Auction house reveals 17th-century decree against mixed dancing

400-year-old decree previously unknown to researchers threatens excommunication for mixed dancing. Manuscript sells for $4,920.

Shimon Cohen,

From the manuscript
From the manuscript

An manuscript of a ruling, unknown to researchers of the period, signed by rabbis and dignitaries of the Ancona community in Italy, concerning the threat of excommunication from the Jewish community for mixed dancing, was recently revealed at the Kedem auction house in Jerusalem.

The decree, written in 1615 in Ancona, calls upon the public "to do the will of our Father in Heaven and to make a fence around the Torah ... They agreed and decreed [on threat of excommunicaiton from the Jewish community] that no Jew [on whom the name of Israel applied] would be entitled to dance [...] with any woman at any time in the world. " The regulation includes a very detailed and graphic description of the curses and punishments that would be imposed on the person who disobeyed the order - disease, death, and many forms of suffering.

The decree also included an exception, whereby women were allowed to dance with male teachers during dance lessons. “And it is worthy to note that dance teachers teaching women to dance [...] can dance with them only when they are teaching them, and this agreement will be in force for 50 consecutive years.”

The Kedem auction house, where the manuscript was sold yesterday for $4,920, gave some background on the period and its struggles with the issue of mixed dancing. “The 17th century was the height of the Baroque. This period was full of grandeur, sentimentality, movement and complexity. The center of the Baroque was in Italy, where the Pope wanted to turn his city, Rome, into the most magnificent city in the world. Men and women danced together in pairs, dressed in an up-to-date and glamorous style, consumed art, and built luxury homes for themselves. "

"The exposed decree opens the door to a less-known fact about this period: The Jews of Italy were influenced by the surrounding culture. It challenged the Jews, especially the world of Jewish law and the leaders of the communities who often felt they were losing control over their communities."

"Many regulations and rulings were written during this period, especially in Italy, and the leaders of the communities and rabbis tried to change the problematic reality that they found: Mixed dancing and street gatherings. The dance industry underwent a turning point at the beginning of the 17th century: From simple and joyful folk dances, the people moved to the Italian "festa" dance, which became fashionable and was performed in the form of mixed couples, followed by Baroque dances that were very dramatic and danced in pairs, and were especially popular with the upper class and nobility.”