4 Nissan 5765
The Mechitza Opposition
Dear Rabbi Orlofsky,
I´m living with my husband in a European city where there´s a Jewish, not-very-religious community. When we saw the shul the first time, we were pleasantly surprised to see men and women seated separately – even though there was no mechitsa. So we appreciated, but stayed outside, in the corridor. Some people immediately understood our dilemma, and discussed the necessity of a mechitsa even before we even dared to mention it. Now we heard that out of 200 members, 8 would still be opposed to a mechitsa, a change “just for us”.
As Orthodox Jews, we know we have to set the right example, but kiruv is not easy, and we don´t want people to think negatively about frumkeit or Torah as a result of this. Is there anything we could say? Should we behave in a certain manner?
We can´t daven inside the shul as long as there´s no mechitsa, but we don´t want anybody in the community to feel rejected, “accused” or hurt in any way.
Some people feel that our coming to shul (the building) but not coming inside the praying place is not very nice. On the other hand, one Shabbos when the chazan (seemingly Shomer Shabbos, but I don´t know for sure) asked the ladies to sit outside just for the reading of the Torah, so that my husband could have an aliya, they all went readily outside to the corridor where chairs had been placed, with understanding smiles – with the exceptions of 3 women, who then were asked to sit in the back. So it seems to be that these are open-minded and respectful people, and with that in mind we want ensure that we aren’t hurting them.
Let us give another example. Let us say that the shul was serving non-kosher food at the kiddush and someone noticed that you and your husband weren’t eating. There was a suggestion by 200 of the congregants to change the menu to glatt kosher food and eight people insisted they wanted it to remain treife. Would you take the same position of holding your distance?
If a mechitza is a good thing than by bending over backwards to accommodate 8 people, you are allowing 200 people to be held back from davening in a proper shul. Why should the concerns of the 8 people take precedence over the 200?
Obviously one needs to be careful in one’s approach. I think an expression of appreciation for the people who are willing to accommodate you is positive, but actually electioneering for the change is not.