Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
With wedding invitations filling our mailboxes, we look forward to participating in the joyous events being celebrated by our neighbors, friends, and relatives. Each wedding is unique and special. However, the wedding of the last unmarried child is especially joyous. We stop, reflect, and anticipate the weddings of grandchildren. At many such weddings, a special dance ceremony is conducted with great intense joy.
The mezhinka tantz (spellings vary) is the special cheerful dancing with a broom by the mother or parents of the chassan or kallah, at the marriage of the last unmarried child. With the popularity of the mezhinka growing, its origins and its propriety are the focus of many discussions.
The Pinsk Karliner Wedding
On Tuesday evening, 4 Adar I, February 8, 2011, the Pinsk Karliner Rebbe’s daughter’s wedding was grandly celebrated at Ateres Melucha, a converted airplane hangar in Petach Tikvah, Israel. The kallah is the Rebbe’s youngest child. Thousands attended. Mesader kiddushin was Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, centenarian author of Shevet Levi and universally revered leading chassidishe posek. Amongst the many chassidishe rebbes, rabbanim, and roshei yeshiva participating were: (in alphabetical order): Belz Machnovker Rebbe, Lelover Rebbe of America, Lelover Rebbe of Bnei Brak, Lelover Rebbe of Beth Shemesh, Linsker Rebbe, Rachmistrivka Rebbe of Jerusalem, Radishitzer Rebbe, Sasover Rebbe, Seret Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Toldos Aaron Rebbe, Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Israel (Rabbi Yisroel Hager), Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak (Rabbi Mendel Hager), and the Belzer Rebbe’s son, together representing the full spectrum of chassidishe dynasties in Israel today.
Dancing at the wedding was vibrant. Thousands of chassidim danced on forenches (standing bleachers) and especially on the huge expanse of dance floor. Every traditional dance was performed. With the arrival of each additional chassidishe rebbe, singing and dancing intensified. The ecstasy was palpable. The Rebbe joined in every dance. The Rebbe danced vigorously. The Rebbe led the dancing. And then . . . the Rebbe danced with a broom!
As pictures and video clips of the Pinsk Karliner wedding were broadcast over the internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc., as well as in newspapers and magazines, a question was immediately raised: The Pinsk Karliner Rebbe is known as an intense talmid chacham and a true y’rei Shamayim. Everything that the Rebbe does, his every action, his every spoken word, is soundly based on Torah, mesorah, and Chassidus. What is the Rebbe’s reasoning for dancing with a broom? Families celebrating the mezhinka dance now have their long sought, rock solid, unimpeachable precedent.
Dancing With A Broom
At many traditional weddings, we are seeing more and more celebrations of dances with a broom, commonly called the mezhinka dance. The dance signifies that the father and mother of the kallah or chassan are marrying off their last single child, symbolically sweeping out the now-empty nest. Family members dance around the mother and father. In order not to mix men and women, the celebration is at times conducted right before bentching at the mechitzah with separate dancing on both sides. Other times, only immediate family members, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, participate. Yet sometimes, the dancing with a broom is only by a mother or by each parent separately in the middle of a circle of ladies or men dancing.
Needless to say, every marriage is a heightened time of joy, and the marriage of the last single child is especially so. The broom is often decorated with colorful ribbons, flowers, and colored tin foil. Sometimes, the brooms are customized for the father and the mother individually. Other times, toy brooms are distributed to family members to be carried by all in the special dance.
There is no known music or special dance steps. Hankus Netsky, founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band and professor of Jewish music at the New England Conservatory, is mentioned as saying that the dance is an Eastern European custom, brought to America by Jews from the Ukraine. Mezhinkah means ‘youngest daughter’ in Yiddish. The custom has evolved to apply to the last child, daughter or son, being married off. A song titled “Di Mezinke Oysgegeben” is cited in the Philogos column of the English Forward (03-05-04), as having been written in the second half of the 19th century by the Odessa-born Yiddish songwriter Mark Varshavsky (1848–1907), who also composed the popular “Oyfn Pripetshik.” The Philogos column focuses on Yiddish words, idioms, their meanings, and their proper usage. Philogos expresses surprise at the relatively recent composition of the song that accompanies this reasonably assumed ancient hallowed custom.
Other Ethnic Broom Customs
Two French Cajun wedding customs in Louisiana include brooms. The first is known as jumping over the broom. Hundreds of years ago, clergy were not always immediately available. Officiating clergy would make their periodic rounds and perform official duties, which included baptisms, weddings, collecting charity, etc. Couples that decided to marry and were impatient would gather their families and friends together. They would then lay down a broom and jump over it to begin their living together, with official church solemnization to come later. Though clergy today are almost instantly available, the ceremonial reenactment continues to be playfully celebrated at Cajun weddings. The other French Cajun broom ceremony at weddings is the dancing with a broom by an elder unmarried brother or sister, a somewhat awkward public acknowledgment (or possibly admonishment) that he or she had not yet found a marriage partner.
