Written by Shainy Peysin
Tishrei in Crown Heights is a whirlwind of spiritual energy, bustling crowds and late-nighters. Most notable, however, is Simchas Beis Hashoeva when live music plays until dawn, and the spirited dancers keep it real the whole night long.
There is however, one big eyesore. Why is half of the Lubavitch population standing by the sidelines, watching? And by that I mean, why are the women not dancing? Given the opportunity, I am sure that dozens of women, if not more would like to participate with a little more than balancing on crates on watching. Is it possible? Why shouldn’t it be?
It’s only a matter of finding space and setting up a mechitza. How about… on Montgomery Street, between Kingston and Albany, or Kingston and Brooklyn? The streets are blocked off anyway, and I’m sure that some clever minds can find a way to build a functional and convenient mechitza. (It is the season of temporary structures after all!) Some tarp and cable ties and half the work is done already. Throw in an extra speaker to carry the music to the women’s dancing area and it’s good to go.
So, why not?
Well, that’s a tough question to answer. You see, in all the conversation that I’ve had with rabbonim and event organizers, it never really seemed to boil down to Halacha, although they would all like me to think that it did. Unfortunately, it sounded a lot more like, “we don’t think it’s a good idea… we’re SURE it’s not a good idea… it will never work anyway… hang on, are you modern Orthodox?”
No, it’s not for lack of practical ideas. I presented a number of suggestions to arrange that we could have a male-proof mechitza, (short of armed guard at the entrance) and it really doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. I did hear the word “pritzus” thrown around quite a bit, as though the concept of women dancing is pritzus, which it isn’t, because women dance at weddings without calls of “pritzus!” (By the way, Miriam and the Nashim Tzidkonios danced outdoors after Kriyas Yam Suf. And while it says that they brought tambourines with them, it doesn’t say that they brought a portable mechitza.)
While we’re on the subject of pritzus anyway, the current arrangement is not exactly the height of tznius either. Numerous men and boys walk through (and even stand in!) the women’s standing all night long. Kingston Pizza and Kol Tuv remain open to them even though the only way they can access it is through the women’s section. Which begs the question, is women dancing really the problem?
But let’s say it is. Or at least, let’s say that there’s a risk that it might be. Couldn’t we at least test it once to see? You see, years and years ago, people didn’t think that women should vote. Or participate in government. Or leave kitchens. But we’ve come a long way from that. We have a Rebbe who encourages women to be active and utilize their talents. We even have restaurants that cater food, so women can step out kitchens for a breather every now and then. Maybe we can try it out for just one night? We set up the mechitza, we place the speaker, we stand the guard at the entrance, and we even put up signs to remind the women not to sing and cause men to be oiver on kol isha. Who knows? Maybe it will be amazing. Maybe it will be a positive experience for all.
Many may be concerned based on the known fact that in the times of the Beis Hamikdosh the women came merely to see and hear. That is true. But as the Rebbe said on the second night of Sukkos, 5748, “Even though in the times of the Beis Hamikdosh they came only “To see and to hear,” the simchas beis hashoeva of the Beis Hamikdosh was nullified after the churban. What remains is merely a commemoration. Hence, “Our degradation is our repair”, “A descent in order to ascend”, that also the women celebrate simchas beis hashoeva.” Clearly, seeing and hearing is no longer enough. Women also need to be celebrating. And yet, we continue to have throngs of women standing by the sidelines just watching and listening.
Fortunately, there is a precedent for women’s dancing outdoors at a community event. For two years in a row, (not this past year, unfortunately), a mechitza for women’s dancing was erected at the Lag B’omer bonfire. (If you’re a man and you didn’t notice it, then it worked! If you’re a female and you didn’t notice it, where were you!?!? The party happened without you!) The mechitza served its purpose well. Women got to dance, men didn’t notice and all around it was a great arrangement.
Could it work at simchas beis hashoeva on a much larger scale? I think so. Here are my suggestions to provide tznius dancing for women, and overall heighten the tznius of simchas beis hashoeva:
– Mechitza can be erected on Montgomery, even halfway down the block if deemed necessary. Additional speakers should be set up close to the mechitza.
– A guard will stand at the entrance to the enclosure to ensure that it is truly women’s only dancing.
– Shmira will stand at either side of the women’s standing section to ensure that it is women’s only.
– Kingston Pizza will either be closed to men, or arrange an alternate way to serve male customers. Same for Kol Tuv.
Ideally, we will be celebrating the next simchas beis hashoeva in the third Beis Hamikdosh, which I’m sure will boast arrangements for women’s dancing, but if not, I hope that the message I’ve presented here will bear fruit, and women will be able to truly participate in simchas beis hashoeva in Crown Heights.
If you think that women deserve this opportunity, please show your support for it.