Friday, September 23, 2005

Mixed Seating at Weddings

Gil Student has just raised the question of mixed seating at weddings. This has become something of a cause celebre in Israel (and I assume elsewhere). Here, at least, it has gotten to the point that receptions are held in separate (though adjoining halls), leading no a few people I know to abjure the wedding festivities and to make due with attending the Huppah (which in Israel is often a matter of 'mixed standing.') This reaction is highly problematic, since the main point of attending a wedding is to rejoice with the bride and groom. Indeed, according to Tosfos (quoting the Yerushalmi) a person who is attends the weding without dancing etc. is subject to celestial excommunication (Tosafot Pesahim 114a s.v. ואין).

In any event, I must demur from Gil's conclusion that 'separate seating has far more halachic support.' The mixed seating option is equally legitimate. The prohibition noted by Sefer Hasidim (hardly a purely halakhic source) may even be enlisted to indicate that in Tosafist Germany the weddings had mixed seating. In addition, I strongly agree with Rav YH Henkin's observation:

And with this I retract what I wrote... that at weddings it is proper to seat single men and single women separately even if the married couples sit together. This is [still] so with young men and women who are not yet ready to get married. However, regarding those who have reached that stage, to the opposite, it is a mitzvah so that they get to know each other in a place where there is no concern for yihud and each couple is not alone on a "date," as is done today...

When I got married, the mixed seating question came up. My wife's family has a lot of Haredim and mine is overwhelmingly secular. One side wanted separate seating with a mehitzah and the other wanted social dancing. Obviously, the latter was out of the question but so was the former (as far as I was concerned). Almost everyone has non-religious relatives and friends and the potential for Qiddush and Hillul HaShem is very high.

Anyway, I put the question to the Rov זצ"ל. His immediate reaction was, 'Don't make a mahloqes.' When I explained that I already had a mahloqes, he told me that there was nothing wrong with having mixed seating at the tables. (We had separate seating at the ceremony). We could include 'שהשמחה במעונו' in the Birkat HaMazon (contra Sefer Hasidim). The Rov (who at the time was supposed to be the Mesadder Qiddushin, but fell ill the day before the wedding) made it very clear that the entire setup, as I had described it, was perfectly fine. [On another occasion, he explained to me that his insistence on the separate seating a mehitza was an issue in the Sanctity of the Synagogue. Indeed, as I recall, there was no separate seating at the Saturday Night shiurim at Maimonides. Sunday mornings, there were women who came but they sat at a side table. Since I never attended a Maimonides School Dinner, I have no idea what happened there.]

Now, the reason why posqim often write that that their decisions are 'להלכה ולא למעשה' is because precedent is not binding in Halakhah. Each case is different and precedent should not be mechanically applied. Therefore, I am not relating this story in order to encourage 'The Rov said it' flag waving. I reject that kind of behavior summarily. My intention was solely to balance the discussion started by Gil.


Gil Student said...

For what it's worth, I just quoted a length letter to The Jewish Press and then added R. Yehuda Henkin's view for balance.

I have a article forthcoming in the next issue of BDD about mehitzos in shuls and touch upon mehitzos at other events, including weddings. In short, it's a mahlokes.

Jeffrey said...

I agree that it's a mahloqes. I was just trying to point out that, IMHO, it's a mahloqes shequla.

DJR said...

Dear Dr. Woolf,

Thanks for your post. Is there any chance that you can make a version of your article, 'The parameters of precedent in "pesak halakhah"' available online?


Dave said...

I once heard a story that some students (at YU?) went to complain to Rav Aharon Soloveitchik about mixed seating at a wedding. He sighed, and said, "Oy vey - how do you think I met Ella?"

Gil Student said...

It might have happened more than once, but when I was in YU a friend of mine had that experience with R. Ahron Soloveichik (note the spelling of his name). That friend was his shamash at the time and mentioned to R. Ahron that he had gone to another friend's wedding and was surprised that the singles were seated mixed. So R. Ahron responded... as above.

The friend of mine is now a rebbe in MTA.

Mycroft said...

" Sunday mornings, there were women who came but they sat at a side table"
I think you are correct-but obviously R. Moshe Meiselman tries to leave a different impression about the Rav. Please comment on his stories from the latest Jewish Action-where he claims the Rav limited Torah Shebaal peh for women to the Halacha lemaaseh. Isuspect a different interpretation to Rav Meiselman's stories-I'm assuming the stories are accurate. Please comment.

Out of Step in Kfar Saba said...

A voice of reason in the mechitzah wars ... the "haktzana" in our community is driving people away. The "definition" of what it means to be dati in Israel is in itself disenfranchising a whole group of people.

Mycroft said...

" The "definition" of what it means to be dati in Israel is in itself disenfranchising a whole group of people."

I would paraphrase out of step by

The changing "definition" of what it means to be religious in North America is in itself disenfranchising a whole group of people and unlike Israel will alienate them not only from religious Judaism but from Judaism entirely.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I decided to have mixed seating. I have few Orthodox relatives. I felt that they would be quite uncomfortable if they were seated separately and that having a few "mixed tables" for those relatives or other non-Orthodox people would be counterproductive. My wife then designed a womens' dancing area with a mechitzah that worked well.