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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 (94)
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
January 5, 2015
Re: Rationalizations
Regarding the issues of women in the synagogue and with the Torah it is important to note that a) women themselves often determined their own place within Judaism throughout the ages, and b) they were often more stringent than required, because their objective was to serve G-d, and to do so as women.

The separation between men and women during services goes back to Temple times, where there was the Ezrat Nashim, the so-called "women's court," and where the Talmud reports various set-ups were tried to prevent men and women from mixing during the celebrations on Sukkot; certainly not "recent times." More to the point, men and women have a G-d-given natural interest in each other, which is good, beneficial, and appropriate in the right circumstances, and should not be quashed. But when our object is to commune with G-d, it is appropriate to remove the man-woman dynamic from that setting.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Chabad.org
January 2, 2015
Women are in the same boat as men
I don't know any man or woman that can control their thoughts and feelings to an extent that a view of a very attractive member of the opposite sex doesn't stir their desires and sometimes, fantasies. Women are just as much "poor babies" in that regard. Thank the Sages of Israel for the mechitzah. The responsibilty is on both genders. Fashion is nice ( but most of it I find ridiculous ) but modesty is the question here, for both men and women.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco
November 28, 2014
Men, poor babies-- can't control their thoughts and themselves, so shift the responsibility to women. I am interested in fashion and am distracted by what women both men and women are wearing. It is, rather, a matter of how people do not dress appropriately for the occasion and that is what is distracting. "Appropriately" meaning dressing as to not tend to take attention away from the purpose at hand and directing it at one's self, even if one does not intend it to do so.
Elaine Thompson
Alpena, Michigan
November 27, 2014
After living in over 20 + countries
I've lived in over 20 countries, and in every one of them i witnessed excesses, degeneration and un-clean things. I don't belong with gentiles in their prayer services, and I seriously doubt that they would feel comfortable in an orthodox Jewish or Chassidic service. G-d decided that a very long time ago. As for being "pious, holy, focused and etc", sure, maybe when I'm like about 80 years old, but until then, thank you for the mechitzah. I would never scorn a G-d-fearing woman, and Shlomo haMelek said one such as her is more valuable than much gold and rubies. No doubt.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
San Francisco
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 19, 2014
Rationalizations
It's only in recent times that judaism has become obsessed with cult-like sexual restrictions in every aspect of life. Instead of working on their middot, jewish men hide women behind mechitzot, bar their access to the holy torah, which they hog for themselves. Not only that, but they have invented all sort of chidushim to rationalize this behavior.
Anonymous
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
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