By the Grace of G‑d
10th of Nissan, 5721
[March 27, 1961]
Brooklyn, NY

Greeting and Blessing:

This is in reply to your letter and questions:

(1) Regarding the Mechitzah [partition between the men and the women] in the synagogue.

You mention several explanations which have been suggested to you, according to which the necessity for a Mechitzah would be qualified and limited to certain conditions only.

Let me preface my answer with a general observation about a misconception in this matter. It is a mistake to think that the Mechitzah is degrading to the honor or dignity of the Jewish woman. The best proof of this is that although the love of parents for their children is not only a very natural one, but has even been hallowed by the Torah, as we pray to G‑d to show us the same fatherly feeling (“As a father has mercy on his children”), yet there is a Din [law] in the Shulchan Aruch [the Code of Jewish law, the volume of] Orach Chaim 98,1 that it is forbidden to kiss one’s little children in Shul [synagogue], and, moreover, even not during the time of prayer. Not to mention the Din of the Torah to esteem and honor every human being created in the “image” of G‑d. To think that there could be anything degrading in the Mechitzah is to betray complete ignorance not only of the significance of the Mechitzah but of the whole attitude and way of the Torah.

One of the inner and essential reasons for the Mechitzah—since you insist on an explanation—is that the synagogue, and the time of prayer in general (even when recited at home), are not merely the place and time when a formal petition is offered to Him Who is able to fulfill the petition; it is much more profound than that. It is the time and place when the person offering the prayer unites himself with Him to Whom the prayer is offered, by means of the prayer. And as our Sages declare: Know before Whom you stand: before the Supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. “Know” (da), as the term daas [knowledge] is explained in the Tanya, in the sense of unity, as in “And Adam knew Eve.” The union of two things can be complete only when there is not a third element involved, be it even a matter of holiness and the like.

From the above it follows that there certainly must be nothing to distract the attention and the attunement of the heart and mind towards the attainment of the highest degree of unity with G‑d.

From the above it also follows that the separation of the sexes by a Mechitzah has nothing to do with any particular condition or state in the women, as has been suggested to you.

It further follows also that the purpose of the Mechitzah is not just to set up a visible boundary, for which a Mechitzah of several inches might do, but it must be one that completely hides the view, otherwise a Mechitzah does not accomplish all its purposes.

I have indicated above, though quite briefly, some of the basic facts about a Mechitzah and the essential explanation behind it in order to answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity. I must say, however, quite emphatically, that the approach of testing and measuring Torah and mitzvoth by the yardstick of the limited and often fallacious human reason is totally wrong. The human intellect is a very unreliable gauge, and quite changeable from one extreme to the other. Even in the so-called exact sciences, the unreliability of human reason and deduction has been amply demonstrated, and what was one day considered as an “absolute” truth is the next day abrogated with equal certainty and absoluteness. Hence to presume to make conditions in regard to the eternal and G‑d-given Torah and mitzvoth is completely out of place.

Therefore, inasmuch as we have been instructed to have a Mechitzah in the house of prayer, it would violate even common sense to present a petition to the Almighty in a manner which displeases Him, and to add insult to injury, to declare that “the reason I do not accept this regulation is because my human intelligence suggests to act otherwise than is the will of the En Sof [the Infinite G‑d], yet, please fulfill my request anyway!”

Much more should be said on this subject, but it is difficult to do so in a letter.

I trust that in harmony with your search for knowledge which you display in your letter, you have regular daily periods of study of the Torah and the Torah view, and that it is the kind of study which leads to action and practice in the daily life, as our Sages emphasized that the essential thing is the deed.

The enclosed message will surely be of interest to you.

Wishing you and your fellow students a kosher, happy and inspiring Pesach [Passover],

With blessing,

(Excerpt from a Letter)