Volume 61 Number 58 
      Produced: Sun, 02 Dec 2012 07:06:56 EST

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Mechitzah (3)
    [Chaim Casper  Michael Rogovin  Chana Luntz]


From: Chaim Casper <surfflorist@...>
Date: Thu, Nov 29,2012 at 10:01 PM
Subject: Mechitzah

Dr Steven Oppenheimer (MJ 61#57) researched what the Rav, R` Yosef Dov
Halevi Soloveitchik, zt"l, and R` Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, zt"l, ruled
regarding mehizot.   I cannot comment on what R` Henkin said, but I can
report what the Rav told me.  

I was a Hillel director from 1980 to 1987 in rural Rhode Island at the
state university, away from the state's Jewish population.  As a result,
we attracted students with minimal Jewish identity.   In addition, there
was a little synagogue near the campus that had in its constitution that
it had to be Orthodox (there was only one, part time Orthodox family
member) but there was confusion as to what kind of and how high the
mehiza needed to be.  So I asked that Rav for his views.

As to the University, he said that 40" high would be acceptable.  If you
say one tefah equals 4", then a ten tefahim mehiza would be 40" tall.  
As to the synagogue, he ruled 44" tall (maybe this was 11 tefahim tall?).
Why the difference?

I told the Rav that a Hillel director deals with a 25% turnover--every
year 25% of his/her students graduate and a new 25% come in.   A tall
mehiza could be a turnoff to a new student who was unfamiliar with the
concept.  So he allowed a lower height mehiza.   But the synagogue had a
built crowd of non-observant people who understood there was supposed to
be a mehiza there.   So the Rav ruled a slightly higher mehiza was

Now this is not the lowest height I have heard for a mehiza.   Someone in
YU's community service dept once told me the Rav permitted at 36" mehiza
in a new synagogue where the members were marginally commited to a
mehiza.   In addition, there is a synagogue in northeast Pennsylvania
which has a 36" mehiza which goes down the middle of the shul so husbands
and wives sit next to each other with no apparent mehiza (unless the room
is empty).    

B'virkat Torah,
Chaim Casper
North Miami Beach, FL

From: Michael Rogovin <mrogovin118@...>
Date: Fri, Nov 30,2012 at 12:01 PM
Subject: Mechitzah

Steven Oppenheimer writes (MJ 61#57):

> Both these citations present extreme circumstances and not the norm. Both
> poskim clearly do not advocate accepting a low mechitzah..... There may
> be places that choose to follow such a leniency (10 tefachim is about 40
> inches), but declaring that this is the new normal would require more
> evidence....How sad it is, IMHO, that mechitzah is again under attack.

I think the last statement is especially unfortunate. Who is attacking
mechitza? Certainly not anyone here. Indeed, the question is what
constitutes a mechitza that is minimally acceptable, and the corollary,
what purpose is served by the mechitza (physical barrier or visual
barrier). I have been in many shuls of different communities (MO,
yeshivish, chassidic) and it seems apparent that they follow different
opinions, both on the purpose and minimum height. I have been in shuls that
were decidedly modern orthodox and had minimal height and/or transparent
mechitzas and saw many yeshivish and chassidic Rabbis daven there, even
under non-emergency conditions.

What IS under attack is the notion of daas torah (as it is commonly applied
these days), the idea that only one opinion is correct and it is the more
machmir [strict] one, and therefore any deviation from this cannot be
tolerated as "orthodox." The conclusion is that any opinion that is more
lenient is not only wrong, it is an attack on halacha and Torah itself.

I am not saying what R. Henkin, Rav Soloveitchik or anyone else held. What
I will note is that they may have felt that a higher mechitza was
preferable but that a lower one was acceptable if it accomplished its
purpose (the Rav was known on several issues not to declare something assur
[prohibited] that wasn't assur even when he did not approve). Whether or
not lower mechitzas are based on lenient opinions of these gedolim or not,
they are in extensive use throughout the US, and despite an occasional grumble,
few complain. Rashei Yeshiva [heads of academies] from Yeshiva University and
Israel routinely daven in these places without (public) complaint, and return to
do so. Must we accuse fine, upstanding Jews and congregations of being sinners?
Can't we find more important issues to discuss? Like kitniyot :-)

From: Chana Luntz <Chana@...>
Date: Sat, Dec 1,2012 at 06:01 PM
Subject: Mechitzah

Steven Oppenheimer  writes (MJ 61#57):

> I found the above citation of Rav Henkin's responsum surprising, so I looked
> it up.
> Rav Yehuda Henkin does indeed cite sources who relay that Rav Soloveitchik,
> z"l commented on a mechitzah 10 tefachim in height.  Rav Y. Henkin writes
> that he was told that Rav Soloveitchik permitted a few times (kama pe'amim)
> utlizing a mechitza of only 10 tefachim under extreme circumstances (be'sha't
> dechak gadol).

