The Rebbe’s View: Mixed Dinners

While the Rebbe focused primarily on teaching Chassidus and spreading Yiddishkeit, there were certain areas where the Rebbe saw a laxity and stepped in. One of them was the issue of mixed dinners.

By writer

During the early years of the nesius, the Rebbe waged many battles for the raising of standards among American Yidden. Even amongst fine people, associated with Anash, much was left to be desired, and the Rebbe addressed it.

In the 5710’s (1950’s), it was considered normal, even in frum circles, to have weddings with mixed seating. Though dancing was separate, seating the men and women separately, and certainly putting a mechitza between them, was considered an Eastern European concept. Aside for select families who held onto the alter heim traditions, the mainstream frum community did without.

Halacha rules that at a sheva brachos meal with mixed seating, one may not add to the zimun the customary words “shehasimcha bem’ono” (in Whose abode there is joy), since “there is no joy before Hashem when there is mingling of the genders and the yetzer hara is given control.”

Some have tried to interpret this to mean that the act is permissible only that these words should be omitted, the consensus of poskim is that it is halachically forbidden to have mixed seating at these meals.

As the Rebbe put it succinctly in a letter from Tishrei 5722 (1961), “Is it permissible for a Jew to, chas veshalom, allow the yetzer hara to rule?” (Shulchan Menachem, Vol. 6, p. 224)

Some poskim in earlier centuries have suggested that people have become more accustomed to interacting with the other gender and therefore it doesn’t lead to sinful thoughts. However, the Rebbe (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 9, p. 1) pointed out that this is clearly not true of the present age and this heter is therefore irrelevant.

It is thus clear, that the objection to mixed seating is not limited to a sheva brachos meal, but it is binding for any dinner with mixed seating.

Lubavitch Raises the Bar

While the broader frum public had been lax in this issue, it was Lubavitch that raised the bar.

It was the 770 bochurim, with the Rebbe’s encouragement, who began to change the tide through insisting for separate seating and proper mechitzos at their own chasunos.

In Montreal, the full mechitzos at the chassuna of Reb Elye Gross in 5714 (1954) was a novelty, and set a positive trend in that city.

In Manchester, UK, when Reb Avrohom Jaffe insisted on having a mechitza at his own chasuna in 5724 (1964), it created an uproar. His father, Reb Zalman a”h, and future father-in-law Mr. Sydney Beenstock, were both highly respected in secular circles, and many of their friends planned to attend. Additionally, a prominent rosh yeshiva had made a mixed seating wedding a week earlier, and this would be an affront.

The Rebbe was contacted, and a 20 Tammuz letter followed, encouraging a mechitza of “due dignity and splendor,” even if it were to instigate financial complications. (Mr. Manchester, page 152)

That closed the case. “Since my chassuna,” says Reb Avrohom, “it has become the norm in Manchester.”

A Personal Project

The Rebbe took the matter of separation very seriously, and even appointed someone to implement the standard. When one person attempted to breach the standard, the Rebbe sent a strong message.

The late mashpia of Montreal, Reb Volf Greenglass a”h, related:

“The concept of having a strict mechitzah at chassunos was at that point still a nisayon for many. The Rebbe spoke out publicly at farbrengens, privately in yechidus, and via extensive correspondence, until matters improved.

“There was once a chassunah where the Rebbe appointed someone to stand guard at the mechitzah to ensure that it was not tampered with. One of the guests attempted to shift the mechitzah, but was stopped.

“The next day, the Rebbe asked to receive that person’s name and mother’s name…”

Beautiful Separation

Maintain the halachic requirements, the Rebbe insisted, need not come at the expense of a beautiful event. So important was the issue to the Rebbe, that he even offered to pay for an attractive mechitza.

Rebbetzin Chava Hecht a”h related:

Once in yechidus, the Rebbe said to me, “I hear your sister is getting married. It would be worthwhile to ensure that there be a mechitza at her chassuna.”

I found it difficult to tell my sister what to do, but I told the Rebbe that in Montreal they made a mechitza out of woven flowers.

The Rebbe said, “Nu…”

“But it’s so expensive,” I argued, still uncomfortable with the idea of mixing into my sister’s business.

The Rebbe committed to pay for it. Ultimately, my sister agreed and of course we didn’t take any money from the Rebbe. All the guests remember the beautiful wedding, with its Yiddishe chein. It felt like a flower garden. (Sipur Ishi, page 126)

“Make Enough Noise”

The Rebbe’s Shliach to England, Reb Nachman Sudak a”h, related how the bochurim were given specific guidance by the Rebbe on how to deal with difficult scenarios, and the impact that their conduct had on rabbonim from other communities.

