Judaism: Looking Over the Mechitza
Dr. David NesenoffThe writer speaks all over the world on topics of Women in Judaism, Shabbos,...
So I asked her, “Do you follow the TV show Dancing with the Stars?”
“Of course,” she said. “In fact, the finale is coming up, and I can’t wait to see who wins the competition!”
“And your husband sits on the couch next to you and watches with you?” I asked.
She laughed. “Oh no, he’s in the other room watching the ball game.”
Just as an example, if I accidentally walked into the ladies’ locker room at the gym, everyone would get upset because the separate locker rooms have a purpose and it’s an important one. When males and females undress, there is a privacy and a separation that is needed. And when men and women spiritually undress there is also a vulnerability and an intimacy that needs to be concealed, guarded and protected as well; and so, a separation – in the form of the mechitza partition that separates men and women in the synagogue - is needed.
After practicing in a Conservative synagogue for over 20 years I understand that liberal synagogue services function as a presentation, a show. There is a stage and an audience. The show that is presented can be meaningful, moving and interesting. But there is a great difference between watching an exercise program and actually doing the deep knee bends myself.
The very word mechitza comes from the word “half”: it separates two halves into a whole. You might say a mechitza brings holiness and “wholeness.”
Separation is a finite in order to understand the infinite. And if you were to look directly into the infinite light of the sun for a period of time, that very light will take away your sight. In order to maintain our vision, we must sometimes even conceal ourselves from the light.
Which brings us back to women in Judaism.
It is no coincidence that the greatest example of attempting to understand the awesomeness of G-d’s light, by waiting for the sun’s concealment and lighting candles, is placed in the kindling by woman’s hands. The most significant presentation and illustration presented to the human eye to somehow begin to comprehend in earthly terms, the very incomprehensible, infinite and omnipotent Creator of all, is literally in the hands, fingers and sparks of the female.
And therein lies the problem. Many Jews today are defining Judaism in terms of the Christian mindset. Much of the business and ritual of that religion needs to take place in the house of worship. It is there where candles are lit and wine is blessed.
By contrast, the majority of Judaism takes place in the home. The home is where the “Jewish” is. The home is where the laws, rites, rituals, traditions, holidays, teachings, customs, seders, sukkahs, seudahs (meals) and Sabbaths are enacted. Even the brit milah (circumcision) and sitting shiva, the two bookend mitzvahs of life, are brought to the home turf.
In the Jewish home the woman is the star; and, as mentioned earlier, she even kindles the spotlight.
It is no wonder that she walks into the minority portion of Judaism, the synagogue, and says, “What do I do here?” “Where is my Judaism?” She is right. It’s not there. In fact the men, who are tied to the mitzvah of Jewish prayer by the specific hours of the day, can’t rely on the house of worship for the majority of their Judaism either; they need to go home. That’s where it is. It’s at home. Judaism is with the raising of children and the kashrut; Judaism is what’s going in their mouths and what’s coming out of their mouths.
Not only is there a place in Judaism for women, theirs is the most important place. And the time to retake their place is now. Women have to knock down the iron mechitza blocking their home. Women have to take charge and retake their rightful place of valor along with their price above rubies and enter their homes and bring in kashrut, shabbat, walls decorated with Jewish books, Yiddishe children and husbands who are menschlach (defined by integrity, ed.) and following Torah.
Even the misguided focus by the “Women of the Wall” should be redirected to a successful future of Judaism with what could be called “Women of the Walls of the Home.”
But when we make our homes the “center” of Jewish life, we pray in the synagogue for a half hour every Friday night and then spend three hours around the dining room table with our family and friends. When the center of our target or compass is off, then we are totally off track. But if the center is correct, it leads us home.
Maybe it’s not about the mechitza; it’s not about that thin little drape hanging in the synagogue – maybe it’s about the four brick walls of the home. And the problem with contemporary Jewish life and modern society is that there is a disconnect from that home. There is thick steel-plated mechitza blocking women and men and children and families from entering the sanctuary of Judaism, the home.
Now more than ever, the Jewish woman needs to take the lead and turn that doorknob and enter the palace; and walk into her Jewish home. She needs to light Shabbat candles; and earnestly promote other Jewish women to light Shabbat candles as well. The Jewish woman needs to be reminded that in Judaism her home is first; and she is always in first-class.
Who wouldn’t want to be an accomplished Jewish woman of valor in her home, a counselor to many, mentor to others, surrounded by walls of Jewish books, beautiful children, gorgeous grandchildren, endless celebrations and delicious holy Sabbath tables filled with joy?