny out of us.” (Mintzes)

Engagements have been broken over financial disputes between mechutanim. Couples have been wed amid high conflict between their parents and carry the consequences well into their marriage. Marriage counselors, chassan and kallah teachers, rabbis, and shadchanim have been embroiled in raging debates about who promised whom, what, why, and when.

Dr. Rabbi Yosef Goldstein — psychotherapist, pre-marital and family counselor, and chassan teacher — often deals with disputes between mechutanim. “Parents are convinced they’re fighting for their child,” he says, “but if you’d ask the child, he’d do anything to pass on the favor and ease the tension.

“In the frum community, financial matters are usually discussed and closed between the parents, not the children. I always counsel young couples to keep out of financial debates. True it’s their lives and futures in question, but they must completely dissociate themselves from anything to do with finances.”


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