Five Towns Jewish Times, January 13, 2006
I thank Sherree Belsky (Five Towns Jewish Times, January 6) for managing to disagree with my article “Mixed Seating Revisited” in a cordial and dignified way, without resorting to the wild insults and attempts at delegitimization that I usually see from those who disagree with me. If more Jews presented themselves as Mrs. Belsky does, perhaps we would have a Beis HaMikdash.
I must, however, express my own disagreement with the reasons she provides against mixed seating for singles at wedding meals, and will do so in point-by-point fashion.
1. Mrs. Belsky writes in her article that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, was a staunch opponent of mixed seating at wedding meals. I never merited to meet Rabbi Feinstein, but I have enjoyed the great merit to learn from his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, who is not embarrassed by the fact that he married Rabbi Feinstein's daughter at a wedding that had mixed seating. Perhaps Rabbi Feinstein's person opinion was not in favor of mixed seating (that may be the subject of debate now that he is no longer with us), but he was evidently not as vehemently opposed as Mrs. Belsky's comments would have us believe.
In addition, my own father received semichah from Rabbi Feinstein, and tells me that he never heard Rabbi Feinstein express an opinion on the matter. This doesn't necessarily prove anything, but if Rabbi Feinstein was strongly opposed to the idea as Mrs. Belsky claims – supposedly working diligently to abolish mixed seating – I would have expecting him to make his opinion known more widely and conclusively.
It should also be noted that more than a few noted rabbanim were and are in favor of mixed seating, and in fact people might be surprised to learn that many of today's and yesteryear's rabbanim (including Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, zt”l) met their own wives at mixed wedding meals. Whether or not they readily tell people, considering how popular opinion on the matter has swung in recent years, is another issue . . .
2. Her articles states the argument that having shidduchim occur at a wedding would “detract” from our ability to bring joy to the chasan and kallah. What a severe accusation that should shock and offend all newlyweds! Unless we ascribe the severest cruelty, coldness, and self-absorption to our newlyweds, I simply cannot believe that they would object to the idea of shidduchim being facilitated at their own simchah. On the contrary, rather than detract from their own simchah, such a thing would only multiply it. Indeed, many chasanim and kallahs go out of their way to daven for singles at their own wedding.
Furthermore, if Mrs. Belsky believes that conversation which may lead to another shidduch may detract from one's focus to bring joy to the newlyweds, why not abolish all conversation, even with separate seating? Doesn't that, too, detract from one's focus, if to a slightly lesser extent?
3. Mrs. Belsky is afraid that the music would be too loud for people to carry on a conversation, which would lead them to go outside, which would lead them to miss the dancing. Rather than sabotage the potential for shidduchim, I would suggest simply asking the band to turn it down a litle. (This should be done in any case. Band members typically wear earplugs due to the deafening noise that poses as music at most weddings.)
4. The argument is made that mixed seating might lead one to dress inappropriately at weddings. First of all, if we are afraid of observant Jews dressing inappropriately to please the opposite gender, then we should abolish dating as well. Secondly, I know of no evidence that the mere presence of the opposite gender leads to a greater occurrence of inappropriate dress. People have been known to dress inappropriately at separate-seating weddings and even in shul. This is a separate problem that is not exacerbated by mixed seating at a wedding meal, and therefore provides no reason to abolish the latter.
5. The article opines that the availability of alcohol at weddings may give the wrong impression of marriageable young adults. First of all, this again is a separate problem that is unrelated to mixed seating at weddings. Second of all, if a young adult behaves irresponsibly around alcohol, this is not something that should be hidden from a potential match. It is not a “wrong impression” but an honest impression.
In addition, the vast majority of our singles behave in a perfectly dignified fashion at weddings, and portray their many fine spiritual qualities. They also look their best, have mutual friends as company, and there is marriage in the air. What better place to meet?
6. Mrs. Belsky argues that “you really have no control over” where people sit at weddings, and therefore a mixed seating arrangement may lead to inappropriate shidduchim. First of all, I don't believe adults who are supposedly ready to get married should be “controlled” in this fashion. Secondly, I am aware of countless example of inappropriate shidduchim that were orchestrated by shadchanim and via other supposedly more “kosher” ways of meeting. I am not aware of even a tiny fraction of inappropriate matches that occurred because friends of the chasan and kallah at the wedding turned out to be monsters. If the methods of meeting that are currently taken for granted as being “more acceptable” had such a stellar track record, we wouldn't even be talking about this, would we?
Besides, it is not the place of a believing Jew to attempt to control who people meet and how they meet them. We must take proper precautions against clear and present dangers, but it is not our place to micromanage God's world and people's lives – nor does it work. Indeed, in an age where the grip of the community on its citizens could hardly be much stronger, we are faced with more dropouts and at-risk youths than perhaps ever before. Coincidence? I think it is much more than that.
Finally, most of Mrs. Belsky's concerns about mixed seating are far-fetched and relatively benign in the gamut of real, pressing, and literally catastrophic problems that face our community. If I have to choose between being machmir lest a few bad apples dress inappropriately at a wedding and between being machmir so that the exponentially growing thousands of singles in our community will have the best possible chance of meeting someone appropriate, I will conclusively and without the slightest pang of guilt opt for the latter. We need to get our priorities straight and put out the forest fire that is burning our community down – not be brought essentially to inertia over fear of lighting a few twigs in the process.