Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Takkanos and Korbanos

This past Shabbos, I was thinking about two sacrifices mentioned in each of Parashiyos Tazria and Metzora. The sacrifice a woman is supposed to bring after recovering from having a child and that a Metzora (commonly translated as leper) brings after his illness are both examples of a korban oleh ve-yored (see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Shegagos ch. 10). There are two levels of the sacrifice to be brought. Someone who can afford it, brings a more expensive sacrifice and someone who could not, brings a less expensive sacrifice.

This seems to me to be contrary to the general thinking behind the "Wedding Takkanos" that were attempted a few years ago (and have failed miserably). There is a concern that weddings are overly expensive and that those who cannot afford to pay for such weddings are being socially pressured to spend beyond their needs and go into unmanageable debt. Therefore, various limits were placed on weddings to keep their costs within reach.

But, I was thinking, the Torah itself doesn't seem particularly concerned that poor people would be embarrassed for not bringing the sacrifice of a rich person. Why didn't the Torah just set the sacrifice for the poor person as the standard and tell rich people not to put social pressure on others? Instead, it allowed for rich people to spend more money on their sacrifices and, those who could not afford it, to spend less. There is a machlokes rishonim about this, but some consider it appropriate for poor people to try to bring a rich sacrifice even though they are not obligated to do so (see Sefer Ha-Chinukh 123 and in note 14). So why are we today so concerned that poor people won't be able to afford an expensive wedding? Just like they bring a poor person's korban oleh ve-yored, they should make a poor person's wedding.

Yet, our sensibilities seem to follow those of the Gemara, as explained in Mo'ed Katan (27 a-b) regarding burial and mourning practices. To avoid the embarrassment of poor people who could not afford to perform certain practices, everyone was treated equally. The question, then, is why Chazal did not follow the example set by the Torah with the korban oleh ve-yored?

I was thinking that perhaps the sacrifice is essentially a private matter, even though technically done in public. People would generally not discover what kind of sacrifice their neighbors brought and therefore poor people would not be embarrassed. Although I'm not sure that this is true.

Alternatively, perhaps the sacrifice has a limit while the spending on weddings do not. Maybe even the practices in the Gemara also have no technical limit. Therefore, we can impose a limit, just like the Torah does.

I'm not particularly satisfied with either answers. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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