Mitsve-tants (LKT)

This entry is part of the Lexicon of Klezmer Terminology (LKT). The LKT compiles a wide array of source materials that shed light on the historical and contemporary state of knowledge about klezmer music. Each entry includes a number of citations from primary and secondary sources that include or refer to the term in question. It also indicates whether musical notation or sound recordings are included in the source. By clicking on the bibliographic hyperlink at the end of each citation, you get the full reference.


“These two khusidlekh [Hasidic-style dance tunes, singular khusid] were cornerstones of Leon’s old-time, Jewish dance repertoire. He often referred to them as a mitsve-tentsl [mitsve dance], alluding to their frequent use at Jewish weddings to accompany the mitsve [ritual commandment/good deed] of dancing with or for the bride. Among Jews from the Bukovina region where Hasidism was predominant, the term khusidl can correspond to the more widespread freylekhs or freylekh [lit. ‘a merry tune’].” Alpert 1993, p. 3. (Recording references included). 

“Someone would give Feter Nusn [the clarinetist] a twenty, and he’d call out: ‘Now Malke’s going to dance with her husband. Don’t get in the way!’ And the two of them, each with one end of a red kerchief in their right hands, would hold it over their heads and turn themselves counterclockwise underneath it in time ot the music. Watch! You twist the kerchief until it makes a knot, and then you unwind, and when the knot is unwound, the music stops. Afterwards, the next couple comes forward. And people were standing all around in a circle and clapping, and taking each other by the hand.” [Warsaw, Poland, 1930s]. Alpert 1996, p. 18. (Recording references included).

“During the mitsve-tentsl people used to shout: ‘shabos, shabos, toss in money!’ and the drummer used to hold a collection box, and those who danced with the bride used to toss in [contributions] to the collection box. After the wedding the klezmorim used to divide among themselves the money. This was a custom in all of Galicia. Nearly the same [practice] was confided to me by the rabbi from Yas... who lived for many years in Gross-Verdun... There also it was the same custom among the Hungarian Jews.” Ben-Ezra 1965, p. 27

“When a girl becomes a wife, people do a mitsve-tentsl.” [Warsaw, Poland, pre-World War II]. Cahan 1957, p. 259 (#279)

“Moshe, Moshe, why are you crying? I am crying, I think, because it is already time to do a mitsve-tentsl!” [Warsaw, Poland, pre-World War II]. Cahan 1957, pp. 264-65 (#286)

“Dancing in honor of the bride took on a variety of forms and gave rise to the Mitzvah dances. A 16th-century source published in Venice described the Mitzvah dance as a form of a group dance in which the men danced with the bridegroom, and the women with the bride (Sefer Minhagim, Venice, 1590). This conformed with the prevalent practice and the restrictions against mixed dancing in Jewish communities. Later publications describe a modified Mitzvah dance. Men took turns to dance with the bride after wrapping something around the hand as a symbol of separation (J.M. Epstein, Derekh ha-Yashar, Frankfurt, 1704). By the beginning of the 19th century it became the practice for men to dance with the bride while separated by a handkerchief held at opposite ends. In the pattern of the Mitzvah dance, the bride was usually seated in the middle of a circle of chosen guests while the badhan (‘jester’), serving as master of ceremonies, called each guests by name to step forward and dance with the bride. First honors went to the parents of the couple and to the bridegroom; then scholars and important members  of the community took turns. Each would extend to the bride the tip of a handkerchief or receive one from her, then circle with her once or twice to the accompaniment of music from the orchestra. During the wedding festivities, which lasted seven days, guests and neighbors took part in the dancing and even beggars of the town had the right to dance with the bride.” EncyJud 1971, p. 1265

“The bands themselves fashioned fitting melodies for the various situations and moods during the wedding, ... and later, during the meal: sherele, mitsve-tentsl, droshe-geshank-oyfshpiln and other entertainment songs...” Fater 1985, pp. 60-61

“Mitzvah Dance (Mitsve tentsl). After the guests had feasted to their hearts’ content in the wedding halls, and celebrated wildly in various dances -- the time for the ‘formal’ last mitzvah dance [arrived]. The greatest honored guest, or the rabbi by himself, would grip groom’s hands (sometimes: the groom from his side grasps the hands of the bride, who holds a kerchief in her hands with the other end in the hands of the rabbi and they dance together in even and measured steps and maintaining the rabbi’s honor. There were no moments of rest until the others, the remaining men, had been satisfied, in pairs, and after them also the women separately and even in pairs. After this dance the wedding celebration would usually come to an end." Fridhaber 1960, p. 31

