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Is mixed dancing really forbidden at weddings?

Responsa in a Moment

Vol. 17, No. 5

June 2023

Is mixed dancing really forbidden at weddings?

By Rabbi David Golinkin

Question: Dear Rabbi, I wanted to ask: I am a guitarist by profession, I worked for years in bands at weddings with separate dancing for men and women. Unfortunately, lately I don’t have work with the religious. I have offers to play in mixed dances with secular people. I wanted to ask if this is halakhically permissible? And I would be happy to hear halakhic reasons.

Responsum: In this responsum, we shall summarize some forty sources that were opposed in one way or another to mixed dancing, we shall react to their reasoning, and then we shall give a halakhic ruling.

I) Sources prohibiting or opposed to mixed dancing (1)

There is a long list of books of Musar [Jewish ethics], Takkanot [communal regulations] of Jewish communities, and poskim [halakhic authorities] who prohibit or oppose mixed dancing either at weddings or in general. Here is a summary of the sources in chronological order:

  1. Sefer Hassidim attributed to Rabbi Judah the Pious (Speyer and Regensburg, died 1217, ed. Margaliot, paragraph 168) opposes the dancing of young men with young women on the basis of three verses that we shall quote below. (Cf., paragraphs 169, 393; and ed. Wistinetzky, paragraphs 60, 1176, 1177.)
  2. Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (died ca. 1230), a student of Rabbi Judah the Pious, writes in Sefer Moreh Hata’im or Sefer Kapparot, which is found in the Kol Bo (Provence, ca. 1300, paragraph 66, ed. Avraham David, Part 4, col. 217): “And the R”M of Rothenburg said that they put a Herem [a ban] that men and women should not dance together, and they expounded the verse ‘hand to hand will not be clean of evil’ (Proverbs 11:21)”. There are a number of difficulties with this passage. Rabbi Eleazar of Worms who died ca. 1230 could not possibly have transmitted a Herem from the mouth of Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg who died in 1293! Indeed, in the first edition of the Kol Bo it’s written: “And Rabbi Dzmor”k told me”, which is apparently a scribal error. As for the exposition of the verse, we shall return to it below in section II.
  3. Similarly, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms writes in the Commentaries on the Prayer Book (ed. Hershler, part 1, p. 152): ” ‘And I will set you apart from the nations to be mine’ (Leviticus 20:26) – two differences from the nations… and that the men will not go with the women in dance…”.
  4. Eliezer ben Shmuel Halevi (Mainz, died 1357) was not a rabbi, but was called a “Haver“, “Ish Hasid [a pious man]” and “der gut Rabbi Zalman” (Abrahams, Hebrew Ethical Wills, 211). He wrote in his ethical will: “My sons should be very, very modest, that they should not have anything to do with women, neither in the bathhouse, nor in dance, nor in touch, nor to joke with them. And the girls should not talk, or jest or dance with strangers”.
  5. Sefer Orhot Tzadikim is a popular book of Musar written by an anonymous Jew, ca. 1500. In Sha’ar Hasimhah (ed. Rabbi Seymour Cohen, 1970, pp. 208-210), he opposes “the joy of men and women together [at a wedding], because it is lightheaded joy”. He relies on Sukkah 49b: “ ‘And to walk humbly [with your God]’ — this is escorting the dead [for burial] and accompanying the bride to the Huppah”. However, according to its simple meaning, that midrash is apparently opposed to wasting money on funerals and weddings (cf. Rashi ). The author does not mention dancing explicitly, but presumably he would have been against it.
  6. Rabbi Yehudah Mintz (Padua, ca. 1408 -1509 [sic!]; quoted by Avraham Grossman, Pious and Rebellious, Hanover and London, 2004, p. 146; Sternberg, 2010, p. 54; and Rabbi Henkin, p. 121) and thirty of his friends and students enacted a Takkanah in 1507 for Jews in the Venice region that men are forbidden to dance with married women except on Purim, and they are allowed to dance all year round with unmarried women, on condition that they wear some type of underwear that covers their private parts.
  7. Rabbi David Hacohen of Corfu (1465-1530, Responsa Haradakh, Bayit 12 or 14, depending on the edition) supported a Herem against dancing by men with married women, that it’s only permissible for a man to dance with his wife, a father with his daughter, a mother with her son, and a brother with his sister. He is talking there about dancing on Shabbat, not at weddings.