In Colonial and early United States history, slaves were not officially allowed into churches, nor to sanctioned ceremonies. Lamentably, slavery interfered with domesticity. Slaves that wished to live together in holy matrimony ceremoniously jumped over a broom laid down at their doorstep, signifying that their living together was that of husband and wife.
As we tend to extensively study, explore, and investigate sources of our traditions and practices, many have wondered as to the antecedents and derivations of this custom of dancing with a broom. Nothing in Chazal openly hints at the custom. Nor do we know of important precedents or of universal acceptance. Obvious questions immediately confront us.
Does the mezhinka dance custom apply to a family in which an older sibling was married and is now divorced? Do we enact the mezhinka dance when the other side of the shidduch has special older children who are not marriageable? If a child died unmarried, does that preclude the mezhinka for brothers and sisters? Can a mother refuse the mezhinka dance if she insists that she is not sweeping a child out but rather taking another child in? Do we perform the mezhinka dance if the youngest child being married off has an unmarried uncle or aunt? Can a mother marrying off her youngest child dance the mezhinka if she (the mother) is pregnant? If a mother danced the mezhinka and had a baby thereafter, can she dance the mezhinka again?
Pinsk Karliner And
Karlin Stoliner Chassidus
Rabbi Aryeh Rosenfeld, today’s Pinsk Karliner Rebbe, leads a branch of Karlin Stoliner chassidim. He is the son and successor of Rabbi Aaron Rosenfeld, zt’l (1923–2001), late Pinsk Karliner Rebbe. In 1956, when Rabbi Yochanan Perlow, zt’l (1900–1956), Lutzker Rebbe who became Karlin Stoliner Rebbe in 1946, passed away, the designated successor was still a child. A group of Karlin Stoliner chassidim then anointed Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Biderman, zt’l (1903–1987), Lelover Rebbe, as their spiritual leader. He was succeeded by his son: Rabbi Shimon Noson Nuta Biderman, zt’l (1931–2009), Lelover Rebbe who passed away suddenly on the night of Yom Kippur after leading the evening prayers. In 1991, Rabbi Shimon Noson Nuta, having suffered a stroke, demurred from continuing to lead the Karlin Stoliner chassidim and, instead, anointed Rabbi Aaron Rosenfeld, zt’l, a descendant of the Beis Aaron, as Pinsk Karliner Rebbe.
The title of Pinsk Karliner Rebbe is to differentiate from the title of Karlin Stoliner Rebbe: Rabbi Boruch Meir Yaakov Shochat, who is the grandson and designated successor of Rabbi Yochanan Perlow, serves today as the Karlin Stoliner Rebbe. Rabbi Boruch Meir Yaakov was a young child at the time of his grandfather’s passing. Rabbi Yochanan Perlow was the youngest son of Rabbi Yisroel Perlow, zt’l (1868–1921), Karlin Stoliner Rebbe who succeeded his father, Rabbi Asher Perlow, zt’l (d. 1873), Karlin Stoliner Rebbe. Rabbi Yochanan (d. 1921) was four years old when his father passed away, and is known as the Frankfurter because he passed away in Frankfurt and is buried there.
Rabbi Asher (d. 1873) was the son of Rabbi Aaron Perlow, zt’l (1802–1872), Karin Stoliner Rebbe and author of Beis Aaron; son of Rabbi Asher Perlow, zt’l (1765–1826), Karlin Stoliner Rebbe; son of Rabbi Aaron Perlow, zt’l (1736–1772), founding Karlin Stoliner Rebbe and known as Rebbe Aharon Hagadol. Rebbe Yochanan Shochet, grandson of Rebbe Yochanan and younger brother of Rabbi Boruch Meir Yaakov, serves as today’s Lutsker Rebbe in Jerusalem.
The Pinsk Karliner Rebbe
Pinsk Karliner institutions include shuls, yeshivas, and kollels in Beit Shemesh, Beitar, eastern Neve Yaakov, and Kiryat Sefer neighborhoods of Jerusalem, with a current enrollment of more than 1,000 students.
In May 2002, the Pinsk Karliner Rebbe arrived in New York to the spirited welcome of hundreds of chassidim. That was his first visit to the United States since he was crowned as the leader of the many Pinsk Karliner chassidim throughout the world. He was accompanied by a large delegation of his chassidim from Israel. His first Shabbos here was held in Williamsburg, where he conducted tefillos and tisch. He was hosted at the respected family home of Dovid Posner.
In February 2006, the Pinsk Karliner Rebbe arrived in the United States together with hundreds of followers. The Rebbe was grandly hosted at the distinguished family home of Yosef Atlas in Lakewood, where he was warmly received by hundreds who gathered at the Atlas home to participate in the kabbalas panim. The Rebbe’s traditional Thursday Chumash–Rashi shiur was delivered at the home of Mordechai Schron and weekday Shacharis was held at Kollel Choshen Mishpat. The Rebbe led Shabbos tefillos and tisch at the Nadvorna Beis Medrash. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at email@example.com.