“At the beginning of the nineteenth century and probably also at the end of the eighteenth century we meet for the first time the ‘mitzvah dance’ described as a dance separated by a kerchief...” Fridhaber 1972, pp. 27-28

“The time of the ‘mitzvah-dance’ during the wedding and dancing was usually to announce the end of the wedding feast... This dance was brought in many different Jewish communities... which created this dance form and similar ones, with different names for it, which are [nonetheless] identical to it. I refer to dances like the ‘kerchief dance’ or in popular language the ‘kosher dance,’ and the ‘shabbat dance,’ the ‘shabos tants’ and others.

According to one definition of the ‘kosher’ dance, which is no different in form and contents from the ‘mitzvah dance’ as described above... I mentioned the dance called the ‘shabbat dance.’ When we analyze its pattern and contents, we see again that there is nothing more here than the ‘mitzvah dance’ in a different variation. And here’s how it was customarily danced...

In many communities they would dance the ‘mitzvah dance’ already at the ‘forshpil’ evening, Saturday night before the wedding and return to it a second time at the wedding meal. In contrast to this they danced the ‘mitzvah dance’ in the Sadigora Hassidic court [c. 1910s] only once, during the ‘khasn mol’ -- groom’s feast, and not during the wedding or seven days of feasting. And the dancers were the groom and bride alone.” Fridhaber 1972, p. 28-31

“In this description we find for the first time the concept of the ‘mitsve-tants,’ of which the Maharil writes: ‘And there are places where their custom is the mitzvah dance which is done motzei shabbat after havdalah.’" Fridhaber 1984, p. 57

“After the wedding-meal the bride and groom are seated on stools in the middle of the hall (in other places they are seated on the same stool) and the badkhn begins to perform his rhymes. With the last rhyme the mekhutonim are called out to dance with the bride, and they dance with her. When his oration is done, the klezmorim play a vivat...” [Staro-Konstantin, Ukraine, 1820s-30s]. Fridkin 1925, pp. 44-7

“[After the meal,] the musicians played many different types of merry melodies and Reb Simkhe Meyer announced the ‘mitsve-tentslikh’ and invited... the important guests to come dance with the bride [one at a time]...” [Turun, Carpathian Mountains, pre-World War II]. Hagalili 1956, p. 162

Mitsve tants. dance with the bridegroom and bride.” Harkavi 1928, p. 312

“After the meal each of the important guests made one of the ‘sheve brokhes,’ they recited the grace-after-meals, and they proceeded to the kosher-tants’ (also ‘mitsve-tants’).” Heler 1939, p. 634.

“The wedding meal ends with the usual grace after meals... [which] is followed by dances, of which the most striking feature is the ‘Mitzvah dance,’ the dance of the foremost member of the wedding party with the bride.” Herlitz and Grunwald 1943, p. 482

“... Furthermore, such a Jewish wedding in Frampol certainly had the mitsve-tentsl. And this was among a series of dances -- Hassidic, folk-like, led by experts, among them Reb Baruch-Moshe Dresher, who never missed a wedding, in order to entertain, as was a mitzvah, the bride and groom and the guests. He was already seventy and with a wonderful temperament and expertise performed several dances.” Kleydman 1966, p. 164

The Mitzvah or Kosher-tanz: A mixed dance, using the handkerchief, the bride dancing with her guests and the groom.” Lapson 1943, p. 461.

“According to a later custom the guests would dance before the bride the mitzvah-dance that was called ‘mitsve-tentsl’ or ‘kosher-tants.’ This dance would symbolize the mitzvah to entertain the bride and groom. This dance was arranged before the yikhud time. The bride stood in the middle with two kerchiefs; one by one the men approached the bride... When the dance reached its climax the bride would disappear...” Levinson 1947, pp. 158-59

“He ordered the ‘shabos-tents’... he snatched off his large handkerchief, and circled from one to another... [then] a wink to the klezmer that they should accompany him and he passed the end of the handkerchief to the bride, the other to a person [who was about to dance with the bride]... and he himself held the middle and led the dance... [and at the dance’s end] he gave a cry... [and] the klezmer played the ‘mitsve-tentsl’ -- the bridegrooms grabbed me and the women the bride and they led us out to the small dark room.” [c. 1853 in Krokodilevka, Poland]. Linetski 1897, pp. 100-103

