Dec 3, 2007

Banning a wedding with mixed seating

There was a recent wedding in Antwerp that was basically an intermarriage. By intermarriage I do not mean the type related to assimilation, such as a non-Jew marrying a Jew. Rather, it was a amrriage between Jews of two different religious sects.

One of the families was part of the social group called "Kehal Mahzikei Ha'Das" (in Israel this name is associated with Belze, I do not know if that is true in Antwerp or in other places), while the other was part of "Kehal Shomrei Ha'Das". Those of Mahzikei Ha'Das are known as being more stringent, while Shomrei Ha'Das, supposedly, has the reputation of being more liberal and less tied to the "letter of the law".

The family connected to Shmorei wanted to make the wedding of their children with mixed (family style) seating. They announced their intentions early in the planning stages so everyone would know that this was important to them, and anybody who would not want to participate need not come. The Mahzikei family wanted separate seating, if even limited to a certain area, but the Shomrei family did not agree.

The Dayan Rav Eliyahu Sternbuch went into the beis hamidrash the day before the wedding and made an announcement. He declared that it is prohibited to go to the wedding, even if just for a few minutes to say mazel tov. He prohibited it because of "pritzas geder" - breaking a fence, i.e. they made a fence not to have mixed weddings and if they have a mixed wedding and enjoy everyone's participation, it will destroy the decree not to have such weddings.

People got upset and representatives from the Shomrei community said they would be willing to have a separate seating section in the hall. Rav Sternbuch refused to give them permission because it would create a breach via which other hetterim would then be established.

Because of this psak halachah, most people avoided the wedding and did not even go to say mazel tov.

This was a story reported in the Mishpacha newspaper.

It seems a little extreme to me. I am not aware of a halacha saying that seating in a private affair HAS to be separate, even if you might say it is preferrable.. We all know the responsa from Rav Moshe Feinstein that says a private affair is allowed to have mixed seating. I guess Rav Sternbuch argues, but his response to not allow anyone from the community to attend seems pretty radical.


  1. B"H Although the idea of mixed weddings bothers e tremendously, the manner in which this was handled could have been different.

    Of course, I am going to guess that this is not the first time that Belgian Jews have had to navigate the between these two communities.

    I will also surmise that there's a history here which led up to this Dayan's decision.

  2. could be there is a history of a fight over the issue which forced him to take a strong stance....


    THE family is lucky that R' Shternbuch didn't have people stoning those who did attend. Throwing their kids out of the schools, ruining other shidduchim.

    I think they got off lite. What a chutzpah that this pritzusdika family should be allowed to follow halacha and have family mixed seating. Oy, what next?

    I have no doubt in my mind, that if it weren't for the torahs issur on the act of homosexuality, the next chumrah for tznius would be to simply marry a man.

  4. I beleive this Rav is R. Pinchas Eichenstein's father in law. He is a Chasidic reletive of R. Moshe Sterbuch (a cousin, I think).

    In my view, the kind of declaration made by this Rav is exactly of the type that leads to the Kanaus one finds in your sister city of RBS B.

  5. Rabbi Frand gave a shiur on mixed seating,I think, about 20 years ago. (Maybe he's given one or two since then.)

    In a nutshell the separate seating is a Chassidish minhag (that is now gaining wider acceptance in the larger Chareidi world).

  6. Didn't anyone think of the chasan and kallah, and how this would affect them on their day???

  7. B"H Gee. I guess I'm one of those crazy, nut jobs, out of touch with modern reality types all of you MO's (not that there's anything wrong with that) and "American Haredi" (not in the literal sense but meaning the group identified as such in Israel - MO's in Haredi clothing) others mostly outside of Israel, thinks is running around being insensitive to others' precious feelings.

    What about dancing? How doable is sitting together at a meal, and then going separate ways to dance?

    Or now you're going to tell me that watching women undulate is "technically" OK as well.

    Also, there's a difference between sitting a the same table versus sitting intermingled at a table, risking inappropriate interaction between men and women.

    Whoops! I forgot. I must be living in the dark ages, because there's no such thing as inappropriate interactions between men and women. Right?

    What's the terutz people love to use?

    "We're all mature adults here, and can handle such mixed environments."


    Next you're gonna tell me that it's more convenient to have mixed seating for when the kallah's mother comes out to give the daf yomi shi'ur in honor of the hathunah.

    Admit it. There area a few of you out there who actually think that.

    Well, Rafi, I have to compliment you for having the skill and attraction to reach such a diverse audience.

    We're not here on this earth to accept the (goyshe) reality. We're here on this earth to make the Torah world THE reality.

