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January 4, 2013 / conservadox

one reason for the mechitza

Sometimes outreach rabbis suggest that a reason for the mechitza (partition between men and women) in Orthodox synagogues is to prevent men from making passes at women.  But if you think there is sexual tension at Conservative and Reform synagogues you haven’t been out much.

It seems to me that to understand the mechitza you must understand that until the past generation or two most men were either married by 20-25 or were still living with their parents.   Thus, in the absence of a mechitza a man is probably sitting with his wife or mother.  To my male readers (if any)- Would you want to sit next to your wife or your mother?

I think not.  My experience from observing women I know (not just my own mother) is that to be a mother you have to be a bit of a control freak to keep your children on the right track- or at least its an easy temptation even if its not necessary.  I thought of this when I was having dinner a few days ago with a (too old to date, sixtysomething) women I know.  We were discussing my possible plans to move to a smaller apartment, and she was taking an almost dictatorial tone about what furniture I should throw away/donate to charity if I did (“you must do x…”)   She is not the only mother I know who has let their child-rearing voice carry over into their relationship with other grownups. (Though I know plenty who have a stronger “none of my business”” gene, and more honor to them!)

If she was my mother and I was sitting next to her, I could easily imagine a running stream of commentary on my clothes, hair, and personal bad habits of various sorts.   Obviously, a male sitting next to such a woman would be distracted, probably even more distracted than if he was sitting next to (insert name of sex symbol).

(Caveat: I am not expressing a historical opinion about how the mechitza came to be; I am just pointing out why, regardless of its origins, it might have made sense for the last few hundred generations).

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