“The ritual dance [is] (‘mitsve tants’ or kosher tants in Yiddish) performed, as a norm, by several male guests (mostly relatives) and the bridegroom with the bride, as the final public event of the wedding in most Hassidic communities... The inviter who directs the mitsve tants invites the guests and relatives to dance with the bride according to an established pattern of text and music... Our examination of the dance niggunim used for the mitsve tants focuses on the following questions: a) whether the mitsve tants has a regular repertoire of dance niggunim; b) whether this repertoire or part of it is functionally linked with specific dancers; c) whether the functional link of certain dance niggunim is expressed also on the musical level; d) whether the different communities have different repertoires; e) are there stylistic differences between the tunes used in various communities; f) do differences in repertory and style correlate with the differences between the communities already observed in the study of the invitation tune.

The inventory of dance niggunim used in the mitsve tants of the ZK [Zanz-Karlin Hassidic] community shows no specificity; these niggunim are sung elsewhere throughout the wedding and on other occasions too. There are, however, two exceptions...

Eighteen dance niggunim were found in the TA [Toldot Aharon Hassidic] community. Six appear regularly in all the weddings recorded by us... From the six regular niggunim, one... has no specific function and may be sung -- always without words -- for any guests invited to dance. The other five have a specific function... It seems then, that from the point of view of the repertory and the function of the dance niggunim in the mitsve tants the only feature common to both communities is the importance attributed to the dance of the bridegroom which is stressed by assigning to it a special tune or tunes. The differences found between the ZK and TA communities are the presence of a fixed repertoire of niggunim in TA as opposed to a non-fixed repertoire in ZK, and the use of tunes taken from the Simhat Torah festival for the bridegrooms dance in TA.

The common forms [of the mitsve-tants] are mono-sectional, bi-sectional (AB) and tri-sectional with repetition (ABCB)... The examination of the micro-structure of the sections within the tunes reveals a common feature, namely, symmetry. The overwhelming majority of the sections consist of four or eight motives. Symmetry is attained because all the motives within a niggun are either one or two bars long... The examination of the scalar structure of the dance niggunim reveals a common repertory of scales: major, natural minor, harmonic minor and scales with augmented seconds...

The variability of tempo is a salient feature of the mitsve tants. In all Hassidic communities, the dance niggunim start in a slow tempo, then accelerate, and slow down again towards the end. In most performances, the ritardando occurs in the last two bars, sometimes with a fermata on the last note.

Besides the invitation tune and the dance niggunim, we find at the mitsve tants ceremony introductory niggunim of various origins, structures and functions. These niggunim are sung at the opening of the ceremony and as preparation for the dance of the bridegroom and the bride.” [Jerusalem, Israel, 1966-1986]. Mazor and Taube 1994, pp. 164, 175, 195, 198, 200, 203, 204. (Musical notation and recording references included).

“Mitzvah Tanz. Devotional dance associated with a religious mitzvah (commandment). Since rejoicing at weddings is considered a mitzvah, or good deed, the bride dances with male guests; she and her partner each hold the end of a kerchief. No prearranged melody or practiced steps or forms are necessary for this dance.” Nulman 1975, p. 175

Mitsve-tants -- The dance after the wedding-meal, which the in-laws dance with the bride... Everyone stands around in a circle around the bride, the badkhn calls for the in-laws one after the other to dance with the bride. The bride holds in her hand a kerchief and each invited relative takes the kerchief and dances with the bride. And the klezmorim play.

The dance was also called shabos-tants (acronym of shabbat: the reward of the badkhn you should give) because often after each relative danced with the bride, he gave gifts to the badkhn, the klezmorim and the waiters.” Rekhtman 1962, p. 251.      

Mitsve-tants. An extremely old custom. From the earliest times onwards people danced before the bride. In the course of the generations arose and evolved the ‘mitsve-tants.’ The Maharil speaks already of ‘mitsve-tants’ as a part of the wedding ceremony... and this means that it was already introduced in the 14th century, if not even earlier... The same term [‘mitsve-tants’] was cited in the first printed minhag-book... The Maharil... confirms both customs, the custom of dancing the mitsve-tants on the day of the wedding and the custom of the dance the night following shabbat.” Rivkind 1955, pp. 29-30. 