  8. Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev of Arta (Northern Greece, 1475-1545; Responsa Binyamin Ze’ev, 303-308, fols. 428a-442b) wrote about our topic at length. In the city of Arta, Jews from four communities settled together with local Jews who lived according to the customs of the Jews of Corfu. Two questions arose — three engaged women became pregnant before marriage and that “men and women dance together, and they put their hands in the bosom of women who were married.” The local rabbis wanted “lemigdar milta” [to fence something in] and decreed that “men and women shall also not dance together”. They then wrote to the leading rabbis of Saloniki and Constantinople and they agreed and decreed a penalty of Naha”sh [=three types of excommunication] against anyone who violates the regulation and the fence that the three sages had made. Then, the sages of Arta performed a ceremony of excommunication with a Sefer Torah, but the leaders of the community of Polia left the synagogue with a loud cry because they were not ready to accept the excommunication.
    Most of the halachic correspondence deals with the question of whether the community of Polia must obey the excommunication. In any case, we learn from this that married men and women used to dance with each other and that the men would touch the bosoms of married women and that the rabbis decreed a Herem against this practice. The sages of Constantinople (fol. 441a) mention that there is an old Takkanah in their city “that no man should dance with women at all, and even a 12-year-old boy should not dance in the place of women at all”, “and even the dancing of men and women in one house separately is forbidden”.
  1. Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Maharashal, Poland, 1510-1573; Yam Shel Shlomo to Gittin, Chapter 1, paragraph 18) forbids young men and women from dancing together on Shabbat and Yom Tov accompanied by non-Jewish musicians. He bases himself on two verses as well as on the Mishnah, Ta’anit, chapter 4 that the young women used to dance alone on Yom Kippur and Tu B’av.
  2. Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horowitz (Ha-Shelah, Eastern Europe and Israel, 1558-1630) related to our topic in his ethical work, Shenei Luhot Haberit (Sha’ar Ha’otiot, Kedushot Ha’ma’or Sur Mera, quoted by Sternberg, 2010, p. 55): “Woe to those who dance with women” even if she is single. He relies on Eruvin 18b, which forbids counting money from his hand to her hand, based on Proverbs (11:21): “A hand to a hand will not be forgiven”. Furthermore, it’s forbidden to look at women (see Barakhot 24a) and it’s forbidden to talk to women (see Avot 1:5 and elsewhere).
  3. Rabbi Avraham Hayyim Schor (Galicia, d. 1632; Torat Hayyim to Avodah Zarah 17, also quoted by Pithei Teshuvah to Even Ha’ezer 65, subparagraph 2) opposes those Benei Beliya’al [wicked, ungodly people] who go dancing with women in general. He relies on the abovementioned verse “hand to hand will not be clean of evil” (Proverbs 11:21) and it’s appropriate to reprimand them. He also opposes those who dance with the bride at the wedding with a handkerchief.
  4. In the Takkanot of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbek from 1676, it was decreed (Friedhaber, p. 24) that young women who go to dance or to weddings while wearing their jewelry, shall not go out uncovered except when they are dressed in a “schwartz un regn kleid“, i.e., in a black shawl that covers the head and goes down to the knees. This is how the women dressed when they went out on the street. In other words, they are allowed to dance on condition that they walk on the street in the usual modest clothing.
  5. On the other hand, in those same Takkanot beginning in 1706 (Friedhaber, ) there are quite a few Takkanot that prohibit a father from sending his sons and daughters as well as his servants and maidservants to learn dance from a private teacher.
  6. Rabbi Yosef Stadthagen (Germany, d. 1715) related to our topic in his Divrei Zikaron, which deals with ritual slaughter and with Musar (Amsterdam, 1705, fol. 50b, quoted by Friedhaber, p. 22). He complains that young men and women would clap hands and dance in a circle when they went to the river for Tashlikh on Rosh Hashanah.
  7. Rabbi Hanokh Henikh b”r Yehudah Leib Hadarshan of Posen writes in his Reishit Bikkurim (Amsterdam, 1708, quoted by Friedhaber, p. 23): “And it’s forbidden for a man’s wife to dance with another man or with a young man, even her relative. And a man may not dance even with a single woman, as it is written: “A hand to a hand will not be forgiven” (Proverbs 11:21 as above).
  8. In a Takkanah of the Furth community from 1728, it was stated (Friedhaber, p. 24) that it’s forbidden for women and young women to learn dances, whether it’s for dancing with a Jew or a Christian.
  9. Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz (Altona, 1766-1690) complains about “young men and women and grown men and women” who dance all night like goats (Ye’arot Devash, Yozefoff, 1866, fol. 10a; and see additional references in Friedhaber, notes 14, 25).