“I had a friend who made a condition at his engagement that there be a mechitzah at the chassunah. However, when he walked into the wedding hall, there was none to be seen. The bochur was furious, and he stormed out of the hall.

“The bochurim, his friends, who had come to join in his simcha, were at a loss. In their quandary, they telephoned the Rebbe’s secretariat, and explained the situation. The Rebbe instructed that that they proceed with the chassunah. However, they should set up tables around themselves as mechitzos, and be freilach with the chassan, ‘and make enough noise so that others will want to join you.’

“Indeed, others joined, and brought more mechitzos-tables with them. The lonely, distinguished dignitaries sitting on the dais, a respected rosh yeshiva amongst them, could only watch the sincere temimim with envy.” (Main Nachman, page 8)

Fundraising Dinners

The Rebbe was staunch on upholding this standard even when fundraisers felt it was necessary to hold mixed dinners to attract donors.

Rabbi Shlomo Cunin related:

When I was preparing for Chabad of California’s first dinner, I wrote to the Rebbe about it. Four days before the dinner, I get a call from Harav Chadakov who indicated that the Rebbe was on the line. He relayed to me the following message, “I had the zechus to be by the Rebbe today, and certainly the men and women will be seated separately.” (A Chassidishe Derher, Av 5774)

When an organization wrote to the Rebbe that they want to hold a mixed dinner not to push away certain heavy donors, the Rebbe responded, “Why should you chas veshalom push away the definite yiras Shomayim (of all the participants) for a doubtful financial gain (of a few)?!” (Dvar Melech (5759), p. 127)

Even for a Holy Cause

At a farbrengen in the winter of 5719 (1959), the Rebbe spoke about the significance of men and women keeping separate even for the sake of funding the building of the mishkan.

On the possuk describing Moshe’s gathering the Bnei Yisroel to collect funds for the mishkan, the Zohar and Ohr Hachaim explain that the men and women stayed separate. This of course is not because one of them is superior to the other, explains the Rebbe, but to avoid nisyonos.

“There are some who want to show kuntzen (tricks),” said the Rebbe, ” and they put themselves into challenging situations… But we don’t need their kuntzen! We ask Hashem not to put us in a nisayon, which even Dovid Hamelech could not withstand…”

The lesson, says the Rebbe, is that even when Yidden gather for the loftiest purpose, like building the mishkan which is the purpose of all of seder hishtalshelus, care must be taken that the men and women remain separate. This is true even when the ingathering is being done by Moshe Rabbeinu and on the day after Yom Kippur when the Yidden are like malochim.

The Rebbe concludes:

“This is the lesson for all times: when people gather together for any purpose, even the most holy, it is forbidden to bring oneself to nisyonos. Only in this way can we go about v’shachanti bsocham, making a dwelling place for Hashem.”


A future column will IYH be dedicated to the topic of mechitzos in shul and shiurim.

In keeping in line with the Rabbonim's policies for websites, we do not allow comments. However, our Rabbonim have approved of including input on articles of substance (Torah, history, memories etc.)

We appreciate your feedback. If you have any additional information to contribute to this article, it will be added below.

  1. I never knew that it’s such an issue and that the Rebbe was so involved in fixing it.

    As chassidim, we definitely need to keep the Rebbe’s own project!

  2. It’s a real challenge and a big yetzer hara. It’s very difficult to tell a baalebus that he can’t sit next to their wife or to tell a woman that she cannot sit next to her husband. But it’s the right thing to do.

    Tznius and kedusha brings more bracha!

  3. If the Rebbe really said all this, how can people come and change that?

    Lubavitch standards are set by the Rebbe and no one should be able to change that.

  4. Is there any difference in the Rebbe’s view if the event is a buffet (smorgasbord)?
    I once asked a fellow shlliach if he ever feels that Halacha limits his success? He responded: “my shlichus is to promote Halacha, how can it itself interfere?”
    It’s Hashem’s world and He made the non-frum Yidden. We have to do what we can, but ultimately we are not Hashem’s policemen. We have a task to do within the framework of Torah and we can only do what we can do. More than that Hashem will have to take care of.

  5. Yasher koach for sharing this.

    Many of us need to be reminded about this, about the basics.

    Zay gebentcht!

