Videos and news items have been circulating of a kallah playing the drums at her wedding reception in Bnei Brak. First the chassan joined the band as a vocalist; a few minutes later the musically inclined kallah joined the band and started drumming.
The hall was under the kashrus supervision of the Eidah HaChareidis, which severely censured the band and the hall for not stopping it. They forced the band and hall to issue a letter of apology, guaranteeing that this breach of modesty would never happen again.
But what is the actual halachah? Is a woman playing the drums publicly an actual breach of modesty?
Those Who Permit
The Aruch HaShulchan (Even HaEzer 75:8) writes that there is no prohibition in a woman playing a musical instrument in front of men.
The Shiurei Taharah p. 144 written by Rabbi Mordechai Gross, one of Eretz Yisrael’s leading poskim, writes that it is permitted from the perspective of kol isha, even if the instrument is a flute or horn and sound is produced by her mouth. He does write that if her intent is to provide pleasure to him (above that of regular music), it is forbidden. He also writes that if he has improper thoughts about her it is also forbidden.
Those Who Forbid
Rabbi Avrohom Cohen, author of Yalkut Avrech, tries to use the quote of Rav Yosef Karo in Shulchan Aruch in Even HaEzer (21:1) to forbid it. The Shulchan Aruch writes that a person should very much try to distance himself from women.
Rav Menashe Klein, z’l, in his Mishneh Halachos Vol. VI #25 forbids the practice of women playing music in front of men. The Shevet HaLevi also forbids the practice of women playing in front of men. He includes a harpist as well. In America, the custom is not to have female players in a band, but many people do have female harpists or violinists.
Is It Different Than a Mitzvah Tantz?
Some may be asking how this would be any different than the chassidishe custom of a mitzvah tantz. The mitzvah tantz is one of the greatest controversies that still remain of the chassid–misnaged divide. When misnagdim first hear about it, they are in a state of shock. Chassidim, dancing with a kallah and a gartel? On the other hand, when someone raises the question, the response from chassidim is one of pure shock as well — how dare you cast aspersions on one of our minhagim?
The Mishnah in Kesuvos (17a) discusses the mitzvah of dancing before the kallah, which indicates that, at least when the kallah stands still, there is definitely great significance in dancing before the bride. The words of this Mishnah have even been made into a song: “Keitzad merakdim lifnei ha’kallah: How does one dance before the bride?” The Talmud praises Rabbi Yehudah bar Illai extensively for dancing before the kallah.
And yet the Pischei Teshuvah in Even HaEzer (chapter 65) cites the Toras Chaim in tractate Avodah Zarah (17) that it is forbidden to dance with the kallah, even if not holding hands but through the medium of a kerchief. For it [the Mishnah in Kesuvos] does not say, “How does one dance with the kallah?” It says, “How does one dance before the kallah?”
It Has Become Minhag
The short answer to why the Eidah would permit the mitzvah tantz but not a kallah drumming is that the former has become a minhag already. The underlying prohibition under discussion is “lo sikrevu l’galos ervah,” do not come close to revealing ervah, which is interpreted by those who forbid it to include any activity that could possibly lead to forbidden relations. This includes dancing. They write that no distinction should be made between a bride and any form of mixed dancing.
In many circles, the Rebbe of the Chassidus will dance before the kallah while she remains still, and there is a very long kerchief that droops down to the ground while the kallah holds on to the other end. It would seem that the chassidish Rebbes are conforming to the view of the Toras Chaim with the requirement of a droop in the very long cloth or gartel.
The mitzvah tantz was controversial until “the incident” transpired. There is a famous incident that occurred at the marriage of the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (1866–1948), the author of the Imrei Emes. At his wedding to Chaya Rada Czarna, the daughter of Reb Noach Czarna of Biala, a huge argument arose between proponents of the view of the Toras Chaim, who were against the idea of a mitzvah tantz, and those who were for it. Rabbi Pinchas Rottenberg, the av beis din of Pilitz, stood on the table and all eyes were upon him. There was a hushed silence. He began a grammen in Yiddish:
“Heintz ist oifgekumin ah moda’ah — today, arrives an announcement,
Az de chassan un de mechutanim — that the groom and the mechutanim
Tantzen mit di kallah, Rada — will dance with the bride, Rada.”
At that point, the Sfas Emes, the father of the groom, took this grammen as a psak halachah, a ruling in halachah, and began the mitzvah tantz with great simcha (of course, with a gartel). The incident is cited by Rav Yissachar Tamar in his sefer on the Yerushalmi, Alei Tamar, page 356).
This was a crucial moment in the history of the mitzvah tantz.
The poskim have said that although there is a great mitzvah of “mesameiach chassan v’kallah,” the mitzvah does not exist when there is an atmosphere of mixed dancing.
The Bach (Even HaEzer 21) recommends the following halachic ruling regarding a mitzvah tantz, even through the medium of a kerchief. Where it is the custom to forbid it, it is forbidden; where it is the practice to allow it, let them continue.
Should There Be a Mechitzah at a Mitzvah Tantz?
There is another controversy in current circles as to whether it is permissible for the mechitzah to be removed at a mitzvah tantz. Rav Yehoshua Leifer writes in the prestigious Torah journal Ohr Yisroel (5761 6:2: 22) in support of the custom to remove the mechitzah and strongly attacks the view of those who question the previous minhag to remove the mechitzah. On the other hand, Rav Zev Schechter, an av beis din from London, writes that today’s generation is not like previous ones and that there is a serious risk of violation of shemiras einayim, guarding one’s eyes, if there is no mechitzah, even at a mitzvah tantz. He cites the Gemara in Sukkah about the need to make a change in the Beis HaMikdash itself as justifying the need for having a mechitzah even at a mitzvah tantz.
The Parents’ Wishes
Rav Mordechai Gross, one of Eretz Yisrael’s leading poskim, in a responsum cited by the author of Yismach Lev (page 103), states that if the father of the groom wishes that the wedding include a [kosher] mitzvah tantz, then the son should do so on account of the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim. If the father wishes that it not be done, then the mitzvah tantz should not be done. Rav Gross rules the same way in respect to the kallah.
The view of Rav Mordechai Gross cited above indicates that the mitzvah tantz, done properly, has entered the status of a minhag in Klal Yisrael. Were it not, a Litvish posek would never countenance adopting such a practice for the mitzvah of kibbud av v’eim. The principle of “Divrei ha’rav v’divrei ha’talmid, divrei mi shom’in” (literally, “The words of the master and the words of the disciple, to whose words does one listen?”) would negate the kibbud av va’eim ruling.
The kallah drumming has not entered into the status of a minhag Yisrael, and would thus be more controversial than even the mitzvah tantz. It is somewhat ironic, because many people are of the opinion that the mitzvah tantz has more serious issues than the breach of a kallah playing the drums.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.