  10. His archrival Rabbi Ya’akov Emden (Altona, 1698-1776; in Birat Migdal Oz and in his autobiography Megillat Sefer, quoted by Friedhaber, pp. 22-23) also complains about weddings in his day where “young men and women, men and women, cavorted together, singing, and the dances were great and young people danced like goats”.
  11. Rabbi Yosef Steinhart (Furth, 1720-1776; Responsa Zikhron Yosef, Orah Hayyim, 17) supported a Herem in the city of Plass against licentious Jews, young men and women dancing together on Yom Tov. He states that he made a similar Herem in Niederenheim in Alsace and that similar Takkanot were made by the rabbinic courts of Furth and Metz even at weddings. (This responsum is quoted at length by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen in his Bei’ur Halakhah to Orah Hayyim 339, beneath paragraph 3; and by Sternberg, 2016.)
  12. In the Pinkas [communal notebook] of Runkel, Germany from the eighteenth century it is said (quoted by Pollack) that during wedding celebrations men, both young and old, danced with strange women (i.e., not their wives or relatives).
  13. In Mannheim, Germany in 1746 (Friedhaber, p. 24), the leaders of the community allowed the Jewish dance teacher Elkan to teach dances on Shabbat and festivals after services accompanied by music — probably by non-Jews. In return, Elkan had to donate 30 florins to the community hospital and maintain the accepted morals.
  14. In Furth (cf. above) in 1770, mixed dances were prohibited on the day of Sivlonot [when the groom sends gifts to the bride], on the wedding day, and on the seven days of rejoicing, both in the groom’s house and in the bride’s house. Women were allowed to dance in the bride’s house and in the wedding hall, provided that there were no males among them. Friedhaber (p. 26) emphasizes that these strict Takkanot were rare.
  15. Rabbi Yehezkel Landau (Prague, 1713-1793; Derushei Hatzalah, 23, for the Ten Days of Penitence, ed. Jerusalem, 1966, fol. 35d) emphasizes that one of the times for the forgiveness of sin is at weddings. “And due to our many iniquities, they stimulate the evil inclination… young men and women do dances, which is impossible without sinful thoughts, and the incitement of lust… and I am already tired of protesting with the Bet Din, and the affliction is spreading until even married women will also join in this dance… and especially during the wedding feast when, in any case, his evil inclinations burn, and especially when ‘hand to hand will not be clean of evil’ (Proverbs 11:21), that the young man holds hands with the young woman, and this leads to an erection and the spilling of seed…”.
  16. In 1795, Rabbi Theo Weil, rabbi of the Karlsruhe community, fined the youth in his community for attending a masked ball and participating in the dances. He repeated the Herem that had been announced on the subject in the synagogue twelve years earlier (1783), including a ban on the mixed dancing of men and women (Friedhaber, p. 25).
  17. Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Soskino of Florence was asked in 1799 about the Herem in a certain city which forbade men from dancing with women except for a husband and his wife, brother and sister, etc. After five years of the Herem, a group of fifteen young men asked the members of the Vaad [communal council] to cancel the Herem, and there were some young men who transgressed the Herem and danced with foreign women [non-relatives] and forbidden women. Rabbi Soskino supported the Herem and asked for the consent of the Hida, Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulai in Livorno (1724-1806; Responsa Yosef Ometz, 103). The Hida agreed with the Herem and even added some sources.
  18. The Hida also objected to mixed dancing in his Sheyarei Berakhah to Even Ha’ezer 21, paragraph 1. He quotes there from a manuscript of the glosses of Maharda”k to Even Ha’ezer 21 who rebuked those who dance with women even if they are single and even more so if they are married. The same Maharda”k also quoted the abovementioned Maharam of Rothenberg (we have already seen above that the name is a scribal error). The Hida added that the prohibition is not an act of piety, but forbidden by Jewish law, and he also refers to the above-mentioned Shelah and Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz.
  19. In Furth (cf. above) in 1803, when they saw that the Takkanot against mixed dancing had failed, the community’s leaders resorted to “shaming” at the instruction of their Rabbi. They set up a large blackboard in the Women’s Section of the synagogue on which they wrote in large letters: “This board was installed… to list on it in disgrace the names of those women who were found dancing with men, in order to distinguish them from the modest women” (Friedhaber, p. 26).