    Yirmi Cohen

  6. is there possibly another side to the coin?
    I’m not saying that there is but it would be beyond shocking to find out that so many Shluchim around the world are not following this clear directive. Of course, there are many who are careful of this but I personally know many -what would be considered- Chasidisher Shluchim who have an honest desire to do the right thing and bring the Rebbe Nachas Ruach, and they are not particular that all of their events have separate seating.
    Is there possibly times the Rebbe made exceptions ie; single non-frum people, Shabbas meals, if there’s no sitting etc. or are these Shluchim just uninformed (I see these as the only two explanations)
    Thank you for your clarity on the matter.

  7. Is there a difference between dinners and lectures where there isn’t much socializing? Or family events like communal purim seuda, pesach seder..

  8. “Make Enough Noise”…
    …..I had a friend who made a condition at his engagement that there be a mechitzah at the chassunah. However, when he walked into the wedding hall, there was none to be seen. The bochur was furious, and he stormed out of the hall.”

    Rabbi chaikin from cleveland once said this story in a lot more detail, can contact him to get the full story?


    “Rabbi Shlomo Cunin related:

    When I was preparing for Chabad of California’s first dinner…”

    if i remember correctly, veteran shluchim such as Rabbi Moshe Herson, Rabbi Berel Shemtov, and many more, held mixed dinners for balebatim before Gimmel Tammuz,

    to fully cover the topic, it would be nice if whoever wrote the article can please find out what the Rebbe’s guidlines were for Balebatim’s dinners.

  9. Nice article.
    However the sentence “While the broader frum public had been lax in this issue, it was Lubavitch that raised the bar.”

    Satmar and Hungarian communities who came in the chofs had a much stronger impact on this subject over the frum world. Of course notwithstanding Lubavitch effort as described in the article.

    Bh we have a lot to be proud of, things that Lubavitch actually pioneered, we don’t need to rewrite history in order to make ourselves feel good. Bh each community has what to offer.
    ונהרא נהרא פשטי׳

    1. Mechitzos are for sure one of those that the Rebbe raised the bar of… i think it was even one of the conditions for being Mesader Kidushin…

    2. if i am not mistaken, all the hungarian commmunities, (satmar is hungarian) had mixed chassunas etc. in 1940s and 50s.

      you write “Satmar and Hungarian communities who came in the chof’s…”
      there were no communities that came in the chof’s,
      those years are when they started raising there standard’s and forming the communities that exist today.

      as in many issues, this is one example of a bar that Lubavitch raised, and other communities jumped on to the bandwagon, and then clamed ownership.

  10. As the Rebbe said many times, It’s a good idea to always speak to a Rov! When we made a event to open our new Mikvah, we spoke to our Rov, explained the situation, he allowed for it to be mixed sitting event in that case.

  11. While it is beautiful to be m’orer about chassidishe inyanim and hanhagos, I find it a bit surprising that the writer takes the liberty to take this issue one (huge) step further than the rebbe did.
    They quote sources from the rebbe, but then come to their own conclusion that:
    “It is thus clear, that the objection to mixed seating is not limited to a sheva brachos meal, but it is binding for any dinner with mixed seating.”

    I took the time to look up both sources they brought (Shulchan Menachem, Vol. 6, p. 224 and Igros Kodesh, Vol. 9, p. 1) and found that they are both explicitly on the topic of a wedding without any mention of other kinds of gathering.

    And while the author brought 2 instances in which the rebbe instructed shluchim to have separate seating at their fundraising dinners, it is still a far jump to say that this “is binding for any dinner with mixed seating.”

    I think we ought to be careful before making statements which imply that something hundreds, maybe thousands, of shluchim do on a regular basis, often with guidance from a chassidishe rav, is completely asur and against the will of the rebbe.

    1. I don’t understand your logic.

      The Rebbe says clearly that the problem with mixed seating is NOT because of the sheva brachos, but because “chas veshalom, allow the yetzer hara to rule” (Shulchan Menachem, Vol. 6, p. 224) and it leads to sinful thoughts (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 9, p. 1).

      Would anyone say that those things are allowed on any occasion?

      1. What I’m saying is that the rebbe said that in a certain context. We have to be careful when applying it to other situations because once we do that, where is the line?
        Does this mean that anash can’t host bochurim at their shabbos meal because the wife is at the table? or they can’t host girls at the same table as the man of the house? Why is that not considered a mixed dinner?

        Every situation is so different and everyone should ask their rav. I feel that putting out a blanket statement that “it is binding for any dinner with mixed seating” just isn’t right.

        1. That’s a valid question, and we need to make a judgement call.

          But I’m sure you would agree that there’s quite a difference between a large dinner with mingling of couples and a middle age family hosting some young boys or girls at their Shabbos table.

