Rabbi Joseph Steinberg of Somerset New Jersey, recently caused a massive stir at the wedding of Josh and Sarah Wexler when he encouraged men and women to dance together. While mixed dancing happens at secular Jewish weddings, it is rarely, if ever done at orthodox weddings, even amongst other couples that are married.
The standard procedure is that upon entry of the newly married couple, both bride and groom are whisked away to their respective sides of a “mechitzah”, where the dancing begins. The men are forced to march in a circle with hands on each other’s shoulders, over and over again until boredom ensues, usually by the second circle. Since most of the men are in suits, profuse sweating can occur and it can make the situation awkward. Michael Ross, a close friend of the parents of the groom had this to say, “It gets hot so some of the guys take their sport coats off. That always drives me nuts because now I have to touch this guy who is disgusting. That’s usually when I just start clapping to avoid any more physical contact. I mean, it’s bad enough this is considered ‘dancing’ but when you make me touch a sweaty guy and I’m suppose to be happy about it, I gotta draw the line.”
The women tend to fair much better as coordinated dances are performed, usually with great awkwardness, but much more enthusiasm. Sarah Weinberg, a close friend of the bride was very happy to attend. “I sort of feel bad for the guys because walking around in a circle over and over again would drive me crazy also. I mean, sure some close friends of the groom go a little nuts and will mix it up a bit, trying to be funny and usually failing, but it usually makes everyone else uncomfortable. When I’ve sneaked a peek over at the guys before, it’s just a see of dark suits sweating. No thanks.”
Jeff Schneider, cousin of the bride, had this to say, “Usually if I know it’s going to be a really religious wedding, I just mentally prepare that the most fun I’m going to have is going to be at the buffet pre ceremony. People here asked me, ‘Hey Jeff, any ladies here you like?’ and I feel like telling them, ‘I’m not sure. Maybe, if you’d actually let me see some of them!’
While all of this was going on, a guest we will call “Joe” approached Rabbi Steinberg. A highly respected member of the community with Ordination from Yeshiva University, Rabbi Steinberg is a go to for Rabbinic rulings. Joe asked if it would be permissible to dance with his own wife. While not wanting to get into a “Fiddler On the Roof” moment as Rabbi Steinberg put it, he said that after witnessing the current state of the dancing on the men’s side, it would be permissible but only after each side had finished same sex dancing.
“Joe” then informed other guests of the Rabbi’s decree, and that is when the controversy erupted. Meyer Greenbaum, another guest at the wedding was very upset. ‘The Rabbi knows it is not permitted! Men dance with men, and women dance with women. While a Jewish wedding is supposed to be the most joyous of occasions, we are never suppose to be truly happy, and this fixes that.”
Other guests disagreed with Mr. Greenbaum. Mickey Lansig, uncle of the bride was happy about the Rabbi’s decision. “Look, we know the women have more fun. One of them asked me once, why we don’t coordinate dances. I told her, ‘Look lady, any guy coordinating a dance belongs on your side of the mechitzah to begin with.’ I can’t see any reason why at the very least husbands shouldn’t be able to dance with wives. I mean, I know I’m ‘Crazy Uncle Mick!’ but I say let the singles shmooze a bit also. What’s the big deal?”
While Rabbi Steinberg was clear that his ruling only applied to husbands and wives, fear that singles would dance with each other and enjoy themselves more is where the concern came from. With two more weddings in the Somerset area taking place in the next month, many are eager to see if Rabbi Steinberg’s ruling will have a lasting effect.