  20. Rabbi Yehudah Aszod (Hungary, 1794-1866; Responsa Yehudah Ya’aleh, Orah Hayyim, 91) was one of the leaders of Orthodoxy who fought against the Haskalah and the Reform movement. Tangentially to a question about dancing at the wedding of someone in mourning, he writes: “And if they asked me, it was certainly not about the dancing of young men, because everyone knows that for me it’s a blemish and forbidden”. He then refers to Responsa Zikhron Yosef quoted above (No. 19).
  21. Rabbi Ya’akov Ettlinger (Altona, 1798-1871; Responsa Binyan Tziyon, 139) was another staunch opponent of the Reform movement. He wrote to his son-in-law in 1859 that it’s appropriate to do away with dancing at all weddings because young men and women dance together.
  22. Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel Epstein (Navahrudak, 1829-1908; Arukh Hashulhan, Even Ha’ezer 65:3) ruled that “the joy is for men to dance separately and women separately, and God forbid that men dance with women”. As proof, he cites Psalm 148:12, which was also quoted by Sefer Hassidim (No. 1).
  23. Rabbi Hayyim Hizkiyah Medini (Hebron, Crimea, 1832-1904; Sedei Hemed, Ma’arekhet Hatan Vekhalah Vehuppah, paragraph 12, pp. 2494, 2497) strongly opposed the dance known as “the Tass”. Near the huppah or inside the huppah, young men and women hold hands and dance and spin and walk from corner to corner. And he testifies that some years ago in this city as well, the plague of this dance began to spread. He preached against it in the Great Synagogue on Shabbat, and they accepted what he said and stopped it.
  24. Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (1833-1909; Ben Ish Hai, first year, Parashat Shoftim, paragraph 18) was opposed to mixed dancing at weddings and even the dancing of women in front of men is forbidden because it incites the evil inclination.
  25. Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook (Lithuania and Jerusalem, 1865-1935; Responsa Ezrat Kohen, 30) was asked in 1935 by Moshe Yurevich, a member of the Torah Va’avodah Hachsharah movement in Pressburg, about mixed dancing. The question probably referred to dancing the Hora, which was popular at the time among Halutzim and members of kibbutzim. Rabbi Kook strongly objected without citing even a single source: “Not to mention the breaking of the fences of our holy Torah and the ways of modesty and purity that are maintained by pious Jews since time immemorial, and God forbid to imitate those who break the yoke of Torah and the fear of Heaven…”.
  26. Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel (Saloniki and Israel, 1880-1953; Piskei Uziel Bishe’elot Hazman, Jerusalem, 1977, No. 49, p. 264) was asked if it was permissible to hold a wedding ceremony in a synagogue, which he viewed as forbidden. The questioner wanted to do so in order to prevent dances that could involve licentiousness. Rabbi Uziel replied that two wrongs don’t make a right, and it’s still forbidden.
  27. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Lithuania and New York, 1895-1986) forbade mixed dancing in three of his responsa (Igrot Moshe, Even Ha’ezer, Part 2, No. 13; Yoreh Deah, Part 2, No. 33; Orah Hayyim, Part 4, No. 35). Mixed dancing, it’s simple that it’s prohibited. An observant Jew who goes to a place of licentiousness such as a dance of young men and women — should he be told to take off his kippah? No. This is only adding insult to injury. Is it permissible to permit mixed dancing in a synagogue’s “Social Hall” so that they should not go dance elsewhere with Gentiles? No. You cannot permit something forbidden in order to fix something else.
  28. Rabbi Yitzhak Ya’akov Weiss (Eastern Europe, Manchester, and Jerusalem, 1902-1989) objected to mixed dancing in three of his responsa (Minhat Yitzhak, Part 3, Nos. 111-112; Part 5, No. 99) He vehemently opposed mixed dancing at Bar Mitzvah parties, as well as so-called Orthodox synagogues who organized mixed dances in order to raise money for various causes. He organized a campaign together with the Manchester Bet Din and ordered synagogues and other institutions to abolish this bad practice and the synagogues obeyed the court and stopped holding such dances. Rabbi Weiss assumed that mixed dancing is absolutely forbidden without providing any proof.
  29. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Israel, 1920-2013; Responsa Yabia Omer, Part 1, Orah Hayyim, 30, paragraph 15) referred to our topic tangentially to another topic and prohibited mixed dancing.
  30. Rabbi Binyamin Adler (Jerusalem; Hanisu’in Kehilkhatam, second edition, Jerusalem, 1985, pp. 400-401) opposed mixed dancing based on the abovementioned Arukh Hashulhan (No. 30).
  31. Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Israel, born 1952; Yalkut Yosef, Sova Semahot, 1, Jerusalem, 1998, pp. 193-196) writes that it’s simple and clear that, according to halakhah, mixed dancing is prohibited at a wedding.

