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Separation in the Synagogue

Separation in the Synagogue



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


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
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Discussion (106)
January 11, 2017
One local synagogue switched slowly slowly from orthodox to conservative then to reconstructed. I heard about thirty years ago the married couples were complaining about not being able to sit with their husbands and wives. Next they complained that the service was too long. Then they complained about the two orthodox rabbis were too old and were not reaching out to the young people. Then they brought in a young rabbi fresh out of conservative seminary. Then came the music and the women getting the Cohen and Levi Aliyah's and now the Synagouge looks like a church. The rabbi doesn't pray facing the ark.
January 10, 2017
Tzadekeem or not ?
If I have a room full of Jewel thieves and I lock all the gems in a safe they can't penetrate are they now all tzadekeem (צדיקים) because they no longer steal? Pretty obvious answer, no. However if one of them was surrounded by gems, gold, and opportunity yet could refrain from stealing anything is he now on the path to teshuvah (תשובה) and living as a righteous person? Yet another obvious answer, yes.

If the only thing stopping a person from acting out of (יצר הרע‎‎) yetzer harah is a physical barrier perhaps they need to re-evaluate what they're doing in shul and how they live their lives everyday and every place.
January 19, 2016
To George in SF
Boker tov George,
I've lived in San Francisco at times. Just down the street from where I lived some time ago was a Rabbi, a gay one. One day he came to me and said: "You know all the guys on the street are in love with you." and I replied, "Maybe, but I am strictly attracted to females." So, then, he replied: "Well, if you ever change your mind, I hope you try me 1st". So, no, we're not living in the same times as "when this was believed", referring to the mechitza, etc. Sad, very sad. Reb Nachman said: "A time when even the high places would be covered by the yetzer hara."........and that time is now.
Eleazar Goldman
San Francisco
January 18, 2016
muslims? jews? same problems apparently.
"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 no question that we don't live in the same time as when this was believed.
San Francisco
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
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
April 10, 2015
Isn't it really because women are unclean because they bleed?
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