          1. That’s exactly my point!

            Because each ase is so different, we shouldn’t put out blanket statements.

            It’s not up to us, or the author to make the judgement call. It is up to a rav to handle each situation individually.

            Ps – I’d be totally fine if the author had brought down the rebbe’s words about weddings, and the maanos about the dinners. I take issue with the authors statement that this applies to all dinners with mixed seating, because then, why would a shabbos meal be different?

    2. While it could be that there are circumstances when Rabbonim allow something, that doesn’t make it permissible for all. Everyone knows that there are halachos of sh’as hadechak, but that requires a case-by-case analysis.

      The fact remains that the Rebbe spoke out strongly about the separation of genders in schools (even younger students), shuls, shiurim, and weddings. Do you really believe that the Rebbe would support mixed dinners?

      1. Depends how you define mixed dinners.
        Again, I’m not saying that this isn’t something we should talk about and be m’orer about. I just have a problem with putting out blanket statements.
        “Any dinner with mixed seating” would include shabbos meals, holiday events, BBQs etc.
        Is that what the rebbe meant?
        I can’t be sure, and I don’t think the author can either…

          1. Who’s to decide?
            Once we are applying the rebbe’s words, which were said in the context of weddings, to other events, because we can’t let the yetzer hara rule anywhere, what’s the logic to limit it to gala dinners and not other sit down meals?

            In general I find it interesting that an article titled “The rebbe’s view: mixed dinners” is made up mostly of things the rebbe says regarding having a mechitza at weddings, with only 2 maanos actually given in connection to dinners…

  12. This is all nice, but things have changed since. Nowadays it’s not practical to have a mechitza at a dinner. People just won’t show up.

    I’m confident that today the Rebbe would allow and even encourage dinners without mechitzas.

    1. How can you just say that the Rebbe would change his mind???

      The Rebbe’s instructions are not up for change except for by the Rebbe himself.

  13. Mixed Seating at Shiurim

    Professor Kasdan, a Russian ba’al teshuvah, was active behind the Iron Curtain and continued his activities in the USSR after settling in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He once wrote to the Rebbe that “there is a group of young women who would like to learn Torah. Would it be permissible to admit them to men’s study classes?”

    In an English letter of 20 Cheshvan 5739 (1978), the Rebbe responded: “In view of the extraordinary circumstances of that country [USSR], I would be inclined to take a more lenient view, to admit women into men’s classes.

    “However, in order to emphasize the exception due to the extenuating circumstances, and to be mindful of the Din, two provisions should be made; one, to teach in a co-ed class such subjects as are incumbent on women… Second, that separate seating should be arranged… although we are speaking of persons who, by reason of background, are not otherwise averse to mixed dancing and socializing, it is obvious that this should not be permitted in these groups, and no heter should be implied.

    “I must emphasize again that the heter… is based on… there being no other way… it should in no way serve as a precedent for other countries where those circumstances do not prevail…”

    (Complete letter printed in Teshura Lee-Paylie, Kislev 5763

  14. The Rambam writes in Hilchos Yom tov perek ו
    חייבין בית דין להעמיד שוטרים ברגלים, שיהיו מסבבין ומחפשין בגינות ובפרדסים ועל הנהרות, כדי שלא יתקבצו לאכול ולשתות שם אנשים ונשים, ויבואו לידי עבירה. וכן יזהירו על דבר זה לכל העם, כדי שלא יתערבו אנשים ונשים בבתים לשמחה, ולא יימשכו ביין, שמא
    יבואו לידי עבירה.
    Hilchos Lulav perek ח
    אף על פי שכל המועדות מצוה לשמוח בהן, בחג הסוכות
    הייתה שם במקדש שמחה יתרה, שנאמר “ושמחתם, לפני ה’ אלוהיכם–שבעת ימים” (ויקרא כג,מ). כיצד היו עושין: ערב יום טוב הראשון היו מתקנין במקדש מקום לנשים מלמעלה ולאנשים מלמטה, כדי שלא יתערבו אלו עם אלו

    Originally, the men and the women would stand in separate sections on the same level. However, the sages feared that, particularly during a time of celebration, such closeness might lead to frivolous interaction between the genders, and decided to have a balcony constructed for the women (Sukkah 51b).

  15. Keep in mind that generally speaking the necessity for the separation in when there’s a bigger crowd present. The shabbos table is generally a much smaller and contained forum. Nevertheless, in light of all the above I still always try to have the men shabbos guests not facing the women but rather at one end around the rectangle table and the women around the other end.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

advertise package