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Some weddings have mixed seating at the reception; some have separate seating.

Some organizations and communities encourage or at least allow mixed events for singles; some discourage or forbid them.

It seems to me that these differences stem from a basic tension between religious advantages and disadvantages of gender-mixed events. On one hand, mixed events provide a way for singles to meet, which could lead to marriages. On the other hand, mixed events bring opposite-gender people near each other, which could lead to improper interactions or relationships. (I'm setting aside any advantages and disadvantages for married people.)

  • Of the various prominent rabbinic authorities who address these issues, which ones advocate or permit mixed events, and which discourage or forbid them?

  • Do any of those who rule one way or the other specify that their rulings apply to a particular communal context?

I'm interested in results from authorities in any generation or community, especially if they come with information about the communal context they're meant to apply to.

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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/9480/… –  Isaac Moses Dec 1 '11 at 22:39
I like the idea of separated singles' events where they can pick out potential partners from the other side, a la post-Pilegesh B'Givah. ;) –  jake Dec 1 '11 at 22:58
Rabbi Aharon Rakeffet-Rothkoff once commented (paraphrase) "I've sat next to my wife at my Shabbat table for 50 years, and now you want me to sit on the side of the room!?" –  Shmuel Dec 4 '11 at 11:02

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The primary application that has been discussed over the years has been with regards to mixed seating at weddings. See also Rabbi Eli Clark, "Mixed Seating at Weddings" (pdf), Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein allowed it (OCI:41), based on Talmudic discussions related to seating at the Passover Seder.

His son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, purposely had mixed tables for eligible singles and separate tables for everyone else at the weddings of all his children, which Rabbi Feinstein attended. Though some of Rabbi Feinstein's other children had different seating arrangements.

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch prohibits it.

A fantastic essay on the subject is available by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin; in English it appears in Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Issues Chapter 19, in Hebrew it's Bnei Banim I:35 and available on hebrewbooks.org. He eloquently argues that seating men and women in the same room, at separate tables, with no mechitza is more than satisfactory; and has mixed feelings about mixed tables. (I recall elsewhere in Bnei Banim he argues for supervised mixed singles events.) He argues that the verse in Zechariah quoted by many naysayers was only intended for prayer services, Torah-study sessions, and the like.

A few key quotes from the essay:

When sheva brachot were held at my grandfather's apartment [Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, the primary Halachic decisor for America in the 1940s and 1950s], the organizers seated my wife in a corner outside the dining room with a handful of women. I protested ... the feast is called "the rejoicing of the groom and bride" ... [w]here is the rejoicing of the bride? My grandfather accepted my words but said that it is difficult to contest an established practice, but I think anyone who is able to should protest. ...

Still ... mingling of men and women should be forbidden at weddings where there is often kalut rosh [lightheadedness] ... Perhaps the community relies on the fact that drunkenness at weddings today is not common. [My comment: I wish...] ...

I have thus presented many reasons to exonerate the practice of mixed seating. Nonetheless, when it is not completely necessary one should not purify the impure. Hirhur [sinful thoughts] exists at many weddings today, especially among unmarried youths ... [f]or this reason it would be better to seat male and female teenagers separately, even if couples sit together.

He later added:

I retract what I wrote... that at weddings it is proper to seat single men and single women separately even if the married couples sit together. This is [still] so with young men and women who are not yet ready to get married. However, regarding those who have reached that stage, to the opposite, it is a mitzvah so that they get to know each other in a place where there is no concern for yihud and each couple is not alone on a "date," as is done today...