  8. OK, I have been to many dati leumi weddings with "mixed seating" that is that the kallah's friends were at certain tables, chatan's friends at others.. family's and couples at the same table.

    This only works with a strict seating arrangements with place cards with even that not always working out.

    I, and chabad as a whole are very against it..

    BUT, I will work out something for rafi and his wife to sit together at my wedding ;)

  9. RHM - I am pretty sure it is a relative. He is a dayan on the Antwerp Beis Din of which Rav Tuvia Weiss was formerly the head of. Rav Tivua Wreiss is now the head of the Eidah Hareidis in jerusalem, on which Rav Moshe Sternbuch is senior dayan. Too coincidental to not be related....

    come running - who knows? maybe they were involved.. but usually these things are fought out by the parents... anyways, trying to imagine how it worked without knowing any real details, in my mind it probably went down like this. There are two choices how children of these two communities intermarried with each other. a) the more liberal became very frum and associated with the stricter group. I doubt this happened because then it is likely this whole story would not have happened. or b) the more strict became more modern and liberal. If that happened I can see this story happening.

    They are both more liberal and willing to have a mixed seating wedding. But they have a lot of friends in the strict group because that is the side the chassan grew up in. The dayan, upset at the loss of one of his ranks and the threat to the rest of them, banned his wedding because of the mixed seating...

    But maybe I am wrong. Probably actually.

    Soccer dad - it has pretty much taken over already

  10. ben yehuda - About 99.9% of the weddings we go to are separate seating. I happen to prefer mixed seating for practical reasons. Usually I know few people at these weddings and am seating with people I do not know and not interested in talking to. When at a mixed seating wedding, I can sit with my wife and talk with her..

    BTW, I was at a rare mixed seating wedding last night of a cousin. It was very frum as the boys side were all yeshiva boys (dati leumi from har etzion, and the like), but it was mixed. I sat with my wife and other family members, and you would be hard pressed to tell me that when I sit at the table at a wedding with my family (wife, sister in law, mother in law, cousin) it causes improper thoughts, and if they do then how can we ever get together for shabbos or family affairs, and why is a wedding different?

    But anyways, in this rare event of a mixed seating wedding, it happens to be that they made the dance floors on totall yopposite sides of the wedding hall (and the womens floor was totally enclosed by partitions). Not the usual right next to each other. So the men did not even see the women "undulating"....

    So it is possible to be done well....

    Elchonon - thanks, but no need to go out of your way. As I said 99.9% of the weddings we go to are separate....

  11. rafi,
    most of the weddings i go to are mixed seating (for families , with separtae tables for single guys and separate for single girls) and they all have separate dancing sections for women with a mechitzah. there is no undulating seen at all (so much so that i don't even know what the word means.)
    but, rafi, you sat at the same table as your mother in law??!! what terutz are you going to give ben-yehudah for that inappropriate interaction ?

  12. lol... there were place cards telling us which tables to sit on, and we were placed on the same table....

  13. it was pointed out to me (thanks DA) the Levush writes in minhagim #36 that nowadays because we are so common to be in the presence of women it does not lead to impure thoughts anymore and therefore we are no longer careful to have separate seating weddings.

    BTW, I am not criticizing separate seating weddings. If Rav Sternbuch prefers to make his daughters wedding separate seating, fine by me. But to ban a wedding because they do not follow the same stringency, seems "a bit" extreme...

  14. ben-yehuda,

    I have gone to many weddings with mixed seating, and there was absolutely no difficulty in having separate dancing. The guests were not forced to surrender their legs at the entrance to the hall (I'm not sure what goes on at the weddings you attend), so they were free to get up and walk to the men's/women's dancing area, as appropriate.

    In addition, I'm not sure how separate seating can prevent men from ogling dancing women, unless they are in a completely separate room or really very far away (according to what Rafi said, the issue was seating, not proximity of the dancing areas.)

    Furthermore, I'm not proud of it, but I have caught glimpses of women dancing at weddings, and it can hardly be described as "undulating." But thanks for using such an unnecessarily charged word. It makes it seem as if you are trying to support a flimsy argument with strong language (but I could be wrong.)

    In terms of seating, what typically is done at "intermingled" tables is that husbands sit next to their own wives, and couples sit so that wives of adjacent couples are next to each other. But since this is not arranged beforehand, you seem to find it offensive.

    In addition, your flippant discounting of the notion that adults know how to handle themselves is immature beyond words. Saying "(sigh)" after presenting a valid point in order to discredit it without presenting any counterpoint, and then launching into a diatribe about a woman giving a gemarah shiur (I'd love to see what kind of weddings you attend, or at least have a hit of whatever it is you're smoking) is insulting to the reader's intelligence, and intellectually dishonest. Most mature, torah-committed people do know how to handle themselves when dealing with members of the opposite sex. Not creating an environment to protect the few who don't should not be a cause for shame or a target of attack.