II) What can be learned from the above sources?

At first glance, one might learn from the almost 40 sources quoted above from the ca. 1200 until today — and one could easily add many more sources — that mixed dancing is completely prohibited. After all, it was forbidden over the course of 800 years by Jewish ethical works, the Takkanot of various Jewish communities, and important poskim. However, if one carefully studies the above-mentioned sources, one deduces exactly the opposite: there is no Biblical or Rabbinic prohibition of mixed dancing. There are repeated attempts to ban mixed dancing — without much success.

As I have emphasized elsewhere (Golinkin, The Status of Women), the Babylonian Talmud is the supreme authority in matters of Halakhah. As a result, many important poskim stated that it is permissible to rule according to the Babylonian Talmud even if the ruling is contrary to the Geonim or the major poskim such as the Rif, the Rambam and the Shulhan Arukh. This was emphasized by the Rosh (1250-1321), the above-mentioned Maharashal (1510-1573), and Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin (1749-1821) in the name of the Gaon of Vilna, and this was the practice of major poskim in the twentieth century such as the above-mentioned Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, the above-mentioned Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and Rabbi Hayyim David Halevi.

The prohibition discussed here is not mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, the Geonim or among the major poskim in the period of the Rishonim (i.e., from the years 500-1500), so there is no reason to prohibit it in the first place.

And now I will prove what I have written, one step at a time.

  1. It is very surprising that most of the above-mentioned sources ignored Ketubot 16b-17a, which is the main Talmudic passage dealing with dancing at a wedding:

Our Rabbis taught: How does one dance before the bride? Bet Shammai say: The bride as she is. And Beth Hillel say: ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’!… When R. Dimi came,  he said: Thus they sing before the bride in the West:  no blue powder and no red paint and no dying [of the hair], and still a graceful gazelle…

They tell of R. Judah b”r Ilai that he used to take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride and say: ‘Beautiful and graceful bride.’ Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Isaac danced with three [myrtle twigs or with his cane; they then prove that this was an act of piety].