“Afterwards I concluded from the first sources, the Maharil and minhag-books, that the mitsve-tants was originally a group dance, not an individual dance, as it was established in later generations. In addition, I now maintain, that by the mitsve-tants people at one time meant wedding-dances in general, all dances, not a specific dance, as we understand and define it today. With dancing people wanted to entertain the wedding couple, which is, as everyone knows, a religious commandment. Consequently we actually find in Koa Bukh besides ‘mitsve tants’ also its plural form ‘then she went happily to the mitsve dances,’ which simply means went to dance at a wedding.

Bodnshats brings what Buksdorf wrote about mitsve-tants and he describes, as he himself was at a Jewish wedding and witnessed the mitsve-tants danced, like the gentiles, in the French and German manner.

Exactly when people began to use kosher-tants as a synonym for mitsve-tants -- no one knows. The earlier sources all show the second half of the nineteenth century. To them can be added the ethnographer of Lithuanian and White Russian Jews, Moshe Berlin, who brings in his study only the kosher-tants.

Harkavi is the only one that in his Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary made a distinction between kosher-tants -- bride’s dance, and mitsve-tants -- dance with the bride and groom. Lastly, Avraham Rekhtman interprets the kosher-tants completely unlike a mitsve-tants, only as a bride-groom dance: ‘the dance of the groom with the bride after the wedding-meal to verify that the bride is a kosher one.’ From where he took such a kosher-tants -- only he alone knows, because such a public example, ‘that the bride is a kosher one’ is far from in good taste for Jewish modesty...

In newer times the maskilim began to wage a war against the kosher-tants, as a relic from an old-fashioned custom, which ought and must, just as with other ancient wedding ceremonies, become abolished.” Rivkind 1962, pp. 45-46.  

Mitsve-tants... The first melody is one of the tunes sung by the badkhn as he invites various guests up to dance the mitsve tants, the religious obligation to dance with the bride. Max wrote the second section of the melody in the style of a kale bazetsn, the ritual seating of the bride. The third section is a well-known khusidl (hasidic-style) melody which may have been associated with the mitsve tants.” Rubin and Ottens 1995, pp. 21-22. (Recording references included). 

“Bukoviner Freylakh. This tune is also in the active repertoire of klezmer violinist Leon Schwartz of Queens, New York. Schwartz, a native of the Bukoviner region, calls this piece Khosidl or A Mitsve Tentsl but does not include the middle section. He recalls hearing it played in the 1910s by klezmorim from the East Galician town of Sniatyn....The first section is a very popular Romanian tune (both Jewish and non-Jewish) common in both hora (3/8) and bulgar (2/4) time. Leon Schwartz calls this tune bulgar and plays it in both rhythms.” Schlesinger, Alpert and Rubin 1989. (Recording references included). 

“For seven days, both before and after the marriage ceremony, the bride performed the ritual ablutions of nidah tevilah (purification of the body). After the last immersion on her wedding day, she and the other women performed the ‘Mitzvah Dance’ (‘Dance of the Precept’)... After the [wedding] ritual, the first participative dance was ‘Khussen-Kaleh Mazel Tov’ (‘Bridegroom and Bride, Good Luck’). It is a simple dance, done to walking steps so that everyone, regardless of age, could participate. The male relatives held the edges of the bride’s veil on each side of her. In the other hand were handkerchiefs onto which the other guests held as they led the bride through the various formations. This is also called a ‘Mitzvah Dance.’” [New York, 1970s]. Seid 1975, pp. 13-14

Mitsve-tentsl.” Stutschewsky 1959. (Musical notation included). 

[At the badekns,] When the [money] pot was already full Yenkl called Hayim with his band to play a ‘freylekhs’. People raised their hands on their shoulders and proceeded to dance in time to the music. Afterwards he invited the bride and groom into the middle of the circle and danced with them the ‘mitsve-tentsl’. After that came the row of women. They took their hands and made a third circle around the men...The entire shtetl joined this way in an enthusiastic dance to the rhythm of the music.” [Apt [Opatov], Poland, 1892]. Teytel 1966a, p. 106

“After the mitsve-tentsl, two old Hassidim took the groom by the hand and [led him off to the baleygns]...” Trunk 1946, p. 199, vol. II

“The niggun for the mitzve tants, ie the obligatory dance which the most important guests would perform either with the bride or in her presence.” Vinaver 1985, p. 243. (Musical notation included). 

See Kosher-tants, Fatsheylke-tants, and Shabos-tants.   

See also Mitsve-tants by Yaakov Mazor.