Photo Credit: Zuzana Janku/FLASH90
Men in the women's section. July 8, 2013

I realize that there are a lot of problems in the world and this may seem silly, but this has started to bother me and I need to scream about it. Note: make believe the next few sentences are being screamed in a loud, annoying voice… OK, here goes: Why do several men insist on davening in the women’s section in shul during the week? Please don’t tell me it’s because of Covid, since this problem has been going on since before those days (can anyone remember that far back?)

This is literally a worldwide problem. In Herziliya, where I live, there are a few women who like to come to shul during the week. It’s true that they don’t attend every day but, who cares? They come when they can and should never have to feel uncomfortable when they enter shul. 99% of the time, there are at least 2 guys sitting in the women’s section and these guys always “make a face” when they need to get up, take their Tefillin, and move to one of the 300 empty men’s seats.

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This problem is not limited to Israel. I am currently in NY and my wife likes to accompany me to the morning minyan in Cedarhurst. She always goes upstairs to the “Ezras Nashim” and – here it comes again – 99% of the time finds men davening there. She doesn’t ask them to leave since, as my wife says; “They are obligated to daven at this time, while I can daven later.” The other day she was very excited to find no men in the women’s section! She started davening and then, halfway through, heard the famous noise of Tefillin boxes opening and closing. She turned around and saw 2 guys putting on Tefillin, completely unaware that there was a woman davening in… the women’s section!! Not wanting to embarrass these guys, she immediately left her seat and finished davening in the hall. I told her that she should have texted me and I would have ran upstairs to throw these guys out. (As you can tell, my style is much different…)

All kidding aside; why do people do this? I have started talking to friends about this all over the world – in Australia, Canada and England – and they tell me that this happens in their shul as well. Once again I must reiterate that this has nothing to do with spreading out due to Covid. These guys have been doing this for years, and will continue to do so even after Covid has been long forgotten.

Here’s my question: Why? What is going through a guy’s mind when he comes to shul – to daven with a minyan – only to separate himself from the congregation by davening in the women’s section? If he feels he needs it to be quieter and it helps with focus and concentration, then stay home! Find a quiet room in your house and daven there! By davening in the women’s section, two things are happening. First of all, according to many Halachic opinions, you are not considered as part of the minyan. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l writes about this, and others do as well. Yes, I’m sure one can find Rabbinic opinions that argue with that, but why enter into such a debate? There’s plenty of room in the men’s section, so just daven there!

The second thing that’s happening is that unnecessary anguish is being caused to women who want to daven but feel embarrassed to enter the women’s section when men are there. Do these men think their tefillot will be answered when those words are being recited at the expense and discomfort of others? Why should HaShem think of us, when we don’t think of others?

Attention all men: We should make sure our Jewish women are welcomed in shul. Please remember that it was Momma Rachel’s tefillot (in the Heavenly world) that helped save the Jewish people during the destruction of the first Bet Ha’Mikdash. The Jewish woman has tremendous strength in her prayers and, especially these days when we need every prayer we can get, we must open our doors to these righteous women. We are all familiar with the fact that during the years of raising children, women are not obligated in time sensitive mitzvot, such as davening with a minyan at certain times. But what about our teenage girls? Our young women who are davening for a shidduch? How about the many women crying for children? Or older women who have already raised their children?  Let them daven! Let these holy women come to shul and sit in the women’s section, without the need to kick some guy out who shouldn’t have been there in the first place!

Every one knows that Moshiach is knocking on the door. Just look at the world today… it’s clear that we are in the “home stretch”. There are lots of things we need to do to open that door for Moshiach and one of our most important tasks is to increase our connection to HaShem through quality davening. We need the tefillot of our mothers, sisters, wives and children! Let them feel comfortable in shul. Let them know that the door is always open and their section in shul in like the “Kodesh Ha’Kodashim” – where nobody but them will enter that sacred and holy place. And may our Father and King answer their tefillot with kindness, mercy and love. Amen!

Am Yisrael Chai!

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Shmuel Sackett is the founder and director of the Am Yisrael Chai Foundation.