“The land will mourn, every clan apart, the clan of the house of David apart, and their wives apart…” In this verse from Zechariah 12:12, the prophet imagines an apocalyptic future time when the Jewish people will gather together for a communal mourning.
The Talmud in Sukkah 51b-52a cites this verse to support the gender separation instituted for a major annual festival at the Temple, and from this evolves a sense in the Jewish tradition that gender separation in public spaces is required and biblically supported, assuming there is an
actual risk of frivolity or impropriety.
As my teacher Rabbi Ethan Tucker writes, the ultimate goal in synagogue and spiritual prayer spaces is “maximising the seriousness, dignity, and intensity of those spaces”. This goal is something on which all Jewish communities can agree. The route to getting there, in regards to gender and separation, is where we differ.
Rabbi Tucker writes that “the halachah in this area is not trying to run roughshod over reality, it is trying to respond to reality”. This being the case, our understanding of our own reality, in Progressive Jewish, is where we base our belief in synagogue spaces that integrate genders.
If the goal is to maximise the seriousness, dignity and intensity of prayer, most Progressive Jews experience gender separation – in a world in which gender intregration is the norm – as distracting in itself.
And in a world view in which same-sex attraction is real and assumed and in which gender binary itself is not assumed, gender separation no longer makes sense. As segregation the world over has shown, separate is very rarely, if ever, equal.
What we can commit to is the fundamental goal behind all of this – a dedication to fashioning our communal religious spaces, in our modern context, into ones of intention, meaning and intensity.
υ Rabbi Jordan is Liberal Judaism student/young adult chaplain