Divided We Stand
David Salvadori from Italy wrote:
Please, why can men and women not stay near each other in the synagogue? Somebody told me that it is because women can disturb men during the prayer with their voices. Is this the answer or there are other matters? Where is written in the Torah such rule?
Dear David Salvadori,
The law requiring a mechitzah, division, between men and women in the synagogue dates back to Biblical times and is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud. There are a number of reasons given for this:
- So as not to cause those who are unmarried to feel left out. We come to synagogue to relate to G-d as Jews, not as spouses, husbands, wives, fathers or mothers. With a mechitzah, spouses do not sit together. That way, we are more of a congregation than groups of individuals.
- To prevent there being a light, social atmosphere during prayer. The atmosphere during prayer should be serious. One way to help achieve the proper atmosphere is by creating a division between men and women.
- To promote modesty, and to prevent the distraction from prayer to both men and women from the presence of members of the opposite gender, to whom there is a natural attraction.
- Tractate Succah 51b, 52a