Wedding Costs

This post is Part VIII of a series on dating and marriage in the religious-Zionist community.

I: Dating Readiness, II: Meeting the One, III: Genetic Testing, IV: Dating Venues, and V: Shidduch Crisis?, VI: Internet Dating, VII: Paying the Shadchan, VIII: Wedding Costs, VIII: Wedding Costs, IX: Planning Tips

Someone explained to me that a plain wedding is not enough anymore. You need to have a cantor, video or  other entertainment.

I must not travel in the right circles. Most parents I know want to save on the wedding so the young couple can survive while in school, yeshiva, or the army.

Weddings in Israel start at NIS 70-80/plate with most people expecting to pay at least NIS 100 for a basic wedding. Extras are always on offer.

Here are some common methods of cutting costs:

  • No pre-chupah snacks, and certainly not a spread. One wedding hall offered a big pot of soup and some crackers, just in case you traveled a long way and couldn’t wait for the meal.
  • Fewer waiters. The staff puts out large plates of appetizers in the center of the table, instead of asking each guest to choose. This works for the main course too. Or they offer a buffet-style dinner, for everyone or just the couple’s friends. The chicken, rice and potatoes, though, are a given.
  • A disc-jockey instead of live music. I’ve only seen this once or twice. Live music is still important to most couples.
  • Clothes. Brides borrow a dress from a gemach or free-loan society. The other family members buy clothes that can be reworn. I’ve been at weddings where it seemed like the bride and groom were deliberately “dressing down.”
  • Centerpieces and flowers. It’s common to borrow these (fake flowers of course) from a gemach.
  • Two levels of invitees. In haredi circles it’s common to invite only the family for the wedding meal, which ends early. Friends come for sheva brachot (wedding blessings afterthe meal), cake and dancing.
  • Holding the wedding in an out-of-the-way location (at least for us).

One thing I haven’t seen is cutting down the size of weddings. Most have at least 250-300 guests.

So have you been to an inexpensive wedding lately? Or do you get invited to the ones with the cantorial performance?

Photo credit: Miriam Kresh


  1. Most have at least 250-300 guests.
    In my experience, most Israeli weddings have at least 500-600 guests, and many have considerably more.

    RE: centerpieces – Many couples do without or simply place a candle or two on each table.

    RE: clothes – The mothers and sisters frequently borrow their clothes from a Gemach too.

  2. With prices like that the only efficient method of cutting costs is to cut the guest list. If the prices start at 100 nis per person and a guest list of “only” 300 that is 30,000 right there. All the other things that you mentioned are going to be insignificant compared to the savings from cutting down the guest list.
    Someone explained me recently that here is Israel the guests are “expected” to pay for the wedding the attend. That 500 nis gifts are the norm. And that many parents do make such large guest lists in order to receive enough cash to cover the wedding. I know many families that simply avoid going to weddings because they can’t afford to give that kind of money. If it’s true we may also avoid going to weddings for a while 🙂
    I got married almost 6 years ago in the US. We lowered the costs by having a relatively small wedding (180), choosing a hall that offered the meal for half of the price of other halls, and most of the things you described here

    • Rachel Q,
      You’re right, people do expect to cover costs like that. But the couple’s friends surely aren’t covering the costs. And if the gift just covers the cost of the meal, how does it pay for the rest of the expenses?

  3. Regular Anonymous says

    I recently attended a budget wedding. The parents found a hall willing to let them bring their own food. The food was cooked by a local chef who is a friend of the family.

    Before the chuppah they had fruit, cake and soft drinks.

    The first course (on the table) was challah rolls, tomato/cucumber salad, cole slaw, humus.

    The main course was turkey stew, potatos and some kind of cooked vegetable.

    I left before desert, but I believe there was something. I don’t think anybody went away hungry.

    They had a 2 or 3 person band. There was a photographer. People enjoyed themselves.

