I currently daven (pray) at an Orthodox synagogue because the choices where I live are so limited. I am working on options to change my choices, and God willing next year things will be different, but so far the High Holy Days have been a new low for me. Here is why:
Our rabbis taught, originally the women sat inside, and the men sat outside and they (the men) came to improper behavior, so they (the Temple sages) established the rule that the women would sit on the outside (the upper courtyard) and the men would sit on the inside (the lower courtyard), and so it was established. (B’ Sukkah 51:)
This text from the Talmud establishes the origin of the Mechitza, that “beloved” separation between men and women in Orthodox synagogues. But this institution is not consistent with Torah values:
1) At Torah revelation at Sinai, all Israel, men, women and children stood together.
2) At the re-revelation in Nechemia Chapter 8, all men, women and children stood together.
3) Genesis 1:27 records creation of Adam HaRishon (Humanity) with all possible gender identity and biological sex states (not the gender binary commonly presumed).
4) This is strengthened by Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 8:1 and Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
5) The Gemara explores six (seven) possible theoretical genders: male, female, androgynous (male and female genitals), tumtum (no external genitals), saris (assigned male but unable to procreate – either naturally or due to human action), aylonit (assigned female but unable to procreate).
6) It is certainly not consistent with v'ahavta l'reiakha k'mokha - you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
In modern gender and sexuality theory we see gender and sexuality as non-binary. Therefore constraining people to a mechitza fails because people are placed with people they are attracted to, nullifying the stated purpose of the separation, and disenfranchising people who identify with non-binary genders.
Further, as documented by the Talmud sugya cited above, this all started with men’s abhorrent behavior. Avot teaches: Who is the mighty one? The one that conquers their (evil) inclination.
So instead of marginalizing women and disenfranchising non-binary people, the mechitza should be taken down, and if men, who according to halakha, Jewish Law, are the only ones present with an OBLIGATION in prayer can’t behave properly, then the rabbis should HOLD THE MEN ACCOUNTABLE.
It is far past time that women and non-binary people stop paying the freight for men who cannot behave themselves. This is just one example of such in traditional religion.
But it is on my mind right now after a very dis-satisfying Rosh HaShannah holiday, where I was relegated to irrelevance, not allowed any kind of leadership, not counted towards the minyan, or in any other way considered part of the service. The rabbi in his first day sermon stated “Listen to the silent prayers of people and think outside the box to fulfill them.” I had a tiny bit of hope when I heard those words, but that hope was totally dashed the next day when I challenged the rabbi with his own words. They turned out to be just empty words that left me feeling more empty and disconnected than I had ever felt after a High Holy Day.
One way or another, this is the last year that I will be at this congregation. The rabbi has been very kind to me, and I don’t fault him personally – he is constrained by his movement – if he did go outside the box too far he would get fired.
So I will make a new opportunity for myself. I cannot say at the moment what it will be, but make it I will…