Rav Soloveitchik is famous for his psak to various of his talmidim that
while they could take a pulpit at a shul without a mechitza for a temporary
period, after which they could not stay if the mechitza was not put in
place, during the period when there was no mechitza in place (even if there
was separation of the sexes) the rabbis in question were required to daven
at home.

He is also famous for ruling that if the only option for hearing shofar was
in a mechitzaless shul, the person should stay at home and be mevatel
[nullify] the mitzvah d'oraisa of hearing shofar.

If he agreed with Rav Moshe Feinstein that anything under 18 tefachim was
aino mechitza [not a mechitza], then the same ruling would apply to any
mechitza of 10 tefachim.

The relevance of Rav YH Henkin's citation is thus to indicate that Rav
Soleveitchik did not so agree, i.e. he agreed that the basic minimum shiur is
that of 10 tefachim, otherwise his rulings in such a case should have been
consistent with those where there was no mechitza, namely, stay at home.

That is not to say that he held that it was ideal.  There are other
considerations that come into the equation.  For example, there are issues
if a man wants to daven or say shema in situations where he can see a woman who
is inappropriately dressed, which is clearly more likely to happen if the
mechitza is lower.  

But the point of Rav Henkin's citations, coming as they did at the end of a
series of teshuvos insisting that the minimum requirement for a mechitza is
to create, in halachic terms, two reshuyos (two separate halachic areas) was
to indicate that, at least on a basic level, Rav Soleveitchik agreed that
the dividing line between no mechitza in existence, where davening was
completely forbidden, and where it might be permitted is 10 tefachim.

> Rav Y. Henkin goes on to cite his grandfather, Rav Y. E. Henkin, z"l, who
> was asked by a teacher (rebbe) in a high school where students (boys and
> girls) davened together,  the boys sitting up front and the girls behind
> them.  Would he be permitted to join them in davening if the mechitzah was
> only 11 tefachim high?  Rabbi Y. E. Henkin did not say (in general) whether
> this is permitted or prohibited.  He did give permission to the rabbi
> making the inquiry to allow this only if he was unsuccessful in convincing
> the school to raise the height of the mechitzah and only if there were no
> other options (ein derech acheret).

There are many reasons why one would be inclined to rule more stringently in
the case of a yeshiva high school. For example, Rav Feinstein, while ruling
in Iggeros Moshe chelek 1 siman 47 that chalav-companies [milk produced by
reputable commercial producers under government supervision] is permitted, ruled
in Iggeros Moshe chelek 2 Yoreh Deah siman 35 that in the case of a yeshiva
katana they should insist on chalav yisroel milk (ie a higher standard) because
"also this is a matter of chinuch [education] and learning that it is
appropriate for bnei torah to be stringent even when there is only a chashash
issur [possibility of a prohibition] as from there they will learn to see how to
fear prohibitions".  In addition, a high school setting, with rampant hormones,
is not the sort of place one would instinctively want to be lenient on something
like this.

But had it been forbidden, the rebbe would have performed better chinuch for
his students if he had davenned at home or in another classroom (and even
more by making it clear to them why he was doing so).  This was clearly at
the forefront of Rav Soleveitchik's mind when instructing his talmidim to
take up pulpits and yet daven at home.  They could not be seen to be
condoning and taking part in halachically prohibited behaviour.  Thus by
allowing such a rebbe to daven with his students, Rav YE Henkin was clearly
making the statement that not only was the rebbe halachically permitted
daven with the students, but he could teach them that this was permitted, at
least as a minimum [mei'ikar hadin] shiur by his actions.  I actually think
this is a much stronger case than merely being asked by a mispallel whether
they can daven in a particular shul.