    Certainly cost less than 100 a person and I gave the same gift I give all the time. (And the idea of skipping weddings/barmitzvahs for people I’m not so close with is starting to sound attractive to me).

    It’s not easy. A close friend who is very financially challenged is marrying off her daughter soon. She brought up the possiblity of making a wedding like the one I just described but evidently the machotonim were not willing to go for it. (It will still be quite a modest affair). Therefore, she had no alternative but to severly cut the guest list and is now concerned that people will be hurt that they were not invited.

  4. Well, the cheapest is to have one set of parents living in America and paying dollars. 😉 My parents were thrilled with out cheap everything is compared to America.

    We had a buffet style for everyone and it was lovely. We did have a small cold spread before the chuppah, but nothing int he league of American smorgs.

    My parents also had a very small guest list because almost all of their friends couldn’t come. However, they made up for it by making a big sheva brachot/reception in America. A lot of it comes down to social expectations and whether you’re willing to buck them when you can’t afford it. Thank Gd, my parents were able to afford a “socially acceptable” wedding (although quite modest by American standards). My husband and I were both working at the time, although they were still very generous with helping us buy our first apt.

    I had such a blast at my wedding, i still treasure the memories. 🙂

  5. I love this sugia, I regret not being the first to post.

    When ashem sees all these lofty wedding halls He says:

    – We just cannot be on the same place.

    and this is so easy to check. Note that the happiest weddings (parties) are always in more modest halls.

    No need for fancy hall, save if for the first year.


  6. Please let me know which halls take 100 shekels a person?
    we have heard of much more.
    Even though you are expected indeed to give a check the size of the cost of the portion, unlike a brit or Brmitzva, I would expect all the cash to go to the young couple not their parents.

    the weddings I see are around 600 people at least.
    there is also the possiblity of halls which are part of amutot giving cheap prices e.g. ulam umloho of Arutz 7.

    Interesting to note that there are yeshivas who dictate the style of wedding of their students, the most well known is Yad binyamin (formerly of gush katif), I do not know their conditions, but know this exists.
    Price of weddings in DL society is a big issue among rabbis today, but even if one side wants to cut expenses the other might not.
    Even so, there is still the issue of extra expenses, the bride may expect her parents to fit her up with clothing before her marriage. I do not know if this is correct, but I heard of buying sets of sheets, towels bedding etc. Apart from the expense of minimum electrical goods (and this could be a couple who are still students). On the other hand we know of people who bought a lot from second hand internet sites.
    All the family does need reasonable clothese to wear, even if they are just your standard shabbat clothes.
    there are places where the groom expects a present of a shas and a talit for his wedding from the bride’s parents. (what else is there, it all adds up)

    And we did not mention the fact that a young couple may expect support from their parents. What is your opinion of that. (25 years ago it was still expected to buy them an apartment)

    Even giving a minimum portion to the friends of the couple can be problematic. While in Bnei Brak this can be OK cos they all come from there (locally), one of my children was recently in a situation where they went to a wedding in one of those “out of the way” places.
    My son learns in Yeshiva, lunch is at 13:00.
    He and other boys travelled a long journey to this place for the wedding, and the food they got at 21:00 was a roll and boreksa and hummous.
    You have to respect your guests, if they are coming a long way and you want them to dance and the wedding, you have to at least give them something reasonable to eat.

    Just a note, on one of the internet sites we heard that while famous singers charge a lot to appear at weddings, we also heard that those same singers do this so they can appear almost free at weddings of people who are not so well off.

    • Keren, I believe that performers should charge whatever they want. There are always people starting out who are willing to charge less. I was not talking about burekas and chumus for the friends, but more of a main-course buffet instead of a 3 or 4-course meal.

  7. Ms. Krieger says

    In the US, a common way to cut costs is to have the wedding in someone’s backyard instead of a rented space. I’m surprised this is not more common in Israel (after all, you have vast swaths of the year when you can be certain of no rain!)

    Sometimes weddings are even potluck (usually several families/friends/relatives organize the cooking among themselves) although this is less common than having it catered.

