Separation

Something’s been bothering me for a while. I think at the begining it was bothering me because of its effect on me. But now, I am beginning to understand that its effect is felt throughout the Orthodox Jewish community. I am talking about the practice of separation of men and women at social, cultural and educational events.

It has happened more than once that my husband and I have gone to a wedding where one or both of us was acquainted with the bride or groom or his or her parents, but knew virtually no one at the wedding other than them. We showed up only to find that we were seated at two different tables, sometimes only yards away from each other, but often separated by a tall partition. For any type of communication, we would be at a loss. Even now when we both have cell phones, the excessive noise of wedding bands would make hearing a person on the other end of the conversation impossible. Moreover, sitting at a table of strangers was not a delight. I am, by nature, a shy person and so the wedding then became an ordeal of watching other women interacting with each other and hoping it would be over soon. I respected the family’s desire to conform to the norms of their community and did not fault them for my less than festive experience, but it bothered me.

Then I was invited to a lecture on a religious subject. Of course I assumed that men and women would be interested and were invited, so my husband came along and indeed, other men were present. However, shortly after sitting down, we were advised that he would have to move over to the men’s side. With a look of longing, he left me. What did they think we were going to be doing during the lecture?

And now there are the performances and classes for only men or only women… What is all this about? What are we doing to our society? Children today in religious schools in Israel are gender separated from kindergarten and first grade. More liberal schools allow them to study together until grade 3 or 4. What are we teaching about the relationships between men and women? How are boys and girls supposed to understand one another? Is suppression of their natural curiosity going to help them to grow up healthier?

I fear for the next generation. The other gender is unknown to them. They will marry and procreate, but all social, cultural, and educational activities will be enjoyed with their same gender buddies.

In my experience as a family therapist, I have found that it is precisely shared experiences in the social, cultural, and educational realm that cement the relationship between husband and wife and are the glue of family life. They provide the warm memories, the shared meanings, the pleasant conversations that “old married” people have. Bereft of shared experiences, family life becomes rote and filled with chores and tasks and spouses relating to each other in the mother and father roles, but unable to find the soft padding that such shared experiences provide to make a home loving and warm.

What ever happened to, “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh”? Clearly the message was meant for us. Adam (of “Adam and Eve” fame) didn’t have a mother and father, so that’s not who was being addressed. Notice that father and mother appear in the same verse. I see no separation there. Notice the “one flesh” reference. Notice how the current “sages” have decided to demarcate that flesh and separate it into its masculine and feminine parts.

My (almost) silent protest is to avoid any lectures, classes, and performances during which I cannot sit next to my husband. My only exception is for those which are clearly dealing with women’s issues only or those which are part of an institution that is a women’s only institution.

Men and women, husbands and wives, should be able to experience life together and not from behind partitions. This is one way of strengthening the ties between them and ensuring the security and happiness of their family.

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