Rav Aha took her on his shoulder and danced [with her]. The Rabbis said to him: May we [also] do it? He said to them: If they are on you like a beam, [then it is] all right. and if not, [you may] not.

We can learn a number of important things from this passage. First of all, there was no mehitzah between men and women at weddings just as there was no mehitzah in the synagogue during the Talmud period (see Golinkin, Mehitzah). They couldn’t sing to the bride and dance in front of her if they couldn’t see her!

Furthermore, Rav Aha put the bride on his shoulders and danced. Indeed, the Sages thought he was overdoing it and he replied what he replied. But one must read this passage carefully: they were not surprised that he was dancing with the bride, but rather that he was carrying her on his shoulders. There is no clear proof here of mixed dancing in the Talmudic period, but there is a hint that men, including important Sages, danced with the bride.

  1. The entire prohibition in question began in the Musar literature such as Sefer Hassidim, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms and Orhot Tzadikim. The Musar literature frequently demands ascetic behavior that has no Talmudic/Halakhic origin.
  2. Sefer Hassidim, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, the Maharshal and others forbid mixed dancing on the basis of verses from the Prophets and the Writings. However, the major poskim have already ruled that we may not invent new derashot that are not found in the Mishnah, Talmud and classic midrashim (Rabbi Malakhi Hacohen, Yad Malakhi, Kelalei Hatalmud, 144). Moreover, the verses cited by them do not prove any prohibition of mixed dancing. “Then shall a virgin rejoice in dance” (Jeremiah 31:12) only teaches us that virgins used to dance together (cf. below). “And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zekhariah 8:5) does not deal with dancing. “Young men and also virgins, old men with young men” (Psalms 148:12) does not deal with dancing. Furthermore, the author of Sefer Hassidim claims that the words “and also” come to separate, in contrast to the word “with” in the second half of the verse, but that is not the simple meaning of the verse.
  3. The Maharshal and others emphasize Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8 that “the daughters of Jerusalem go out and dance in the vineyards” on Tu B’av and Yom Kippur in order to look for a match, hence the daughters of Israel must dance alone. However, this is a very problematic source. This custom is similar to the one described in the book of Judges 21:19-21, where it is said that the daughters of Shiloh used to dance in the vineyards and that the Benjaminites grabbed them and took them back to the land of Benjamin. Furthermore, Prof. Theodore Gaster has shown that this was the practice of many peoples in ancient times. The behavior described in both sources may have been appropriate for those times; it certainly does not serve as a precedent for separate dancing at a wedding today!
  4. Many of the above-mentioned sources, beginning with Rabbi Eleazar of Worms quoted in the Kol Bo, quote Eruvin 18b [and cf. the parallel source in Berakhot 61a] and/or Proverbs 11:21: “Our Sages have taught: A man who counts coins from his hand into her hand in order to look at her, even if he is like Moses our Teacher who received the Torah from Mount Sinai, he will not be absolved from the punishment of Hell, about which the Scripture says: ‘Hand to hand will not be clean of evil’ (Proverbs 11:21) “. This source is also not convincing. The simple meaning of the verse is not clear; this Baraita was not codified as Halakhah; and it does not deal with dancing.
  5. There are poskim who emphasize that it’s forbidden to dance with women at a wedding because it’s forbidden to look at the bride at a wedding, according to the conclusion of a Talmudic passage in Ketubot 17a as codified by the Shulhan Arukh (Even Ha’ezer 65:2). However, there are different opinions in the Talmud regarding looking at women. Rabbi Yonatan (Ketubot, ibid.) explicitly permitted looking at the bride at her wedding. Similarly, according to Rav Sheshet, it’s forbidden to look even at a woman’s little finger (Berakhot 24a), but, according to Rav, it’s permissible to look at a single woman in order to decide whether to marry her (Kiddushin 41a). In any case, since nowadays Klal Yisrael [the collective Jewish people] including observant Jews, look at women in general, it would be very odd to forbid this specifically at a wedding.
  6. We saw that many communities tried to prevent mixed dancing without success. Some even said that a certain dance is forbidden and another dance is permissible. Herem and excommunication and Takkanot are not usually based on a Talmudic source. They come “lemigdar milta”, “to make a fence”. Rabbi Henkin asserts (p. 128) that the Takkanah of the communities of Italy and Turkey against mixed dancing spread throughout the Diaspora, but it’s clear from the sources above that that did not happen. Furthermore, a Takkanah cannot spread. Every rabbi or Bet Din needs to enact a Takkanah issue a Gezeirah [decree]. This is what Rabbi Raphael Meldola (1754-1828) emphasized in 1796 in regard to our topic.

