Separation of Suits and Skirts

The mechitzah. Love it or hate it, it is part of the religious world. Men and women are to be separated at most events – davening, weddings, community meetings. In some communities it’s enough that the men sit on one side and the women on the other. In other communities there is one way glass, or thick wooden dividers.

 

From what I am given to understand, during prayer, it’s the men that must not look at the ladies, and not the other way around. I have been to a few shuls where the mechitzah is one way glass – so we can ogle the cute guys in the designer suits, with him having no idea that he is the centre of attention. I guess this is because men’s obligation to pray is much stronger than women’s so if we get distracted it’s not the end of the world.

 

Another shul I have been too has thick office dividers down the centre of the shul, very effectively separating the sexes. But when they do VeZot HaTorah – well, I can’t very well raise my pinkie to said Torah because I cannot see it. I cannot see who is davenning, or even if my sons are behaving, I can’t even see the rabbi when he is talking. I may as well not be there for all the spirituality I feel there.

 

Hopping on to a different shul. This one has the women’s balcony at a right angle to the men, with a very sheer net curtain that hides nothing. Bliss – I can see what’s going on in the service, who gets an aliyah, I can even see my kids put their fingers in their brothers ears……….but I can also which guys are checking out which gals, or even if someone is checking me out. Interestingly enough this shul has the least decorum – talking throughout leining, davening etc. Also in this shul they give my little guy the privilege of opening the Aron Kodesh for Anim Zemirot, and allow him and his brothers or other small boys to sing Adon Olam from the Bima. And I get to see it. They also have great kiddushim. Great mechitzah – terrible decorum. Again, no spirituality there.

 

Does being behind a mechitzah take away spirituality, or is it just the shuls I am frequenting? What is it like being a man on the other side of the mechitzah?

 

Really when I decide where to daven, these days it’s all about where the boys feel the most comfortable. In one shul with thick mechitzahs I know they boys will be watched by some of the men that we know, where as in the decorum-less shul they run wilder until they get a furious eagle eye from me. And there I am, stuck in parenting limbo, being that I am the opposite sex from my children. Very frustrating.

9 responses to “Separation of Suits and Skirts

  1. Oy. It seems that your want for a good shul may soon drive you to become conservative and give up the whole separation bit altogether. Though I’m almost positive you wont feel any spirituality over there. You might get an aliya though. Good luck choosing the right shul, I should be doing a post about my shul in the next few days.

  2. you mean there are women on the other side of the mechitza?

  3. I’ve visited different sorts of shuls with different sorts of mechitzah and don’t feel distracted from praying if there is no (or very little) mechitzah. I find the spirituality depends on the rabbi rather than on the separation.
    Is there a wide choice where you are?

  4. I don’t think the Mechitzah is something to judge a shul by. After all, you said you would go where your sons want to go, to them the Mechitzah doesn’t make a difference.

    However, I would judge it based on the spirituality you feel there, and the people that are in the shul, if you thing those people are good role models for your children.

    Even if you have a 10 foot brick wall separating you from the men, it can still be uplifting. Like when people are blind, because they are missing one sense, all their other senses are heightened. By you not seeing the men, you can imagine them davening in a much higher level than they may appear to be.

  5. It’s a common misconception that the Mehitza is designed to prevent men from seeing women.

    The first mention of a mehitza is in Gemara Hagiga where we are told that an ezrat nashim was erected in the SECOND Bet Hamikdash (Implication, that there was none in the first), in order to prevent “Kalut Rosh.” Kalut Rosh is a social levity, not a visual prohibition.

    The gemara also states that a separation more than 40 tfachim is as if it extends to the ceiling, again buttressing the argument that it is not to prevent site.

    References to site first appear in the later commentaries, mostly in a polemic nature after the onset of the Conservative movement.

    The idea that Mehitza prevents site may be based on the prohibition for men to say Shema in front of the uncovered hair of a married woman (any according to Rambam), or the upper leg or licentious singing voice of a woman (possibly including his own menstruant wife)- however this is a prohibition on the man while saying shema inside or outside of Shul and is not cited in the laws of Bet Knesset.

    There is a lot of misinformation out there. Assuming you go to a shul where women observe tzniut a higher mehitzah is unnecessary, and I would advise you to select the shul with the best role models for the way you’d like your children to act.

  6. Noah – i had absolutely no idea. of course, i did no research so how could i? thats fsacinating. where could i read more about it?

  7. Tough question.

    Unfortunately, there is not one really good source book on mehitza to my knowledge, so the primary sources are the best way to go, depending on your comfort level with the text.

    (And if there were a really good mehitza book, its author would likely be put in herem. 🙂

  8. maybe i shall be the one to write it – cherem doesnt bother me. thick skinned.

    hit me with sources or where to find sources…i’m thirsty lol

  9. Go to: http://kodesh.snunit.k12.il/search_adv.html

    Use the keywords:
    “מחיצה” – this one will have a lot of false positives, but also some valuable information…

    And

    “עזרת נשים”

    Thos will give you a good start at seeing what the classical text has to say, but even there, there will be a lot of irrelevant information to sift through.

    Good luck.
    ~n

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