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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 (83)
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
June 19, 2012
Thank you, Rabbi Tzvi, for responding.
I appreciate your take on this issue. Also, as I mentioned in a post above, I love what you do include women as much as is possible, and love that we are on an equal level with the men, separated by a removable wall, which you have taken down at the end when it is time for kibbutzing. It appears that not all Chabad Rabbis treat women as equally as you. Thank you for being who you are and having such a wonderful attitude toward women. I am curious as to if it is in the scriptures or any of the holy books where it says you must not hug your children at Sabbath service. I also want to know where it says men and women can not shake hands.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
June 19, 2012
Compassion
Chabad clearly puts the interests of men above women. This is 2012. Women have fought for equal rights and should not be separated. In chabad women are the childbearers while men study and take part in prayers that can only be made if men are present. True religion is about compassion and treating others fairly. It is not about creating a society with second class citizenship. Whether intended or not you are sending a message to women that they are inferior by segregating them in temple.
Anonymous
miami, fl
February 27, 2012
No Women
Muslims hug their children a lot, too-- their boys: sons, nephews, cousins..... In public, too.

Yes, by implication, women can be so distracting. Not necessarily in and of themselves, really, but because men are not held responsible for self-control to keep their minds (and eyes) on the purpose and subject at hand.
Elaine Thompson
Alpena,, Michigan USA
February 26, 2012
Dear Mr. Wolfson,

In any class, or at any festive meal at a Chabad House, you and your wife will be welcome to sit together. But there is a time to be together and a time to be apart. Prayer is a very private time, in which love and affection is reserved for G-d alone. Jewish people hug their kids more than any other people—but we don't hug them in the shul. Because this is one place reserved for only one kind of love.

That is the simple reason why a proper shul has separate seating—because it is a place for each of us to relate to G-d. If that love is not the mandate of a place, then that separation is not necessary.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
mychabad.org
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