Mixed Dancing in Judaism

Jewish men and women didn't always dance together. Some of them still don't.

Mixed dancing was severely frowned upon by the Talmudic rabbis. The Rabbinic interpretation of the verse: “Hand to hand shall not go unpunished” (Psalms 11: 21) was to prohibit a man and woman not married to one another to hug or kiss, and ‘hugging’ was held to apply to any touching of hands or other parts of the body; this was quite apart from the conviction that mixed dancing leads inevitably to lewd conduct.

At weddings the men danced while the women looked on. The sole exception was the practice of some tzaddikim, or saintly men, (following the Talmudic precedent) to dance with the bridebut, even here, there was no actual touching. The bride would hold a handkerchief at one end while the man held the other end without ever actually touching the bride herself.

In many communities, especially among the Hasidim, this practice continues to the present day. In the Kabbalistic teaching, to dance with the bride was to dance with the Shekhinah, of whom the bride is the representative on earth.

Many medieval Jewish communities had a specialized dancing-house (Tanzltaus), chiefly for use when marriages were celebrated, but voices were sometimes raised against the dancing-house because of the mixed dancing which often took place there. Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschirz writes that he was once asked by a bishop of the Church why Jews object to mixed dancing, since the verse says: “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together” (Jeremiah 31: 13). The rabbi replied that, on the contrary, the verse implies that there will no mixed dancing, since the virgin is said to dance apart from the youth and old men who dance together.

The prohibition of mixed dancing is still applied rigorously by most Orthodox Jews, although a few see no harm in the practice nowadays, evidently because such a widely accepted form of social behavior in the West hardly involves the kind of embrace forbidden because it is the prelude to sexual intercourse.

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