web analytics
July 2, 2015 / 15 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Guests Or Residents? Women In Our Shuls


A few weeks ago I was completing the silent amidah at the morning minyan I attend in my local shul. Suddenly, a cold breeze shot through the room. I headed back to the door of the bet midrash where we pray and saw that a young observant woman I know had propped the door slightly ajar in order to hear the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and the reading of the Torah.

The women’s section right next to the door was being used by several men. One man who had come late was putting on his tefillin while another man was taking his off; one man was praying intensely while another was wandering around, possibly looking for a sefer on the shelves in the back.

The young woman, too shy or intimated to ask them to leave the area, simply stood in the cold drafty hall, bundled up against the elements, trying to hear the chazzan and the tefillah. The door to the women’s section has a sign politely asking men not to pray in or walk through the women’s section as it is reserved for women. But like so many other rules of etiquette in shul, this one was being ignored. I quickly motioned to the men to exit the women’s section; after they noticed my gesticulations they slowly did.

The phenomenon of men praying or simply donning their tefillin in the women’s section is one we have all seen repeated countless times in our shuls and batei midrash here and in Israel. It is a practice that needs to stop, the sooner the better.

Men praying or passing through the women’s section, even if there are no women there at the moment, bespeaks (not explicitly, of course) an attitude that devalues the place of women in the synagogue. It subtly indicates the sense (again not deliberately) that women have no real place or space in the synagogue. They are there, the message resounds, at the indulgence of men.

Whatever one’s views on the hot button issues of the role of women and ritual in the shul, it should be a sine qua non that a space be always set aside for the women who attend shul during the week and that this space should be sacrosanct. Women should feel they have their very own space. No woman should have to ask a man to move out of the women’s section or wait for a sympathetic soul to notice her discomfort and push the men to leave.

A person seeking to connect with God should never be made to feel like a guest in the house of God, especially in her own shul.

This attitude is also reflected in the context of some of the Mincha minyanim that take place in offices in the midtown and financial districts of large cities. Many of these ubiquitous minaynim resist making accommodations for the small but growing number of observant women who would also like to pray with a minyan either on a daily or occasional basis. In some there is resistance to set up a mechitza, while in others, even ones that meet in shuls with women’s sections, many men, especially the latecomers, simply appropriate for themselves the space of the women’s section to spread out as they engage in prayer.

This issue is not the most urgent one on our communal plate at the moment, but it is so easy to rectify.

Our history reflects the reality that men, even those steeped in piety, often failed to appreciate women’s desire to experience and engage in tefillah.

We need look no further than the high priest Eli, who spoke harshly to Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet, because he initially misunderstood what she was doing when he saw her engaged in prayer. But ultimately, as the Talmud teaches us, Hannah came to be considered the mother of prayer.

It is from Hannah’s sincere desire to pray and from her deeply felt prayers that we derive many of the laws of tefillah found in our halachic texts. It behooves us to ensure that all our shuls and minyanim are truly batei knesset where all of Knesset Yisrael – the Jewish people – can feel at home and at peace.

About the Author: Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot is chair of the departments of Tanach and Jewish Thought at Yeshivat Chovevei Rabbinical School; is on the faculty of SAR High School; and is spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, New Jersey.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Guests Or Residents? Women In Our Shuls”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
ISIS leads captured Egyptian Copts in death march.
Analysis: ISIS Will Go Down to Defeat in Egypt
Latest Indepth Stories
wedding cake

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

ISIS leads captured Egyptian Copts in death march.

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Dr. Michael J. Salamon

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

Gerstenfeld-070315

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

In addition to the palace’s tremendous size it was home to the “hanging gardens,” which were counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Rather than asserting Jewish rights on Temple Mount or protecting Jewish lives Israel chooses soccer

Nothing in the NEW Paris Proposal differs much from what was offered by Olmert and rejected by Abbas

No longer will delegitimization efforts go unchallenged. That’s a silence we will continue to break.

More Articles from Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot
haredi dropouts

Many of the talented and motivated individuals who leave the Haredi world could choose Modern Orthodoxy, but they don’t.

The latest round in the broader canvas of debates about the approach of Modern Orthodoxy to the role of women in communal life has focused on the issue of learned Orthodox women receiving some form of rabbinic ordination and serving as rabbis or clergy.

As Super Bowl weekend approaches the signs at the local takeout stores in Modern Orthodox neighborhoods (and even some haredi ones as well, but I limit my discussion here to the former as that is my community) abound with signs advertising gigantic food package options with catchy names such as the “Linebacker” or the “Halftimer.”

A few weeks ago I was completing the silent amidah at the morning minyan I attend in my local shul. Suddenly, a cold breeze shot through the room. I headed back to the door of the bet midrash where we pray and saw that a young observant woman I know had propped the door slightly ajar in order to hear the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei and the reading of the Torah.

David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the State of Israel, was often quoted in the early years of the state as remarking, “it is not so important what the Gentiles say as what the Jews do.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/guests-or-residents-women-in-our-shuls/2010/01/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: