Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why the women talk in shul

The women in our shul were talking all through the services yesterday. More than once I found myself thinking What a gaggle of geese. Can't they shut up?  Other man made faces, rolled their eyes, and gave little condescending shrugs. A few times, the gabbai walked to the back of the shul, and rapped on the mechitzah. That helped, but only for a moment. Then the dull hum of their chatter would start up again. "Like a horde of locusts" said my table mate.

I started to agree, when I caught myself and realized something important.

The women in our shul talk, because they're segregated into a tiny box in the back of the shul, from where they can't really see or hear anything. The mechitzah is 9 feet tall and solid wood, and the room's acoustics are such that a chzan, standing in his spot way at the front of the room, needs to project like a professional actor to be heard on the woman's side. According to my wife, its next to impossible for a woman to follow the service. If you were trapped in such a woman's section, would you find it easy to join the minyan? Our women aren't allowed to be part of the shul, so they don't act like they're part of the shul. We make it impossible for them to participate so they don't participate. And then adding insult on top of injury, we men, the architects of this unhappy situation, decide that women are uninterested in davening and incapable of keeping their mouthes shut, and therefore require nothing more than a little room, with no view and bad acoustics.

Here's how it works. In a shul like mine, women are treated like second class citizens, so they act like second class citizens, so we men think of them as second class citizens, so we treat them like second class citizens and round and round it goes. Neat, huh? Where did this start, and how does it end? Can the cycle be broken?

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