You Definitely Should Have: A Contractual Look at Israeli Wedding Gift Culture
Tel Aviv Law Review, Vol. 35, No. 51, 2012
46 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2012
Date Written: July 9, 2012
This article examines the changes in Israeli-Jewish wedding gift culture from a contractual point of view. In the past three decades, the envelope gift (cash) has gained prominence over the box gift. The main argument in this article is that current wedding gift norms in Israel, meaning that one must give an envelope gift and that the gift must cover the hosts’ expenses, make this gift look more like a commercial contract between strangers rather than a gift.
I argue that the shift from gift to contract reflects a deep shift in Israeli society from solidarity to market-based values. It also reshapes social and familial relations.
The first part of the article discusses the sociological and anthropological meanings of the gift. It shows the gift’s internal contradiction: Altruism on the one hand, and a duty to reciprocate on the other. In the second part I show how the rise of the envelope gift coincides with the rise of the wedding industry in Israel with its ever-evolving inventions of pricy gimmicks and trends that drive up the wedding costs. Combined with social pressure to be original and not spend less than others, this reinforces the shift to the envelope gift. This part ends with a brief comparative look at the American wedding gift, which still remains, by and large, a box gift, despite similar developments occurring within the American wedding industry. While there has been in recent years a rising trend of envelope gifts in American weddings, in most cases the guests are not required to take into account the party costs as they are in Israel.
The third part is dedicated to a contractual analysis of the envelope gift. Showing that the wedding gift has become more like a cover charge, I argue that this creates inherent tensions between hosts and guests, and further distances them from the idea of the gift.
Notes: Downloadable document is in Hebrew.
Keywords: contracts, gifts, weedding, gender, family
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