    Many people obsess over having their wedding be “perfect” but it seems very strange that the way to perfection is paved in debt.

    As someone else said, some of the happiest and most enjoyable weddings I’ve attended were the ones with the lowest budget.

  8. Ms Krieger: I think because Israeli weddings are usually minimum 300 pple, and the majority of Israelis live in apartments without backyards. Even wealthy Israelis who have backyards don’t really have the room for that many pple.

  9. The tip about asking for less waiters is an interesting one.

  10. Hannah: if the numbers you quoted are correct, the guests will cover the entire wedding. Assume the average cost of the meal is 150 and the average present is 350, then each additional pair of guests will bring a “revenue” of 200. In a wedding you’ll have fixed costs (that do not depend on the size of the wedding) such as clothing, photographer, etc and variable costs (that do depend on the size of the wedding) such as food, benchers and center pieces. As long as the average gift is so much larger than the marginal cost (cost of inviting an additional couple), then the family benefits from having a large wedding. At some point you can even make money of it!
    In the US, where the monetary gifts are much smaller than the price of the meal, you save money by cutting down the number of guests. In Israel the reverse seems to be true. That explains the 600+ guests lists.

  11. Raquel, your math is off. You are expecting NIS 350 per couple, so there is only NIS 50 to spare (2×150 per plate), assuming that people pay what you expect. At any rate the cost of the gift is only expected to cover the cost of the plate, which even if it works, is a dumb system. I’ll explain why in another post.

  12. I realized my mistake after I posted it. It is still a very different system than in the US where the guests are not expected to cover the cost of the event.

  13. I think that you have to keep in mind that different cultural backgrounds often have different expectations.
    So, for example, the discussion about wedding gifts paying for the wedding has to be taken in context.

    Among many sefaradi families I know, there is a serious expectation that the guests give cash gifts that cover the cost of the wedding/barmitzva/wahtever, and that money is used for that purpose. The family members KNOW they are paying for the wedding – they all meet the same standard – and they expect a certain level of affair to match. It would be dishonorable, to the young couple and to the guests, to do anything less.

    Among many ashkenazim, esp anglos, the expectation is that the wedding gift money goes to the young couple to serve as a nest egg. This can lead to painful conflict, with the best of intentions by wonderful people, when one side is horrified at the idea of taking the young couple’s money and wasting it on a fancy wedding and the other side is horrified at how shamed their relatives will be if they come to a wedding and get served a minimal buffet meal. You get the idea.

    Another point, many families here are (bli ayin hara) very large, with the direct 1st-degree relatives from the grandparents, parents, and the young couple already numbering well over 100 on each side. (really! – not even counting children of first cousins!) In that context, a wedding of 300 people, while it seems like a large number, really only barely covers the really immediate family and perhaps the absolutely closest friends – and even that is very tight.

    It’s not that hard to cut back on the pre-ceremony buffet and also to cut down on the dinner – I have been at many weddings where there was no ‘first course/appetizer’ and no one even noticed. For the couples I know, the music (for great dancing) and the pictures/video (for the rest of their lives) were the most important expenses. Clothes can be borrowed or sewn, and kept simple to serve as the ‘dressy’ wardrobe for the future, centerpieces also minimal (candles, potpourri, artificial flowers) and often included by the hall, invitations are a small expense, and you don’t have to give out benchers – there are gmachs for that too :-).

    Nevertheless, even with the simplest possible choices and borrowing whatever possible, it can be very hard to keep it affordable. The restrictions of the (former) Gush Katif yeshiva are very very tight – I agree in principle, (I also like how the Gerrer chassidim have held expenses down for the whole community), but it can be really hard for large families, who sometimes had to compensate with large sheva brachot/receptions for different categories of guests that simply could not be included in the wedding itself, or simply all accept that large chunks of family and friends simply would not be able to be at the wedding. Everyone understands, but it’s a little bit sad to miss out on sharing and dancing at the simcha.