> Furthermore, Chana's statement that "a minimum 10 tephachim separation is
> what is commonly followed in America today" bears further examination.  I
> have lived in a number of states in the U.S. and I have not seen that 10
> tefachim is the norm.  And I am speaking of non-chareidi shuls.  There may
> be places that choose to follow such a leniency (10 tefachim is about 40
> inches), but declaring that this is the new normal would require more
> evidence.

On this I certainly did not intend to make any such claim.  As a non
American, I have very limited experience of what goes on there, with most of
that in New York.  As I thought I said in my piece, it would seem from the
reactions of others (Americans) on this list, that it is common to find
Orthodox shuls with such mechitzos.  Where I do have greater experience, in
England and Australia (and a little bit in Europe) I would say that almost
every purpose built shul I have ever been in has a balcony.  Yes, the
railing around the balcony is often quite low, with tiered seating, so that
the men below can see pretty much the whole of many of the women above, but
that is the model.  There are indeed ad hoc and overflow minyanim, housed in
halls where the hall is used for other things when not used for davening,
where there are temporary mechitzos in place, and the women are on the
ground floor, but I have yet to encounter a shul built specifically for that
purpose on any other model outside of the US.  It was very striking
therefore to me to see, when I went to New York, what appear to be purpose
built synagogues such as the Jewish Centre and Lincoln Square, that seem to
be built on a different model, and so what others on this list said seemed
to me to ring true.  But I agree that New York is not the rest of America,
and this may not be at all widespread.

> It is interesting that past battles seem to return to be fought again and
> again.  How sad it is, IMHO, that mechitzah is again under attack.
I don't think it is a case of the mechitza being under attack - although
clearly at least certain shuls in New York appear to be under attack.  But I
do think there is an issue amid all the hullabaloo, because there is much
about the assertions in recent poskim that is not satisfying to a halachic

We as Orthodox Jews work within the halachic system.

That was my fundamental objection to the attempt to cite archaeological
evidence from synagogues of around 2000 years ago.  As I pointed out, many
many of these synagogues have idolatrous and pagan motifs as decorations in
their mosaics.  If you asked a posek today whether you could incorporate
idolatrous or pagan motifs into synagogue decorations, he would analyse the
halachic literature, starting with the Mishna and Gemora, through the
Rishonim and Achronim and almost certainly would rule that they are
forbidden.  The fact that they may have been prevalent in synagogues in the
first to fifth centuries CE is completely irrelevant.  It might not be to a
posek from the Conservative movement, but if it is not, then that just shows
some of the differences in the way matters are approached.

Similarly with the mechitza.  Even if once could prove unquestionably (as
you can with the pagan motifs) that no such thing existed in such
synagogues, that is not relevant to the halachic process.  It *might* be
relevant if you could find an Orthodox community surviving into modern times
with a tradition of no mechitza that stretched back for as long as can be
remembered - but the reality is that we can't.  Every community that we
would consider to be following the Orthodox tradition has either not had
women in shul at all, or has had a form of division of some sort.  

Without that sort of evidence the only other way is to find something in the
halachic literature that would seem to permit this.  But no such exists.

On the other hand, the writings of poskim such as Rav Moshe don't work so
well within the halachic system either.  In the alternative case cited, ie
can one have pagan motifs for decorations in synagogues - there would be no
problem finding precedent and sources galore that could be synthesised and
discussed and which lead to a halachic conclusion.  But here, the one source
that is cited by Rav Moshe and others is to be found on from the Mishna on
Sukkah 51a and the Gemora in Sukkah 51b.

The Mishna states:  

"On Motzei first day Yom tov of Chag [Sukkos] the Kohanim and Leiviim went down
to the woman's courtyard and made there a tikun gadol[great improvement]. There
were golden menorahs there and four bowls of gold on their heads, and four
ladders for each one and four boys from amongst the young kohanim and in their
hands were jugs of 120 lugin that they poured into each bowl.  From the old
trousers of the cohanim and their belts they would tear and these they would
light and there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not lit by the light
of the water drawing ceremony. Chassidim and men of great deeds would dance
before them with torches of fire in their hands and says before them songs and
praises.   And the Leviim with harps,lyres, cymbals, trumpets and all musical
instruments on the fifteen steps that went down from the courtyard of Israel to
the courtyard of women [and these were] against the 15 songs of ascents in
tehillim, because on these they Leviim stood with musical instruments and said
songs and two cohanim stood by the upper gate which goes down from the courtyard
of Israel to the courtyard of women and two trumpets in their hands.  When a man
cried out, they sounded a tekiah, a teruah and a tekiah, when they reached the
tenth step, they sounded a tekiah, teruah and tekiah.  They continued tekiahs
until they reached the gate which leads east.  When they reached the gate that
leads out to the east they turned their faces from east to west and said "our
fathers that were in this place their backs were to the hechel and their faces
towards east and bowed eastward to the sun, but our faces are towards HaShem .."