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Source for R. Moshe? I seem to recall the sevara about the korban Pesach (not the seder) coming from R. Ahron Soloveichik. –  Curiouser Dec 1 '11 at 23:33
@Curiouser, korban Pesach is the seder! (Or it was) –  Shalom Dec 1 '11 at 23:38
Your parenthetical is the key. The korban pesach was (in some complicated sense) replaced by the seder. See Bokser's "The Origins of the Seder" for the details if you are interested. But my point remains that I thought this idea was associated with R. Ahron. –  Curiouser Dec 1 '11 at 23:48
out of curiosity, how did R' Moshe argue on a Beis Shmuel (the source of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch)? –  Shmuel Brin Jun 8 '12 at 18:56
"He argues that the verse in Zechariah quoted by many naysayers was only intended for prayer services, Torah-study sessions, and the like". I find it surprising that Rabbi Henkin would disagree with a mefurash Gemara (Sukkah 52a). –  Shraga Jan 16 '13 at 18:17

In 1937 or so, my paternal grandparents went on singles-mixer boat rides, and met one another at a singles-mixer weekend in the Pine View Hotel in Fallsburg, New York, which events were hosted by Zeirei Agudath Israel, now (and maybe then?) a division of Agudath Israel of America. (Zeirei's major aim was to keep young American Jews religious, a heavy concern at that time. I doubt AIA would operate such mixers today.) While this is not the rabbinical authority sought in the question, it's an organization that I strongly suspect operated under the guidance of such authority; see also the comments on this answer.

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And the story goes that someone questioned the propriety of this; the question was brought to R' Shlomo Heiman, who listened to both sides ("it's inappropriate!" "it will keep Jews in the fold!"), thought about it, and responded: "the question is how could we not do this." –  Shalom Dec 1 '11 at 23:01
If the story @Shalom mentions is documented somewhere, that would make a direct answer to my question. –  Isaac Moses Dec 1 '11 at 23:07
@IsaacMoses, I'd seen it in one of those weekly-Torah printouts at shul a while ago. But the version I'd read also appears here -- (I think R' Heiman's reply was more like -- "we're obligated to do this", or something to that effect) theantitzemach.blogspot.com/2008/05/story-and-lesson.html –  Shalom Dec 1 '11 at 23:22

Two points on mixed seating at weddings:

Shalom has already mentioned the mixed seating situation at the wedding of Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, the senior Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS (Yeshiva University) and son-in-law of HaRav Moshe Feinstein, the posek hadir (that generation's greatest decider of Jewish law) of the 20th century. But the kicker of that story is Rabbi Tendler's ironic comment that: "some people would say that this was wrong and that my father-in-law didn't know the halacha . . . ."

Rabbi Berel Wein, shlita, in what I believe was his recorded lectures on "The Lost Communities," said that before World War II, a great many gedolim outside of Hungary were married at weddings with mixed seating at the dinner. He said he even had photographs and intended to publish them in his book. But, he said, the prevailing custom today follows the Hungarian practice of no mixed seating. He explained that we follow the Hungarian custom because a larger percentage of them survived the war (about 50 percent) than from the rest of Europe. He added that his publisher refused to publish the photos of the pre-war weddings because of a fear of a backlash from Hungarian-influenced rabbis who would see the photos as an intentional effort to undermine their customs.

Interestingly, back in the early 1980s, I went to a wedding of the son of a Bobover Hasid who was originally from the city of Auschwitz, Poland. They had separate seating for the rabbis and their wives -- with a mechitza around them, separate seating for young marrieds, mixed seating for much older couples, and mixed seating for young singles (so they could meet). We never figured out the logic of this.

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What do you mean by "senior Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS"? –  Double AA Jan 16 '13 at 18:04
That's how he is listed in some sources. I do not know what titles rabbis are given there. –  Bruce James Jan 17 '13 at 1:00
Shalom, what page in He eloquently argues that seating men and women in the same room, at separate tables, with no mechitza is more than satisfactory; and has mixed feelings about mixed tables. (I recall elsewhere in Bnei Banim he argues for supervised mixed singles events.) He argues that the verse in Zechariah quoted by many naysayers was only intended for prayer services, Torah-study sessions, and the like. –  Chiddushei Torah Jul 30 '14 at 17:57

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