Ride to a Dance

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I. The Question

A number of years ago, I was visiting non-observant family and, as I was leaving, they asked me to do them a favor and drive their teenage daughter to a dance that was entirely on my way to where I was going. This presented me with a dilemma. Was I allowed to drive her to this dance or would I have to politely refuse, which would annoy (although not offend) these kind non-observant relatives? I was saved by a call from one of the young woman’s friends informing us that she was able to get control of her (the friend’s) parents’ car and drive my relative to the dance. But let us analyze the issues, probably in two posts.

II. Mixed Dancing

The first issue is whether there is anything wrong with mixed dancing. The way I see it, mixed dancing can be broken down into three types:

1. Dancing without touching

2. Dancing with non-affectionate touching

3. Dancing with affectionate touching

Dancing among teens (at least in the late 80s and early 90s) generally involved types 1 (fast dancing) and 3 (slow dancing). Type 2 is more of the ballroom dancing or “Israeli dancing” in circles.

III. Affectionate Touching

It is clear that affectionate touching (that is involved in slow dancing) is prohibited for two reasons. Since the young women are in the category of niddah this is prohibited touching – according to the Rambam biblically prohibited, and according to the Ramban rabbinically. That, alone, should be sufficient to render the driving of a young woman to a dance impermissible.

Non-affectionate touching is a matter of significant debate. The most common occurrence is handshaking. Whether or not it is permissible is debated, see Otzar Ha-Posekim to Even Ha-Ezer 25. Those who would permit shaking hands, however, would not consider “Israeli dancing” to be prohibited touching (assuming that it really is non-affectionate).

That notwithstanding, dancing with non-affectionate touching or without any touching is still problematic. In the past, mixed dancing has generally been of type 2 and, therefore, there is a literature on this subject spanning centuries. R. Shlomo Aviner has convenient excerpts from a long list of sources in his Gan Na’ul, pp. 157-169. R. Shlomo Katz has a more limited number of excerpts in his Kedoshim Tihyu (2nd edition), pp. 47-52.

IV. Ban on Mixed Dancing

It seems that in the times of the Rishonim there were a number of decrees banning mixed dancing. The Kol Bo cites in the name of R. Meir of Rotenburg that such a decree existed and was binding. This is related by other Rishonim and it seems to have been a recurring problem that the rabbinic authorities tried to stamp out. This was, presumably, referring to type 2 dancing and the ban applied to all such dancing. Does this imply that the dancing is otherwise permissible, were it not for the ban? Certainly not. It is commonplace to find medieval bans that served to forcefully reiterate biblical and rabbinic prohibitions.

R. Yehuda Henkin forcefully argues in his Bnei Banim, vol. 1 no. 37 part 9 that this ban is still in effect and applies to all types of mixed dancing.

V. Additional Considerations

Furthermore, there is an issue of seeing women improperly dressed and, even if properly dressed, dancing. A man at such a dance is looking at things that he should not be. Does this prohibition also fall on the women? We’ll leave that discussion for a later time.

Additionally, there is a serious problem of hirhurim. Women, when dancing, are generally swaying and moving in ways that are suggestive to men and cause improper thoughts that are prohibited. This is no small concern.

Finally, the reality is that for all of the above reasons, and probably sociological reasons as well, dances are places of immorality. To be blunt – there’s usually some hanky panky going on either at the dance or among people who “hook up” at the dance. If so, it is absolutely forbidden to be in a place of immorality.

Even those who are not dancing but are just there are violating halakhah (this is explicitly stated by the Sedei Hemed, vol. 7 Ma’arekhes Hasan Ve-Khalah no. 12 p. 422 ff.).

VI. Sources

Some random Aharonim on [what I believe is] type 2 dancing:

Binyan Tziyon 139 considers it to be an abizrayhu of arayos; Arukh Ha-Shulhan, Orah Hayim 529:7 writes that it is from the great sins and that the punishment of those who do it is great; Peri Hadash, cited in Sedei Hemed, Ma’arekhes Heih 2, vol. 2 p. 43; the Hafetz Hayim in his Ahavas Hesed, 3:6 p. 102 and in his Bi’ur Halakhah, 339 sv. le-hakel; R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggeros Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer 2:13, 97; R. Hayim David HaLevy, Aseh Lekha Rav, no 73, Mekor Hayim, vol. 5 p. 44.

Some random Aharonim on type 1 dancing (most posekim are unclear about the type of dancing so I do not assume that they refer explicitly to this type):

R. Yisrael Salanter in his Iggeros U-Mikhtavim, no. 39 p. 49; Ben Ish Hai, Mishpatim 18.

The next step in this discussion is to analyze whether, given that mixed dancing is forbidden, would I have been allowed to drive someone to such a dance?

(B”n, to be continued)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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