He was a rabbi and Dayan in Livorno and the “Hakham” of the Sephardic community in London who was ordained as a rabbi by the Hida who, as mentioned, opposed mixed dancing. In his classic work, Huppat Hattanim (Livorno, 1796, 6:8, p. 48) Rabbi Meldola writes: “But regarding the matter of men dancing with women as is our custom… or where it becomes a stumbling block regarding other matters etc., they did not discuss this… And to the Dayanim of the city, to them the judgment is proper, to find out and judge according to [the needs of] the hour.” In other words, according to “our custom” there is no prohibition, but the city’s judges are allowed to inquire and judge according to the needs of the hour. If specific rabbis or judges want to forbid mixed dancing as a temporary measure, they are allowed to do so, but this is a temporary measure that is certainly not binding on Klal Yisrael.

  1. Furthermore, the above sources are a classic example of “One does not decree a Gezeirah on the public unless a majority of the public can comply with it” (Bava Kamma 79b and parallels; Entziklopedia Talmudit, s.v. Ein gozrin gezeirah). We saw above that for 800 years rabbis and communities attempted to ban and prevent mixed dancing in Germany, Italy, Corfu, Greece, Poland, Prague, Hungary, Crimea, Israel, England and the USA without success! Mixed dancing did not begin in modern times as part of the Haskalah or the Reform movement. It was an accepted practice of Klal Israel in all places and at all times for at least 800 years. The rabbis tried to decree and to forbid — to no avail.
  2. The Hida and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein argued that mixed dancing is part of the Biblical prohibition of “Do not come near to uncover nakedness” (Leviticus 18:6) according to the Rambam (Issurei Bi’ah 21:1). However, Rabbi Henkin has already emphasized in his reponsum (p. 126) that there is no “Torah prohibition of ‘do not come near [to uncover nakedness]’ (Leviticus 18:6) by touching the hand without hugging and kissing, as for example in circle dances. And so we hear from the Rishonim and early Aharonim who wrote about dancing and none of them mentioned the Torah prohibition of touching”. He then emphasizes some of the early sources cited above and stresses that Sefer Hassidim relied on Jeremiah 31 and Psalms 148; Sefer Kol Bo relied on Proverbs 11; Responsa Binyamin Ze’ev and Rabbi David of Corfu enacted Takkanot; and the Maharshal relied on Sefer Hassidim. And why is there a need for “all these if in fact the dancing itself violated a Torah prohibition?!” In other words, there is no need to look for prooftexts in the Prophets or Writings or to enact Takkanot if it’s a Biblical prohibition!

Furthermore, we have already proven in another responsum (Golinkin, Negiah) “that the terms ‘negiah’ and ‘shomer negiah‘ do not appear in the Halakhic midrashim, nor in the Talmud, nor in the writings of the major poskim. These are stringencies created in late midrashim and in the Musar literature of the Middle Ages that probably penetrated the world of Halakhah bit by bit. These customs are not prohibitions, neither Biblical nor Rabbinic, and there is no obligation to follow them”.

