Twentieth century America? No, eighteenth century Alsace was the setting for this riveting tale.
The other day, I came across a very interesting account of a battle royal over mixed dancing that took place approximately two hundred and fifty years ago in Alsace.
Rav Yosef Steinhart, soon after arriving in Nieder Ehnheim to assume the Rabbinate there, heard that a local custom was to have dances on Yom Tov, with young men and women dancing together. He promptly ordered on erev Yom tov that such be banned, and that violators be fined. The reply from the dance group was that they had already received permission from the government, and that he would not be able to stop it, since the government gained revenue from the accompanying sales of great quantities of wine to the attendees. When the Rabbi refused to back down, he was slandered to the authorities.
Whereupon the Rabbi was summoned by the government, with great respect, to explain his action. He explained that the dancing was a serious sin and against the Jewish faith. The local ruler, a devout Christian who had a Bible at hand, heard a detailed discourse from Rav Steinhart, proving from various Biblical verses that mixed dancing was not countenanced by the Torah, which won him over. However, he still wanted to consult with a colleague on the matter as well, which he proceeded to do. The colleague evidently was a philo-semite, and wrote him that the Rav’s words were true and faithful, because Jews are holy, and praised highly their faith and customs. Verdict – Rabbi wins by KO. 😉
Responsa literature (שו”ת) can be very interesting at times, but unless you are the type that goes through it a lot, it is likely that you are missing out on some very enjoyable and historically informative pieces. Sometimes we need someone else to point us to such highlights. הישיבה הרמה בפיורדא (Volume II, p.138, 140) brought this interesting tale to my attention.