The laws of a Mechitza Part 1 – Sources

1. The Laws of a Mechitza – Having a Divider between men and women:[1]

In this article we will discuss the Halachic sources behind the Mechitza requirement, in the Talmud and Poskim, and discuss the events in which a Mechitza is required. Likewise, we will clarify the definition of a valid Mechitza, its required height, and material.

A. Introduction:                                                                                         

An architectural feature of any respectable Orthodox synagogue is the womens section, otherwise known as the Ezras Nashim. The purpose of the women section is to divide between the sanctuary where the men gather to pray, and the area designated for women. Some synagogues feature a full upper deck women balcony which oversees the main sanctuary where the men gather to pray. Other synagogues feature a ground level women section that is in the main sanctuary with the men, and is marked using dividers that go from one end to the other, to separate between the men and women section and prevent the men from seeing the women. Other synagogues have a completely different room to the side or back of the main sanctuary which serves as the women section.[2] It is common amongst Orthodox Jewry to not limit the Mechitza for only prayer gatherings in a synagogue, but to also have one during wedding events and other occasions. However, there exists gatherings of men and women in which it is not common to establish a divider between men and women, such as by the dinner table or Shabbos table, and the like. What is the difference? When is a divider required between men and women and when is it not? Even when required, is this an actual obligation or simply a stringency and tradition that gives room for leniency and flexibility? If it is an obligation, then what is its source in the Talmud and Poskim. Likewise, what are its requirements of validity? All this and more will be explored in this thorough comprehensive article on the subject.

B. The Law:

A Mechitza is required between the men and women within a Shul, as explained in 2B, and by certain other events, as explained in length in the coming laws.

Its Halachic status – Biblical, Rabbinical, or Custom: The concept of having a division between men and women during certain gatherings is scripturally based, as explained in C source #1, and hence some Poskim[3] rule that one who does not have a Mechitza when required, transgresses a Biblical prohibition. This Biblical requirement applied by the Simchas Beis Hashoeiva in the Temple, as explained in C source #2, and seemingly likewise Biblically applies also inside a Shul.[4] Furthermore, it is possible that this Biblical obligation applies to any event in which men and women are obligated to gather.[5]


C. The Halachic source for the requirement:

Interestingly, the accustomed obligation to have a Mechitza in Shul or by other events is not explicitly recorded in the Rambam or Shulchan Aruch, and the later Poskim[6] collect the various Talmudic and Halachic sources which lead to its requirement.  

  1. Source #1 from Scripture-Separation by Eulogy: The verse in Zecharia[7] states regarding the future era, “And the land will eulogize [the death of a certain individual[8]]. Each family will eulogize him on their own. The family of the household of David will eulogize him alone with the female members of the family eulogizing him on their own. The family of the household of Nathan will eulogize him on their own, with the female members of the family eulogizing him on their own.” In other words, Scripture is stating that even in the future era during the time of a eulogy, the men and women will be separated from each other.[9] The Talmud[10] explains that the sages learned from this verse that if even in the future era when there will no longer be an evil inclination, a separation of men and women is required even by a eulogy, which is a sad event that does not arouse the evil inclination, all the more so is a separation required now when the evil inclination exists, and all the more so by a happy and joyous event. It was the expounding of this verse which served as the clause which permitted the sages to renovate the first Temple and build a womens section, as will be explained next. [From this source, the Poskim learn that the requirement of separation men and women applies not just by a Shul, but by other events as well.]

[1] See Pardes Chabad 13:95; Koveitz Hayovel 1:266-291; Piskeiy Teshuvos 151:4; Shulchan Menachem 1:106 [Shul Mechitza]; 6:50 [Mechitza by wedding]

Opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein: See Igros Moshe O.C. 1:39, 40, 41,42, 44; 2:40; 109; 3:23-24; 5:11-12; Techumin 29:168; 16; Pardes Chabad 13:95

Opinion of Rebbe: Igros Kodesh 7:309, 328; 14:228; 18:394; 19:73; 23:156; 25:2; Otzer Hamelech 3:146; Shulchan Menachem 1:106; Shulchan Menachem 6:50 p. 224; Likkutei Sichos 1:100; Toras Menachem 5714 2:190; Hiskashrus 588:11; Pardes Chabad 13:95; Maaneh printed in Choveres Hivsvadyus Parshas Reih 5772:13

General sources: Sukkah 51b-52a; Kiddushin 81a and Rashi and Tosafus ibid; Pesachim 64b; 86a; 91a; Rambam Hilchos Yom Tov 6:21; Hilchos Lulav 8:12; Hilchos Beis Habechira 5:9; Pirush Hamishnayos Sukkah 5:2; HaPardes Rashi p. 72; Sefer Chassidim 393; Michaber 529:4; Admur 315:3; 529:4; Beis Shmuel E.H. 62:11; Bach E.H. 62:12; Levush O.C. Vol. 2 [Levush Hachor] Minhagim 36; Chasam Sofer C.M. 190; Kesav Sofer E.H. 47; Maharam Shick O.C. 77; Kitzur SHU”A 149:1; Machaneh Chaim 3:10; Beis Hillel 104; Derech Pikudecha Mitzvah 35; Arugas Habosem O.C. 26; Devar Halacha 15:3; Divrei Yoel O.C. 1:10; Seridei Eish O.C. 14; 2:8 [1:77 in new edition]; Techumin 20:168; Zichron Yehuda 62; Tzitz Eliezer 7:8; Shevet Halevi 1:29; 8:281; Beir Moshe 4:147; Lev Avraham 1:135; Vayan Yosef O.C. 1:58; Mishneh Halachos 7:12; Mishnas Yosef 19-20; Kaneh Bosem 2:9; Divrei Yisrael, brought in Taharas Yom Tov 3:28; Tiferes Naftali 12; Bnei Banim 1:35; Mipinyanei Harav p. 46; Om Ani Choma 23; Mahariy Shteif 136; Yabia Omer E.H. 3:19; Sova Semachos 4:15

[2] See Mishnas Yosef 19-20

[3] Igros Moshe O.C. 1:39 “In my opinion, the idea that men and women may not remain without a Mechitza even if each are on their own side of the room, is a Biblical precept”, based on Sukkah 52a which explains that the allowance for renovating a woman’s balcony in the temple for the sake of this division can only be justified if the prohibition is Biblical as otherwise it would be forbidden to renovate the temple; Yerushalmi Sukkah 5:2 “Devar Torah”; However, see Pardes Chabad ibid who argues this claim

[4] Igros Moshe ibid debates this matter and concludes that it is seemingly Biblical

The reason: As one is Biblically required to be in a state of fear of heaven during service of G-d, and anything which leads to lightheadedness is forbidden biblically.

[5] Igros Moshe ibid debates this matter and concludes that it is seemingly Biblical

[6] See Chasam Sofer C.M. 190; Maharam Shick 77; Machaneh Chaim 3:10; Beis Hillel 104; Seridei Eish O.C. 14; Igros Moshe O.C. 1:39, 41, 42; 2:40; 109; 3:23-24; Divrei Yoel O.C. 10; Likkutei Minchas Yitzchak 14; Tzitz Eliezer 7:8; Mishneh Halachos 7:12

[7] 12:12

[8] The Talmud Sukkah 52a records a dispute as to whose death is being eulogized, with some saying that they are eulogizing Moshiach Ben Yosef, who will be killed during the war of Gog Umagiog. Others say that they are eulogizing the evil inclination, who will be slaughtered in the future.

[9] Rashi Sukkah 51b

[10] Sukkah 51b

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