Ask the Rov: Can I make a bar mitzva celebration with music during sefira?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
Between Pesach and Shavuos, we mourn the passing of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Poskim rule that it is forbidden to have dancing at an engagement party held during this period, and later poskim add that one may certainly not play music.1 However, one may hold a seuda during this time — whether a seudas mitzva or a seudas reshus (i.e. a get-together of friends).
At a celebration that is a seudas reshus, the Alter Rebbe writes that one should refrain from “simchos yeseiros” added elements of joy (merrymaking, or recorded music today). At a seudas mitzva, those are allowed. While some poskim allow even dancing (and live music) at a seudas mitzva,2 the Alter Rebbe implies it is forbidden.3
The Rebbe encouraged holding lag ba’omer rallies, even if they must be pushed off to another day. But to avoid halachic issues, the Rebbe recommended simultaneously holding a siyum maseches so it will be a mitzva-related simcha and the gathering will be considered a seudas mitzva.4 This would imply that when making a siyum, one may have simchos yeseiros.
A bar mitzva celebration on his actual birthday qualifies as a seudas mitzva, and even on another day if the boy expounds on Torah.5 But still, this can only permit simchos yeseiros but not dancing (according to the Alter Rebbe).
In practice, contemporary Chabad rabbonim debate the matter: Some prohibit dancing at a bar mitzva altogether. Many permit conservative dancing — e.g., a chassidishe circle — which isn’t the lively dancing discussed in halacha, and basic recorded music, but not live music or a DJ. One may be lenient yet with the proper restricions.
After kiddush levana, there is a minhag Yisroel to dance as an indication of the dance that will take place when the Yidden will unite with Hashem (like the unity of the sun and moon). During sefira days, one may conduct a small dance as it isn’t dancing from joy.
It is best not to schedule a siyum sefer Torah during these days due to the Alter Rebbe’s stringent opinion. Yet, if they want it to coincide with the date of the yahrtzeit, there is room to permit dancing with live music. In this case, the dancing isn’t just celebrating the joy of the mitzva, but it is a part of the mitzva itself.
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash