Thursday, February 23, 2006

Mixed Seating at Weddings

Several years ago a transcription of a Shiur by Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet was circulated on the Internet. Rabbi Rakeffet is a renowned author and Rosh Kollel (or at least a respected Rebbe) at the Yeshiva University Kollel in Jerusalem. This Shiur spoke to my very deeply held belief that the current move to the right is harmful to Klal Yisroel. No where is this more evident than in the area of mixed seating at weddings. It is becoming increasingly rare to find a mixed seating event and separate seating has even found its way into some weddings in the MO community. In my own children’s weddings, two of my children had a separate seating and two of them had mixed seating. I basically left it up to them as to what kind of affair to have. As an aside I would point out that at the two mixed affairs, I asked my Rebbe, Rav Aaron, if he wanted to sit mixed with his wife or separate (I had a few tables reserved for Charedi Rabbanim who I knew wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting with their wives) . Rav Aaron chose to sit with his wife and his son R. Eliyahu and his wife, and other friends and their wives.

Mixed seating is not only permissible, but in my view it is a good way to spend an evening with your wife and friends and it is a good way for young people to meet for Shiddach purposes. Rabbi Rakeffet spoke to this issue and he did not mince words. I think it is a valuable lesson for all of us to see what he said and how he said it. It is interesting to note anger and condemnation, by Rabbi Rakeffet of the Yuhara that is so much a part of the Torah world today. This is the longest post I have written thus far. It is more than double the usual length. It contains the main body of Rabbi Rakeffet’s Shiur. Only tangential material was deleted. It is long but well worth the read. So sit back, relax, and enjoy. Here now, the Shiur:

There is a story about Chafetz Chaim and Rav Meir Shapiro coming to him for Shabbos. He asked that there be separate seating. It is an absolute true story that before he comes to Radin, he tells the Chafetz Chaim I am going to be in Radin for Shabbos, I would like to be at your table. The Chafetz Chaim says, "with pleasure." The Maharam Shapiro knew that the Chafetz Chaim was a Litvak, i.e., men and women eat together. Maharam Shapiro asks the Chafetz Chaim to separate, that is, to put his wife at a different table. The Chafetz Chaim answers that if that is the case you can't be my guest. It is an absolutely true story.

Now I want to explain myself and explain myself well. I have to tell you in advance, some people said that if you don't have a mechitzah at a wedding, men look at other women, speak with other women, get involved in love triangles, ultimately divorce. If this is true then my words have absolutely no relevancy whatsoever. They are batail, mevutal, ke'afra de'ara [nullified as the dust of the earth]. At every wedding there should be not only mechitzot but mad dogs which can read minds and if any man who is not allowed to [look at women] (I am not saying single fellows. A single fellow has a right to look at a girl, mitzad the halakhah; but if any man looks at another woman licentiously the dogs should eat him up on the spot. [If this is the reality] then I have my own problems. I will go home and I will go back and sit down with my Rebbe [Rav Soloveitchik], with Rav Moshe Feinstein, with Rav Yaakov Kamenitsky, and live in the 1950s as I lived, Baruch Hashem, and go back to a normal world. My words have no relevancy if that critique is correct. What I am saying is something entirely different.

We have a problem today, in my opinion, in the Torah world, whether we are modern orthodox or right wing orthodox. Our sexual standards have broken down. Let me make something clear to you. If something is an aberration. I would not be speaking about this. I would not eat my heart out. I gave lectures in Midreshet [Moriah] that everyone should hear on [what should be our] attitude towards sex. I would not eat my heart out if it was an aberration.

We in the modern orthodox world have our problems. Single girls going to mikvah. I am not going to talk about that. I also feel that the charaidi world [has problems], and to me it is obvious. On one hand they are very frum, very pious. They do what they are taught with a wife who grew up under the same concepts. [But a small but recognizable group of them] have mistresses, houses of ill repute, affairs, etc. and it is frightening. The statistics are there. Anyone who goes to New York can see with his own eyes. Rabbi Cooperman once came back from a trip toAmerica in the 1970s and he was shaking, He told me [about] all the black [not Afro Americans but rather those wearing black clothing] he saw. He couldn't believe his eyes.

What bothers me is there is a falshe frumkeit here. Rav Yerucham Gorelick used to use that word. I have to tell you, Rav Yerucham was so insightful that I shiver and I shake today. [For example,] in my days in Y.U. there was [only] one boy who wore his tzitzit out. One boy! [Years later] I taught his daughter. I taught his son. Every time he walked into class with his tzitzit out, Rav Yerucham went crazy. I cannot repeat what he said to him in public. "Falshe frumkeit, ayich mit ayer falshe frumkeit" [false religiosity, you with your false religiosity] Rav Yerucham was going off the wall. f.f., falshe frumkeit! I don't know how Rav Yerucham called the shot. That boy, [now a] man, became a chazan in one of the biggest Conservative shuls in the United States.

Now, we live in a world where men and women intermingle. Therefore, the halakhah is as follows. The Rambam Hilkhot Ishut Perek 24 Halakhah 12 uses a word in terms of tzniyut. He writes that women have to go out of their house with a "radid". That is his term. What is a "radid"? There is only one explanation for radid. It is a veil. Show me one woman walking around in Meah Shearim today who is not an Arab who has a veil on her face. So you see, without going into great lamdus [learning], and I spoke at great length with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, [and] he spoke with the Rav about this, there is a certain subjectivity with those aspects of tzniyut that are not de'oraita [Torah law].