    I like the idea of focusing on the dancing – that is what we are there for, after all – and serving lots of plain good food, buffet style all evening, for the guests who come from near and far to share and dance.

    But this isn’t always feasible. And again, it takes two sides to make a wedding :-).

  14. Ms. Krieger says

    ah, the comments by Adina about expectations are very interesting. Indeed I come from an Ashkenazic background with 4 generations in the US. Everyone here gives money with the expectations of the young couple using it as they wish. The guests wish the couple will use it for a down payment on a house or to start college savings for the [future] children – but everyone accepts that part of it may be used to pay for the wedding itself, esp. if the bride’s parents are not well-off.

    The cultural expectations theory is interesting. I recently attended a Portuguese Catholic wedding in which no expense was spared. And it was thrown by the groom’s parents, too! In retrospect, perhaps there was a certain expectation for the wedding of their only son and the bride’s (anglo, protestant) parents were not willing to provide that.

    Much food for thought here.

  15. If a standard wedding in the national-religious circle costs only 100 shekels a plate per person, that’s less than half of what it costs for more secular parts of Israeli society — among people I know, 250 shekels is average/a good deal, while 500 shekels isn’t unheard of.

    I had a small wedding — 40 people, mostly immediate family, no cousins even, at a synagogue in the late morning. The synagogue “rental fees” were a tax-deductible donation, I prepared a spread of cookies, cake and wine, and I didn’t have to worry about whether my guests’ gifts would cover my wedding costs.

    While I understand that not everyone would want something that small, plenty of people told us that this is the kind of wedding they would have wanted. Just another option for those who object to the bigger-is-better wedding culture — no true friend will hold it against you if you don’t invite him/her to your small wedding.

  16. I would have loved to have a wedding with about 100 people, to have it at a non traditional time (late, late saturday night, champagne toast, dessert buffet). Yeah, well. BT marrying FFB probably does not get that option if the parents are contributing any money.

    We had over 300 at our wedding. My parents, who are divorced and each had their own list, brought maybe 15% of the total guests. Though my husband’s family isn’t enormous, especially by “frum” standards, my in laws had lived in their community for their entire marriage (in my FIL’s case his whole life) and they had dozens upon dozens of the “obligations” that MiI refers to.

    My parents wisely realized that this was not their world and didn’t really argue–if helped that my ILs were 100% cognizant of the imbalance and paid a proportional amount of the cost.

  17. and for what it’s worth, we tried to keep it as modest as possible…we had seen weddings where the cost of the flowers alone was $100,000 (!!!!)…we put on the entire wedding for far far less.

  18. That seems fair enough, the parents paying for their own guests.

    Regarding obligations: I feel that having such a small ceremony was a good excuse for not inviting “obligations” (all my coworkers, all my mother-in-law’s acquaintances, etc.) I personally wanted only people I knew well at the wedding. Plus, I’m guessing many people feel as obliged to attend as you feel obligated to invite them. It’s all a matter of how you look at it.

  19. Wondered where you got the prices from? all the places we have looked at recently are way above that and the cheapest is about 130NIS….

  20. Check this out:

    It may help

  21. When we’re invited to weddings, our purpose ought to be to honor and please the bride and groom. Instead, we turn the ideal on its head, expecting to be entertained and satiated, afterwards critically rating the principals as to their success in honoring us. Let’s get back to our ideals and watch the cost of these disco parties plummet.

  22. Naftush is wrong, Mother in Israel is right. The purpose of a Jewish wedding, like everything else, is to honor Hashem. That includes everyone: hatan, Kalla, and guests. When people scrimp on this, it’s as if they’re saying h”v that they, and not Hashem, call the shots and decide who gets what in this world.

