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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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Anonymous May 15, 2017

I have a question, if a baby boy is there and no other male family member is there does he sit with his mom or is that against the rules? Reply

Chabad.org Staff May 16, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Baby boys and young boys in general can sit with their moms, there is no problem with that. Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

Anonymous Arizona 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. Reply

Eleazar Goldman San Francisco 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. Reply

George 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. Reply

Elaine Thompson May 4, 2015

Well, for all practical purposes.... Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco 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. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org 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. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena 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". Reply

Anonymous Washington April 10, 2015

Isn't it really because women are unclean because they bleed? Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco, CA 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. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena 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. Reply

Jeff Jacksonville, Florida March 8, 2015

Where does it say this in the Torah? Is this a law from G-d? Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco 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. Reply

Elaine Thompson 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. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org 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. Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco 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. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena, Michigan 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. Reply

Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman San Francisco 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. Reply

Anastasia 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. Reply

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