    The insinuation in your final paragraph that mixed-seating weddings run counter to any recognizable Torah way of life is so puerile and insulting that I don't have the words to address it. I think it suffices to quote Chazal:כל הפטור מדבר ועושהו נקרא הדיוט (see the second perek of Brachot).

    As long as you raised an issue of setting “stumbling blocks”, I think your post is extremely problematic. You don’t seem to think that people are mature enough to sit with non-relatives of the opposite sex at a wedding and not have inappropriate interactions with them, but somehow, they are mature enough to read your post and not have improper thoughts (such as they are practicing some goyish religion, etc.) about people who attend “mixed” functions.

  15. B"H Rafi, I do not believe I ever said it was impossible.

    And just for clarification, none of comments were directed a t you personally. Now, however, I see that you are trying to present the various aspects of this issue.

    Family is one thing. Not everyone is as sensible as you or as some of the people whose weddings you have attended.

    We, quite possibly come form different schools of thought on this.

    On Shabbath and Haggim? For me, the men and women are at separate sides of the table, at the minimum.

    Family aside (but not 100%), it is not my custom to chat with women at the Shabbath table. For the most part, the men talk together, and the women talk together on their side.

    I never said anything about thoughts. I said actions.

    And was there any monitoring of the outside areas?

  16. B"H Yoni R., there are clear differences between words and visual stimuli and physical interactions.

    BTW, your HaZa"L quote is not shayakh.

  17. ben-yehudah,

    I don't know what "words" you are referring to. I never specifically mentioned any kind of interaction, either verbal or otherwise. And if you think that "mere words" between members of opposite sexes won't lead to anything, you have another thing coming.

    About the chazal quote: I say it is shayach. There - I've backed up my statement just as much as you have. Thanks for the well-thought-out response.

    More specifically, the quote has to do with doing something which is not strictly required, but is in any event done for a good reason, and thinking that it is the ikar ha-din. (On example is sirtut for all the lines of tefilin, where only the top line, and maybe the sides and bottom according to different rishonim, but a sofer puts sirtut on all the lines to help him write stright). So it is appropriate in this case, since while separate seating at a wedding may be a good idea, it is certainly not something which is binding, unless perhaps it is one's community's minhag.

  18. B"H

    Yoni R., I was referring to when you said:

    "but somehow, they are mature enough to read your post and not have improper thoughts"

    My post is a set of words.

    My apologies for the lack of clarity.

    I guess I'll stop beating around the bush.

    I find extensive chit-chatting between men and women "inappropriate interactions."

    No, I am not saying that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. I'm only expressing an opinion.

    I do not find "mixed-seating weddings run counter to any recognizable Torah way of life." However, I do believe that this is not an ideal situation.

    Supportive wives in the background aside, I never find women in the room to be conducive to a Torahdiq environment, NOT way of life, but the atmosphere.

    Obviously I am in the minority here.

    So, I'll just leave it at that.

  19. ben yehuda,

    despite my disagreement with your ideals of halacha, I will not debate them here, and you are certainley "entitled" to hold l'chumra any way you want. the issue here wasn't whether there should or shouldn't be mixed seating, that was the tangent people went off on. the issue here was - since there are piskei halacha allowing such seating, is a "ban" necessary or even allowable? And certainley from a derech eretz point of view - is it the right way to go about expressing your psak halacha on someone else who didn't ask?

    I understand your choice - that works for you. But it's not the issue.

  20. doesn't it bother anyone that the ideology of extreme "modesty" is a completely christian concept? The torah and Jewish history pre-christianity had pretty liberal and strange views on sex and sexuality.

    But I guess so much of modern (haredi) judaism is ortho-christian this is just one more for the list.

    In a sense I think orthodox jews are like marranos; without having actually been baptized.

    Rafi, was my wedding the .001 wherein women were undulating?

  21. Dan - I do not know what the percentage is of weddings with undulating women. I would guess the percentage is higher in the sfardic community than in the ashkenazic one, as I think "undulating" is more their style.
    That being said, your wedding had plenty of undulating women despite it being an ashkenazy wedding. I was delirious with hepatitis at the time so I do not remember exactly what went down nor can I be held responsible for anything I might have partaken in... :-)

  22. yeah right rafi - it was the hepatits that put that underwear on your head when you jumped up in front during the speeches....

  23. I reall do not remember that... To whom did the underwear belong?

  24. i don't know who she was, but she seemed pretty upset

  25. Not two different "sects," just halachik opinions. Unless the extreme chareidi is a new religion.


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