  23. Loyal Jew, it’s not honoring Hashem to go into debt or take charity to make a fancy wedding.

  24. The tips above are all helpful, though I must take issue with the suggestion to hold the wedding in an “out-of-the-way location”. While halls far from the center of the country (in Israel, defined as within a 1 hour drive from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem)do charge less, the guests’ time (and babysitters) and gasoline do not come free.
    When the bride or the groom’s family lives in an “out-of-the-way location”, it may make sense to hold the wedding there, but if both families live fairly close to each other, I think that holding the wedding far away is a false economy.
    We are always much happier to attend a simple wedding that is fairly local, rather than a more lavish affair that is a long drive away.

  25. When my husband and I got married in May (in the US) we had a dairy buffet for food-it cut our costs significantly, even over a meat buffet and made it easier to accommodate the vegetarians in attendance. We also had it at a glass factory, and so all we did for decorations was bought some small candles to put on the tables-they provided glass center pieces. We found the location online and a lot of people thought it was a little odd, but it was a great place. It wasn’t out of the way (exactly-long distance for everyone except my Dad’s family, but unavoidable when hubby’s family is from Colorado, we were Philadelphia and so on) but it was a slightly unusual location. They also let us bring in whatever cater we wanted-which for a kosher wedding in the states is important since otherwise we would have been limited to in house places.

  26. Frequent Flyer says

    This is maybe a little off on a tangent, but I’m wondering if anyone could enlighten me about the practice of organizing an expensive engagement party, weeks or months prior to the wedding.
    We have been told that this is the current fad among the dati leumi crowd in Israel. Two families that we are close to have recently celebrated their daughters’ engagements with catered parties in rented halls for something like 100-200 people.
    I was always under the impression that a “vort” is simple and brief affair, not a pre-wedding wedding.
    Is this really as common as we’re being told it is?

    • FF, we haven’t been invited to any fancy engagement parties lately. The biggest one we went to was in a “moadon” with over 100 people, but a meal wasn’t served. But so much depends on the circles you travel in.

  27. Readers asked about NIS 100 a plate. I was told you can get that price at Haheichal in Petach Tikva.

  28. When I got married almost five years ago, I think my parents would have taken out a new mortgage if they’d needed to to pay for my wedding – I was one of those ‘older singles’ (34) and they were ecstatic. Seriously though, as we got married in Israel but the parents were from the UK/U.S. respectively, it was still much cheaper here for them than it would have been if we’d got married in one of those countries. The wedding was also smaller because of that – I think we had about 240 people, but if all the people we invited from Israel/America/England had been able to come I’m sure it would have been closer to 400 at least.

    I think what we did was ask our parents what they could afford per guest, and that gave us a budget to work with. They knew approximately how many they’d be inviting, and I guess decided the budget accordingly. And each side paid for ‘their’ guests. My parents paid for my friends, and my husband’s parents paid for his.That budget included paying for the extras like photography and music as well as the venue/food. We got married in the summer, and after our initial look at hotels in Jerusalem (where we live), realizing that the really nice ones were very expensive, we figured that as it was summer, we could get married somewhere outside. We got married in the very beautiful Bustan Abu Ghosh, only 20 minutes from Jerusalem, and put on a bus for people who couldn’t/didn’t want to drive.

    If I remember correctly, the cost per head there was 210 shekel for a meat meal that included reception food, and very tasty but buffet main meal and dessert. We paid an extra 15 shekel per head to add a first course for the guests to eat while we were having photographs taken after the chuppah because we didn’t want them waiting around hungry while we did the photos.

    I think it was a very reasonable wedding by Israel standards, not too lavish. And of course if our parents had had more guests able to come, I’m sure the budget would have gone down, per person, and we’d have planned accordingly.

    It really was a dream wedding. Everyone said how wonderful it was. My parents are fond of reminding me that one of their guests at the wedding said it was nicer than any of their own childrens’ weddings. We had a wonderful band, and having the whole wedding outside, with a chuppah on which grapes were growing, in the stunning hills just outside Jerusalem, was everything we could have hoped for. While, of course, the life that begins with the wedding is more important than the wedding itself, having such a wonderful day created memories we will cherish forever.