Why Segregate Men and Women in Synagogue?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I have an issue with the mechitzah, the separation of men and women in synagogue. Why do we stand divided in the house of G-d? If men can't keep their eyes on the prayer book that is their problem. Why do we have to sit apart?
The separation of men and women goes all the way back to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The sages of old noticed that all the men wanted the air conditioning on high, while the women complained that it was like a freezer in there. After much debate it was decided to separate men and women into different sections of the Temple and adjust the temperature accordingly.
While some archeologists dispute the above theory, it does have an element of truth to it. Men and women were separated in the Temple because they live in different spiritual climates. There is a clear divide between male and female spirituality, and each deserves to be nurtured in its own setting.
As a rabbi who often stands facing both the men and women, I have observed the vastly different energy on the two sides of the shul. While it can't be said for individuals, as a group it seems women are more comfortable with prayer than men. The men's side is more fidgety and agitated, the women's side more serene. The men pray quicker than the women, who tend to take their time saying the prayers. And when I give a sermon I get much more direct feedback from the women's side than the men's. The animated facial expressions on one side speak far louder than the sea of blank stares on the other.
Mixing these two distinct moods would be disturbing to both. And so in synagogue, each soul group is given its own space. The collective masculine and feminine soul can both connect to their common source in their own different ways.
The male/female divide should be celebrated. It creates a positive tension that makes our relationships exciting and gives breadth and vibrancy to our experience of life. Separate seating in synagogue encourages both women and men to connect to their soul roots each in their own unique way. And it prevents arguments over the air conditioning, saving the male/female tension for far higher purposes.