  1. Finally, modern-day ultra-Orthodox rabbis such as Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Yitzhak Ya’akov Weiss, and others, simply assumed that mixed dancing was forbidden without providing any proof whatsoever.

 III) Summary and Practical Halakhah

Mixed dancing at weddings is not prohibited by the Torah or by the Babylonian Talmud. This prohibition began in the Musar literature, moved to the Takkanot of specific Jewish communities and finally to the literature of the poskim, but Klal Yisrael did not accept the decree and men and women continued to dance together, both at weddings and in general. If a rabbi or a specific rabbinic court want to issue a decree against mixed dancing for a particular community, they may do so, but it is not binding on Klal Yisrael.

David Golinkin


13 Sivan 5783


  1. There is one source which we did not include in our discussion – Hama’asim Livnei Eretz Yisrael, Hillel Newman, Jerusalem, 2011, Ma’aseh 24, pp. 151-152. This source, which was apparently written in Israel ca. 600 and was only published in 1930, is very interesting, but is not part of the authoritative stream of Jewish law. That passage appears in an abbreviated form in Sefer Hapardess, ed. Ehrenreich, p. 72, which was edited, according to Pinhas Roth, in Italy in the late 12th century, but that too had no influence on subsequent Jewish law. For discussion of both sources, see B”M Lewin, Otzar Hageonim to Sukkah, p. 70; Golinkin, Status of Women, p. 315, note 5; Pinhas Roth, Sefer Hapardess, M.A. thesis, Hebrew University, 2008, pp. 91-92; and Newman, pp. 103-104.



Abrahams — Israel Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, London, 1896, pp. 380-381

Abrahams, Ethical Wills — Israel Abrahams, ed., Hebrew Ethical Wills, Philadelphia, 1926, p. 211

Cohen  — אורה כהן, צניעות האישה בעידן המודרני (חסרים השנה ומקום הדפוס), עמ’ 65-63

EJ —  Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 5, cols. 1262-1271, s.v. Dance

Ellinson — הרב אליקים אלינסון, הצנע לכת: האשה והמצוות ספר שני, מהדורה ג’, ירושלים, תשמ”ו, עמ’ 62-59

Epstein — Rabbi Louis Epstein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism, New York, 1948, 1967, pp. 100-103

Friedhaber — צבי פרידהבר, “המחול בחברה היהודית בראי ספרות המוסר ותקנות הקהילות במאות 17 – 18”, דברי הקונגרס העולמי העשירי למדעי היהדות, חטיבה ד’, כרך שני, ירושלים, תש”ן, עמ’ 28-21

Gaster — Theodor Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament, New York, 1969, pp. 444-446, 538-539

Golinkin, Mehitzah — David Golinkin, “The Mehitzah in the Synagogue”, The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012, Chapter 14

Golinkin, Negiah — David Golinkin, “Negiah…”, Responsa in a Moment, Vol. V, Jerusalem, 2021, No. 18; also available at:

Golinkin, Status of Women — David Golinkin, The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa, Jerusalem, 2012, pp. 112-115

Henkin — הרב יהודה הרצל הנקין, שו”ת בני בנים, ירושלים, תשמ”א, סימן ל”ז-לח, עמ’ קיז-קלג

Pollack — Herman Pollack, Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands (1648-1806): Studies in Aspects of Daily Life, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, p. 39

Roth — Cecil Roth, The Jews in the Renaissance, Philadelphia, 1959, pp. 274-281

Sha’ashua — הרב יוסף שלום שעשוע, ספר חופה כהלכה, חולון, תשנ”ד, עמ’ ס”ז-ס”ט

Sternberg, 2010 — עקיבא שטרנברג, ההלכה והמעשה, רחובות, תש”ע, עמ’ 61-32

Sternberg, 2016 — עקיבא שטרנברג, המסורתיים הקדמונים: המחוייבים להלכה ופורצי גבולותיה, רחובות, תשע”ו, עמ’ 329-323

Zunz — Leopold Zunz, Zur Geschichte und Literatur, Vol. 1, Berlin, 1845, p. 171

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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