When the Rema paskens that you can't say "shehasimcha beme'ono" when men and women are sitting together, the Maharam Yafa doesn't disagree. Someone [told me] we don't pasken like the Maharam Yafa. It is nothing to do with the way we pasken. He [Maharam Yafa] doesn't disagree with the Rema. All he says is, a hundred years later [i.e. 100 years after the Rema], that we today are used to men and women sitting together. Therefore we have no problem saying "shehasimchah beme'ono".

We should educate our men and women in the charaidi and in the modern orthodox world, [to] develop a wonderful relationship with each other. Marriage is a lot more than just a physical or an earthly union to enable you to discharge the obligations of "pru urevu" [be fruitful and multiply] and "onah" [relations]. Marriage is something else, way beyond that.A person should feel towards his wife, and vice versa, [that she is] his best friend. [She is] his confidant. [She] is his soulmate. [She] is a lot more than just his sexual partner or the mother of his children. To me, wherever I go I always want my wife at my side. I have seen gedolai Yisrael. I grew up watching the Rav. I saw Rav Moshe. I saw Rav Yaakov. I saw the way they related to their wives. It was a living mussar saifer. It was truly chavairtecha ve'aishet britecha.

I don't have that much time to go out at night. I published thousands of pages. I am always busy. People call me and say, "Rebbi are you busy?" I say, "If I wouldn't be busy, would I be your Rebbi?", but please you called, you have a sheailah [question], go ahead. I try my best to go out with my wife once a week. It doesn't always work out that way. When I go to a wedding I go to mesameach chatan vekallah [cause the groom and bride to rejoice]. But there is a meal. You are sitting. You're talking. The greatest joy is to have my wife next to me. She is my chavairah. She is my aishet briti. She is a lot more than just my physical partner or the mother of my children and grandchildren. She is my confidant. She is smarter than me. She supplements me, complements me. Sometimes helps me paskin sheailot [make halakhic decisions]. I always appreciate when someone asks me a question [while] my wife is listening. Her input to me is sacred.

Tzniyut is tzniyut. I reiterate, if people normally eat separate Friday night, then I understand [that] when they make a wedding they are going to have separate seating. They live in the Rema's framework, not the Levush's framework. When I am invited to Chaim Yankel's [child's] wedding, the same Chaim Yankel who sits mixed Friday night, goes to restaurants with his wife, goes here and there with his wife, with his girlfriends, etc., suddenly at his wedding, the falshe frumkeit. It is frightening to me.

In the charaidi world there is a real problem today. The pilagshim [concubines] didn't come out of the modern orthodox world. The pilagshim came out of a certain right wing world, whatever truth there is to it. [see The Washington Post, June 2, 1996] But you cannot deny that in Lakewood there is guy living with a pilegesh, bifnai am veaidah [before the nation and the community]. He has two apartments, two "wives", two sets of children. This is already not an aberration. This is frightful. We have developed an Adah veTzilah mentality. These people who had pilagshim were interviewed. Hashem yerachem. [May Hashem have mercy.] These are Bais Yaakov girls speaking. It is mind boggling.

Now, what gives me the right to speak like this? First of all, I have to tell you I was just told, that Rabbi Frand [dealt with this issue on a tape]. I refused to listen to the tape [until after I gave my response today]. I can't believe what goes on.[One] of my students called me the other day, "Rabbi Frand says exactly what you said, exactly. He says that if they eat separately Friday night....". I couldn't believe my ears. Baruch shekivanti... I have to get an honorary semichah from Ner Yisrael.

Finally I conclude. If we want to know how to inculcate frum values, I always quote Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg. He says where I come from, Lithuania, when a woman went to high school and college, 99% of the time she became not frum. [On the other hand], in Germany women are professionals, women are doctors, and all of them wear shaitels and are medaktekot bemitzvot kallot kechamurot. Rav Yisrael Salanter came in to Rav Azriel Hildesheimer's school to see him. (Rav Yisrael Salanter lived in Germany for many years, as you know.) They told Rav Salanter that Rav Hildesheimer was giving a shiur. Rav Yisrael Salanter goes into the bais medrash to see what the shiur is about. He comes in and the whole bais medrash is filled with women. Rav Yisrael said if a rav were to do that in Lithuania, they would put him in chairem. But he says, "Yehi chelki beolam haba [Let my portion in the world to come be] with what Rav Azriel Hildesheimer is doing here in Germany."

I can never forget in my time, in Y.U. circles I never heard of separate seating, until I left America. It wasn't shayach, not just [in] Y.U. [circles], [but also] in the Litvishe circles. Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kamenitzky, the Rav, how many weddings [did they attend] with absolute mixed seating. There was separate dancing, but mixed seating. It was normal. It was par for the course. For their own children, (I was at the weddings), there was mixed seating. There was no question about it. Each one's kavod was with his rebbitzen. [They were proud to say], "This is my rebbitzen." These were their joy.

I remember when in right wing circles the first outflow of the Hungarian or the Chassidic influence appeared in America [and this] ultimately leads to everything we have today... this attempt at separate seating, etc. I remember Rav Yosaif Breuer who was revered. He was a man who was baki in all of shas. He said [that] he is not in favour [of separate seating]. He is against [separate seating]; but if you can't stem the tide, the young people have to sit mixed. When they asked why, he said, "Because mitzvah gorreret mitzvah [the fulfillment of one commandment leads to the fulfillment of another]. We want people to make shiduchim. We want boys and girls to meet. We want dates to come out of this [wedding]." This was a beautiful, a normal, and, above all, a healthy approach.