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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 (87)
November 25, 2014
Outside looking in
I am not Orthodox, nor am I Jewish, or Muslim, I was Orthodox Christian for most of my life, and even though I can no longer claim that, I can attest that the seperation of genders (which is found in all three faiths) does not oppress women. Never have I spoken to practicing women of these faiths that felt oppressed by this custom, nor did I feel oppressed by them. It actually made the services much more comfortable. I agree with Miriam's comment. What may apprear as an oppresive custom to someone who isn't educated in the faith and the reasons for customs might see it that way, but when the person outside looking in speaks to people who live this faith, they should listen to them and their reasons before simply dismissing them as backwards or stupid or brainwashed. They are none of these things. They are living their faith and they don't need your approval.
Anastasia
October 4, 2014
Now who is the weaker sex?
If a man is truly strong, pious and just, he won't care about something as futile as a woman sitting near to him. His mind will be focused and clear on the ritual required.
Misha
Arnhem
September 30, 2014
Temptation
i remember one time I attended services in a conservative shul, where men and women sat right next to each other, or right behind or in front of each other. An exceedingly beautiful and young female sat directly in front of me, wearing a semi-diaphanous dress. I was not able to focus, even on what the Rabbi was saying during any of the services, as my eyes, and mind, were totally caught up with looking at such a vision of beauty. I never went back there again for services.

It is difficult enough to concentrate on G-d and what we are at the shul for....to participate in communal spirituality, without having to deal with the very great distraction of a beautiful female right in front of me. Thank you for the mechitza.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
Guanajuato, MEXICO
September 2, 2014
Such hoops one jumps through to try to make sexism sound nice
But in the end it is clear that Jews, like muslims, scorn women. And like Muslims, they are patronizing and try to tell women that men not wanting to be near them is a good thing.

Now imagine switching out male for Gentile and female for Jewish, and imagine yourself accepting any kind of reasoning - scriptural or otherwise - for Jews being made to sit away from gentiles.
Mike D
New York
August 31, 2014
No Nonsense
In larger synagogues it can be distracting; for instance, a male youth going through puberty might be more interested in marital behavior than what is being read. But it also can be a good idea to sit together because it encourages love and marriage. Even so, marriage is not really the focus during service what is being taught is; along with worship,

It seems that it is better to remain separated during worship. Nor is is small minded; after all, G-d separated the most holy place from Moses, only Aaron could go in there ...after Moses taught him his job. Moreover, Levi lived in the temple apart from the rest of Israel. Separation is not necessarily bad for a short period of time.
Yehuda
August 30, 2014
Separation of men&women in synagogue
Nonsense & degrading to women. This is a man made ritual, by small minded men, not God made!
Janet Sacks
January 21, 2014
Where in the Torah does it say that men and women cannot or should not sit together? I was an Orthodox Jew for the first 40 years of my life, and both my daughters had Bat Mitzvahs as did my wife. When I was asked by one of my daughters, if we live together and love each together why can't we go to synagogue and sit together? Needless to say I changed I would get 6 tickets for the High Holidays a row of 6 in a row were Dad, Mom, ,Daughter, Daughter, Grandmom, and Son. And we are still good Jews.
Harry
December 31, 2013
Re: Separation of men and women
G-d created men and women with an innate attraction to each other, which is as it should be. However, what is positive in one context (marriage) is negative in another (prayer). During prayer one is required to clear his or her mind of any distracting thoughts; particularly thoughts of a sexual nature are inappropriate in one's communion with G-d. While praying alone, one can achieve complete solitude, without any outside distractions. Since men are required to say certain prayers communally, and women may voluntarily participate, they therefore make sure that they are seated in a manner in which one sex's presence will not intrude on the other's thoughts. This is an act of sensitivity on the part of each sex toward the other during prayer. The time of prayer is truly not for social interaction on any level. Jews (myself included) who bless G-d "who has not made me a woman" do not think that women are inferior (see this link), but recognize our innate differences.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Chabad.org
September 27, 2013
Torah?
Where can we see such of Mitzva in the Torah.....nowhere!...at the beginning G-d created men and women equally...Traditions of Men...again..there is more laws in the הֲלָכָה of Judaisms than in Torah it self...Mashiach come please!
Ely
RI
April 29, 2013
Accepting.
For all those who oppose this idea of separate seating and stating women are second class citizens you are wrong. I am orthodox. I grew up orthodox,I have never felt inferior. Why won't you state that men are second class? They have to also be separate and also have rules. We may have different obligations but this does not mean one is more important than the other. it just means we have different but equal mitzvot. If I respect everyone and their believes why can't you do the same for us? We are entitled to believe our way is the right way without being told we are oppressed.
Miriam
New York
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