"On Motzei first day Yom Tov etc  What was the tikun gadol?  Rabbi Elazar said
like it was taught in a Mishna: originally it [the wall of the ezras nashim] was
smooth and they surrounded it with a balcony and they instituted that the women
sat above and the men below.  It was taught in a braisa originally the women
were inside and the men outside, and they would come to light headedness [kalus
rosh], they instituted that the women should be outside and the men inside and
still they came to light headedness, they instituted that the women should sit
above and the men below.  But how could they do this? It is written "all in
writing from the hand of Hashem" [referring to when David gave instructions to
Shlomo on how to build the temple] Rav said they found a verse and expounded
"the land will eulogise each family alone, the family of the house of David
alone and their wives alone" And behold there is a kal v'chomer [leniency to
stringency] that which is in the future when they will be involved in eulogy and
when the evil inclination has no power over them the Torah says that men are
alone and women are alone, now that we are involved in simcha and the evil
inclination rules them even more so"."

Now the difficulties of this piece are firstly that, as can be seen, this
balcony would appear to have been rebuilt once a year, and it seems to
involve something that does not much look like davening, certainly not
regular davening.  So while it might be straightforward to learn out eg a
Yom Hatzmaut or other public joyous celebration from here, it is not easy to
learn out regular behaviour from it.

It is only with Rav YH Henkin's addition that this was because the norm was
that men were in the ezras Yisrael, where women only went on an individual
basis, while the men only came into the ezras nashim for a formal ceremony
on this occasion, that it makes sense why you need this particular
innovation, and why it was temporary, and yet makes sense as a basis for
halachic discussion.

But more fundamentally, Rav Moshe provides a totally new measurement for
mechitza, that of 18 tefachim, that appears to have no source whatsoever in
the halachic literature.  It is one thing to say that separations between
men and women exist throughout the halachic literature, but another to find
a minimum height requirement suddenly appearing for the first time in the
middle of the 20th century.  Halachic works spend much time and ink
discussing measurements, heights, depths, volumes etc - so to suddenly have
a totally new one sprung on us, without it having been discussed anywhere
previously feels very a-halachic. If there was really such a distinct and
separate shiur for the separation between men and women, then it should have
come up at least somewhere before in the literature, even if only in
theoretical discussion.  

On the other hand, Rav YH Henkin's shiur fits right in.  Besides 10 tefachim
being the shiur for a wall of a sukkah, and of various reshuyos of shabbas,
and the shiur to separate a metzorah, and many other cases where different
reshuyos come up in the halacha, it is also the shiur required for building
a ma'akeh, a fence around one's roof or other dangerous place where a person
might fall (see Choshen Mishpat siman 427 si'if 5 and 7). Given that a
woman's balcony is a high place from which one could easily fall,
halachically any such balcony would seem to need a railing of this height in
order to fulfil the Torah prohibition (and even though a shul is exempt from
the requirement to fence one's roof, that appears to be only because it is not
used for dwelling, while a dangerous place, like a woman's balcony without a
mechitza around the edge of it, would seem to still fit within the
requirements).  Similarly, there is a requirement that one not daven from a high
place (see Orech Chaim siman 90), but if there are mechitzos then this is not a
problem as that divides the reshus (see si'if 2)- with mechitzos in that context
understood to be 10 tephachim.

Because of these two sources (the fact that a balcony needs 10 tefachim
because of the principle of ma'akeh, and because anywhere people are going to
daven from that is high needs mechitzos of 10 tefachim), it makes logical
sense that there is no separate discussion in the sources regarding the
necessary height for the separation between women and men, assuming that
halachic requirement is 10 tefachim.  Because the standard configuration,
namely a balcony, requires that shiur anyway, so it wouldn't need to come up
as an independent concept.  But when one moves away from that standard
shiur, it is hard not to get the unsatisfying impression that any other
shiur has been produced out of thin air, especially when the only source
that is then cited for this proposition is the above gemora in Sukkos which
makes no such mention.  




End of Volume 61 Issue 58