The Mitzvah Tantz (Part 1)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

1. Few customs in Judaism are as debated as the mitzvah tantz. The mitzvah tantz, or mitzvah dance, is the chassidic custom of honorable men (related to the chosson or kallah) dancing before the bride, after the wedding feast. Commonly, the bride, who usually stands perfectly still at one end of the room, will hold one end of a gartel, while the one dancing before her holds the other end. Many consider this to be a very special and holy practice, while others feel that this practice should not be performed, as shall be explained (see Shulchan Haezer vol. 2 page 79b).

2. The Gemara makes reference to “dancing before the kallah.” The Machzor Vitri (496) writes that, “Following the meal we take the chosson and kallah and we seat them facing each other. We then dance around them etc.” Some point to the Machzor Vitri as the source for the mitzvah tantz, even though he makes no reference of dancing with the kallah, which is usually the case with the mitzvah tantz.

3. Many chassidic seforim explain that the mitzvah tantz carries great spiritual importance (see Sefer Derech Pekudecha Mitzvah Lo Saaseh 35:14, Sefer Avnei Esaser and Sefer Netai Gavriel Nisuin chapter 45).

4. The Sefer Shulchan Haezer (vol. 2 page 80) illustrates the importance of this custom from the following story. Grand Rabbi Moshe Hager of Kosov zt”l was once approached by a very poor kallah a few days before her wedding. She wished to receive charity from the Rebbe. The Rebbe gave her money and said that due to his age and the arduous trip he will not be able to attend the wedding. However, he does wish to perform the great mitzvah of dancing before the kallah. So he donned his Shabbos clothing and performed the mitzvah tantz.

5. The Pischei Teshuva (Even Haezer 65:2), however, cites the Sefer Torah Chaim who prohibits dancing with the kallah, even if a gartel is used and no physical contact is made with the kallah. He adds that the Gemara discusses the virtue of dancing “before” the kallah, not “with” the kallah.

Based upon this teaching, Harav Moshe Stern zt”l (shu”t Beer Moshe 4:131) writes that he performs a modified version of mitzvah tantz. He dances before the kallah without holding a gartel. This was also the practice of the great Rebbe of Shinova zt”l (see Sefer Divrei Torah Munkatch vol. 1 note 6), Harav Yosef Greenwald (Pupa Rav) and Harav Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam zt”l (see Netai Gavriel 45:3).

6. Those who do use a gartel during the mitzvah tantz feel that since the man is not touching the woman (or her clothing), but rather he is touching the same thing that she is touching, there is no prohibition. Even though normally this is not something that one would do (as it may be prohibited for a husband to act this way with his wife when she is a nidah- see Shach Yoreh Deah 195:2), for the sake of the mitzvah of simchas chosson v’kallah it is permitted (see Shulchan Haezer ibid.).

Moreover, the kallah does not really “dance.” She merely holds on to the gartel as the man dances. This way they are really dancing  “before” the kallah and not “with” her (Shu”t Vayivarech David Nisuin page 278).

7. Ashkenazim and sefardim do not have the custom to perform the mitzvah tantz. Chabad Chassidim also do not have the custom to perform the mitzvah tantz (see Netai Gavriel ibid.).

8. The Bach (Even Haezer 21) writes that if one has the custom to perform the mitzvah tantz he may continue to do so. If he does not have such a custom, then one may not decide to perform the mitzvah tantz. This ruling was cited by the Chelkas Mechokek and Beis Shmuel as normative halacha.

Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l also rules that sefardim, who do not have the custom of the mitzvah tantz, should not perform the mitzvah tantz (Yalkut Yosef Sovea Semachos page 197).

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