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Separation in the Synagogue

Separation in the Synagogue

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Question:

Why do men and women sit separately at traditional Jewish services?

Answer:

All Jewish practices have their simple reasons as well as deeper, more spiritual explanations.

One obvious benefit of separate seating in a synagogue is that it helps ensure that the main focus is on the prayers and not on the opposite gender. There is no question that we don't act the same in a mixed crowd as we do in a same-gender one. There is nothing wrong with that. It is good and healthy that we are attracted to each other, but during prayers we shouldn't be trying to impress anyone other than G-d.

In addition to that, a synagogue should be a welcoming and inclusive place. No one should feel left out. Many single people feel extremely uncomfortable at a function or event at which everyone seems to be with a partner except them. No one should ever feel this way at a synagogue. When men and women sit separately, there is no discrimination between singles and couples. (There will always be a chance for singles to mingle afterwards at the Kiddush!)

But it goes deeper than that. Women and men are very different beings. Not only are we physically different; our thought processes, emotional states and psychology are all different. This is because our souls are different - they come from complementary but opposite sources. The prayer experience is supposed to be an opportunity to be with your true self, to communicate with your soul. Men and women need space from each other to help them become intuned to their higher selves.

Ironically, it is by sitting separately in prayer that we are able to truly come together in the other areas of our lives; because it is only when both male and female spiritual energies are allowed to flourish that we are complete as individuals, families and a community.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (102)
May 4, 2015
Well, for all practical purposes....
Elaine Thompson
May 4, 2015
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Thank you for your clarification of certain aspects of halakah. Without someone who has studied a good amount of Jewish Law commenting in these forums, many people who come across these concepts might draw the wrong conclusion.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco
May 3, 2015
To Anon in Washington
No it is not because of that. The separation of men from women during prayer is required regardless of a woman's purity state. It is also inaccurate to use the word "unclean." In Hebrew the word is "Teme'ah," which means ritually impure, not unclean. It is not a cleanliness issue, but one that relates to certain aspects of religious life, particularly when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. Nowadays the laws of menstrual impurity affect only the intimate life of married couples, not prayer or public life.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
For Chabad.org
May 1, 2015
Of course, the real reason is that women are unclean because they bleed. Islam and Judaism share a lot when it comes to attitudes toward women. My bumper sticker says, "Eve Was Framed".
Elaine Thompson
Alpena
April 10, 2015
Isn't it really because women are unclean because they bleed?
Anonymous
Washington
March 17, 2015
Thank G-d for the mechitzah
Yes, teenagers begin strong hormonal development that affects their behavior. But, the hormones don't just disappear later on. It's completely normal for men and women of all ages to be affected by sexual urges and attractions, unless something is wrong mentally, emotionally or physically with that person or they are nearly dead.

It would be very nice to believe that people of both sexes could control their urges and attractions completely. But, that has never been the case, and is not the case now. If anything, in this day and age, fantasizing about other individuals sexually is much more uncontrolled individually. Maybe one day we'll rise above our animal instincts, but that's a far ways off.

The mechitzah is the clear answer to the problem. Being externally regulated to help keep our thoughts and desires focused on Holy prayer is important and necessary for the Jewish people, unless the person is a complete Tzaddik.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco, CA
March 11, 2015
Men mistakenly think they know women. They tend to think that women are after them as exhibited by women in their dress, wearing of perfume, etc. 'Taint necessarily. so. Adolescent and teen human females are the exception. Their hormones are raging and they tend to follow the ancient inborn mandate to replicate themselves. We would hope to have reached beyond the level of our behavior and choices being ruled by our hormones.
Elaine Thompson
Alpena
March 8, 2015
Where does it say this in the Torah? Is this a law from G-d?
Jeff
Jacksonville, Florida
January 13, 2015
Your remarks seem rather jaded Elaine
All the "assumptions" you make about men, the same can be attributed to women anywhere on the globe, except maybe in localities where women are forced to wear Burkas, sadly. I didn't say fashion has no place, for study, as to it's historical importance or application. Generally speaking, women are well known to use every technique available to attract a mate: from their choice and use of "fashion", jewelry, make-up, perfume, how they walk and use their voice, and many other techniques they've learned over a few thousand or more years. Men also marry "ugly" women....beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As many women are as superficial as men regarding very many aspects of life. Biased maybe?

But, as the Rabbi has pointed out, the synagogue is a place for the worship of the Holy One, and separating the sexes is very necessary and appropriate, as most people cannot control their thoughts and feelings towards the opposite sex, although I agree that some can and do.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco
January 13, 2015
Clothing fashions tell a lot about what is going on in a society, and what is considered modest dress varies. As for women being unable to control their thoughts as compared with men, I beg to differ. Women are not so disposed to judge on sight alone; men are. Women marry ugly men, don't they?-- because there is something more important than appearance, or outward beauty. By the way, humans can control their thoughts and impulses as is not commonly believed these days. You substitute a secure thought for an "insecure"
thought until it becomes habit.. Nice average, ordinary people do this all the time. Men can, too.
Elaine Thompson
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