The Mazinke Dance: Tradition, Folklore or Not?
(Kol HaKavod News Exclusive)
As I recall, the conversation began something like this:
The chupa was absolutely stunning.
- Yep. Quite a number of Roshei Yeshiva received Brochos.
The singer under the Chupa was great- did you get his name?
- No, but I could find out. How was your main? Did you enjoy the schmorg?
Delicious. It was a beautiful simcha all around, The spirit permeated the entire ballroom.
Standard exchange while driving home with your wife from a separate seating wedding affair.
But then she asked the following: Did you get to see the mezinka tantze?
- Yes, I said.
My friend Shaindy was standing right next to me. She feels it’s taken from the secular Yiddish theatre, and adapted from some non Jewish ritual, What do you think?
As we “Come of Age” it brings with it the joyous opportunity of participating at weddings of family and friends marrying off their last child. Most recently we have been experiencing this interesting dance towards the end of the wedding called “the mazinke” dedicated to this event. The parents of the bride or groom as the case may be, sit together, immediate family and friends form a circle, dance around them and an upbeat klezmer melody is played. Often the mother will have the appurtenance of a broom and laurels may be placed on the heads of both parents.
Admittedly, there is something about the broom sweeping, and the placing of laurels that seem to me to be inconsistent and foreign to our traditional values. The laurels in particular conjure up thoughts of Greek gods and their culture. Yet the dance has reached such popularity and acceptance that it may be found on the checklists for those wishing to comply with traditional practice, sandwiched somewhere between Yichud and Sheva Brachos.
I thought it would be valuable to research the matter, and learn the facts rather than speculate.
Come join me on this fascinating exploration – across continents, oceans, archives, research libraries, even to the Catskill mountain New York summer escape -
What is the source for the Mazinke Dance? How did it become part of normative Jewish wedding fare of today?
When I arrived home that evening, though it was quite late, I was so curious and perplexed about this issue that I immediately went to my sforim cabinet to review some of the traditional references on my shelves – perhaps I had somehow overlooked this minhag in earlier studies of the laws and customs of the wedding celebration. The two-volume Invei HaGefen, which enjoys the haskomos of HaRav Moshe Feinstein and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, z”l, among others, had nothing. Neither did the Nitei Gavriel. I have an English-language collection by a respected American congregation rabbi, Abraham Chill, who had served in a number of leadership positions on the Rabbinical Council of America, entitled The Minhagim: The Customs and Ceremonies of Judaism, Their Origins and Rationale, also no mention of the dance.
I went to bed. Mystery unsolved.
In pursuing the matter further, the first challenge I encountered was the basic spelling of the word. Is it “muzinke” perhaps “mozinka” or “mezynke”? A similar problem emerged regarding the Hebrew Yiddish letter formation.
After multiple tries and still unsuccessful, I thought of contacting a friend, a researcher at YIVO. Located in Manhattan, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is a world renowned resource center for East European Jewish Studies; Yiddish language, literature and folklore; and the American Jewish immigrant experience. The YIVO Library holds over 385,000 volumes in 12 major languages, and the Archives contains more than 24,000,000 pieces, including manuscripts, documents, photographs, sound recordings, art works, films, posters, sheet music, and other artifacts.
I felt confident my friend Shaye Metal and his associates would readily respond to my inquiry and resolve the entire matter. Spoke to Shaye. He too wasn’t sure about the spelling and referred me to someone he was certain would have the answers and if not, could refer me to someone who does.
Dr. Paul Glasser, Associate Dean, YIVO Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Study, was extremely helpful. He spelled the word for me in both English and Yiddish, confirmed that it indeed is a Yiddish word [I had thought that perhaps it might be Russian], provided the definition, “the youngest daughter.” And said “No, don’t know the history of the dance, but can refer you to the expert who definitely can help.”
Chana Mlotek is YIVO’s Music Archivist. In a flash she said, “ Certainly I know the song, lyrics and music composed by Mordechai Warshavsky in Kiev 1901.” “ That’s very helpful, but what about the dance?”
“Don’t know anything about a dance.” What?! Silence. I was dumfounded. The phone call ended.
At least I had made some progress. Armed with the correct spelling I could now effectively proceed to search for the custom in a number of data bases.
My first choice was the world renowned Bar Ilan archives. The Bar Ilan Global Jewish Database (the Responsa Project) contains 92,000 Responsa on every facet of Jewish law, and together with other primary text of Jewish teaching represent a period of over three thousand years of Jewish life. These Responsa are rabbinic case-law rulings which represent the historical-sociological milieu of real-life situations. Upon asking their local rabbis for advice on almost every subject, these questions and answers, responsa, were then compiled and published in to volumes and accordingly provide halachic, historical, sociological and economic data representing every aspect of the life cycle.
It would naturally be expected that the word and reference to the custom would be found therein.
I entered the letters/word. מיזינקע. “No results for this search.”
Otzar HaHochma is another respected and major source of study and research. The digital library contains more than 45,000 Judaic books, scanned page after page in their original format. It too encompasses all realms of Judaism from ancient times to the modern period, Halachah and Customs from the Rishonim and Acharonim, Responsa Literature as well as Modern scholarship. Again, nothing, amazing.
I thought I might try approaching this from another angle. Let’s see what I can find regarding Mordechai Warshavsky and the song. Perhaps it will shed light on the dance. Soon enough I learned the following: That Mordechai or Mark Warshavsky was a famous Jewish folksinger and composer. He was befriended and mentored by Sholom Aleichem who admired his work and encouraged him to publish them. Together they were part of a circle of artists who frequented and performed in the cafes of Kiev. In addition to composing the words and lyrics to the Mazinke dance, his repertoire includes authorship of the beautiful and familiar lullaby Oifen Prepechik.
But what about the dance?
(To be continued in our next issue)