“I’m getting married in a few months, and neither me nor my fiancé are religious or have much of a personal connection to our heritages (we’re not very exciting on paper). We’ve been to a bajillion weddings, though, and have always loved when we’re enveloped into other people’s beautiful traditions and practices—and we especially love the horah. It’s joyous, energy-filled and the epitome of a celebration dance. While it doesn’t seem particularly religious, we by no means want to offend anyone. So please tell me: Can I do the horah at my wedding if I’m not Jewish?”
From Reform to Orthodox, most Jewish weddings have three things in common: a chuppah (the canopy under which the couple stands during the ceremony), the glass breaking (mazel tov!) and the horah.
All of these traditions have their own meaning (or several) passed down through generations, but one thing has remained true—they create a moment. They’re not only meaningful in the context of religion, but they’re also a party planner’s dream come true. The chuppah provides an opportunity to decorate the altar and create some #mood; the breaking glass signifies the beginning of the celebration; and the horah is that energized, hypnotizing beat that magically gets everyone moving on the dance floor. No wonder people from all walks of life love it.
Before we get into answering your question, first we should ask: What exactly is the horah? We know it’s a dance organized into concentric circles, but if you Google “horah,” you actually learn that that it originated as a folk dance in the Balkans and is not necessarily a Jewish dance. The horah that you see at many Jewish American weddings is usually choreographed to the Israeli folk song “Hava Nagilia,” and comes from Israeli and Eastern European folk traditions. What does our little history lesson teach us? There was probably some comingling of cultures way back when and likely in both directions.
But just because the origin story of the horah may be one of cross-pollination, does that mean it’s OK for non-Jews to take on what’s become a modern Jewish tradition? Ask all of your Jewish friends and you’ll get a mixed bag of answers. You will definitely hear some say “no” and some say “Of course!” And the age range and religious identity will obviously play a role in their perspective. For instance, an Orthodox Jewish man in his 60s will probably not be as down for your cultural experiment. But as a not-very-religious Jewish woman in my 30s, I think that as long as you are respectful and understand the tradition, why not? But I couldn’t be the only source on the matter, so I asked some fellow Jews to chime in.
A Jewish friend of mine told me she’d be totally fine with it as long as there was “‘A’ Jew at the wedding.” She was also adamant that the couple call it the horah and not “that ‘Jewish circle dance,’” which was a very valid point. She also brought up the dangers of doing the horah at a largely non-Jewish wedding, warning, “Just be OK knowing that it's going to be less energized than the one you did with all of those Jewish aunts, uncles and cousins participating.” Also, valid points.
Our tiny sampling shows that non-religious Jewish women in their 30s are totally fine with you doing the horah. But what does the authority on all hot takes have to say? A real-life Jewish grandma chimed in: “It’s kinda like being Jewish and having a Christmas tree because you like the ornaments. I’m all for cross-cultural experiences but look what it’s done to the bagel. Blueberry? I’d say, stay in your lane. Leave the horah to the Jews,” says Linda, a Jewish grandma from D.C.
For bagel snobs, this raises a fair point—the blueberry bagel is a blemish on the face of Jewish boiled baked goods. At the same time, of course a Jewish grandma was going to have the hottest take. With a split consensus, I had to go straight to the top…yep, I asked a rabbi.
Here’s what Rabbi Judy Greenfeld, leader of Congregation Nachshon Minyan in Encino, CA, told me: "Absolutely they can do the horah. It is a dance of joy and celebration. It is a huge compliment that individuals outside the Jewish religion resonate to our tradition and want to adopt them to heighten their joy!"
So, if you feel comfortable introducing a new tradition to your family and friends in a respectful way, then by all means…mazel tov!