Halacha » Mixed Seating

Mixed Seating

Mixed Seating

When people attend a lecture, men generally sit on one side, while women sit on the other. When we are riding a bus, walking to the bank, office, or even enjoying a day in a park, there is no separation. Why is that?

When we go to weddings the seating by the Chuppah and dining room is separate, when out at a restaurant however, there are no separate tables. Is this correct?

Also, when does the obligation of having a Mechitsa (partition) take place and when is it not required?


The Basics

The Gemara (סוכה נא,א) learns from the Pasuk in the prophet Zecharia that there is an obligation to separate between men and women even at the time of a funeral when people are sad and aren’t involved in engaging with each other. The Gemara says that at the time of the Beit Hamikdash, they made a special arrangement–a place for the women to stand and view the Simchat Beit-Hashoeva, so they will be separated from the men. The Gemara seems to learn that separating between them is a Biblical requirement (דעת ר״מ פינשטיין והפוסקים).

These are examples given by Chazal to teach us this ruling, and from here the Poskim deduced the guidelines to have men sit separate from women and when to put up a Mechitsa.

Rabbi Mordechai Sswab in his question to Rabbi Avraham Weinfeld (ראה לשון השאלה בלב     אברהם סי’ קלה) thought to say that the need to separate must be a stringency and therefore at times of great need or big Mitzvah, such as a gathering for a dinner to benefit a Yeshiva or other fundraisers, one may be lenient if the guests wouldn’t come otherwise. Rabbi Weinfeld responded that this is completely false and there is no way to allow mixed seating at any cost. 

He explained that the obligation to sit separately isn’t just a fence from sinning; it’s an independent obligation that applies even if we are sure that there wouldn’t be any sinning at all.

Many Poskim (ראה דברי הרב בצלאל שטערן בשו״ת בצל החכמה ח״ב סי’ פו ובלהורות נתן ח״א ס״ס) concurred and wrote that there is an absolute obligation to seat separately at such events. 


Separation when each minds his own business.

A simple answer to the questions (presented at the beginning of this article) is that there is a difference between a case when people are doing something together, in which they must then be seated separately, and a case when people are busy with their own things, minding their own business (even if all are doing the same thing) where no separation is needed. For example, when one goes to the bank, he is busy with his own thing, not caring about his surroundings. The same would be when he shops at the market, goes to a store, eats at the restaurant etc. In contrast, when he comes to Shul to pray, he means to pray with a group of people. Thus, if women are present, they must be seated separately. This reasoning can be applied to attending a wedding–he means to rejoice together with all the guests. To quote the words of the Lev Avraham: 

״נראה שדין איסור תערובת הנלמד מהגמרא, היינו דוקא באם המתאספים קובעים עצמם לאיזה דבר מאוחד המאחד אותם יחדיו, וכמו בהספד שכולם יתאחדו למטרה זו, וכן בשמחת בית השואבה או בסעודת נישואין שיש דבר משותף בין כולם, מה שאין כן בנוסעים יחד ברכבות וכיוצא בזה שכל אחד נוסע לדרכו ואין שום דבר שיאחד אותם, אין זה בכלל איסור תערובת וכו’… היוצא לנו מכל זה להלכה שלהשתתף בסעודה שאנשים ונשים יושבים יחד במעורב הוא איסור דאורייתא לכל הדיעות״. 

Rabbi Menashe Klein permitted eating at restaurants and hotel dining rooms without a partition between the tables since the people dining don’t know each other. It seems however that this reason wasn’t sufficient; but rather was coupled with the other reason that each person is busy doing his own thing and aren’t eating together. (For that same reason they also don’t do Zimun together with the other people dining).

(ראה משנה הלכות ח״ו סוף סי’ רכו)

The poskim also dealt with riding a bus and the subway where the riders are clearly riding together in the same place. Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that one is permitted to ride the train even during rush hour when one will inevitably (unintentionally) touch other riders:

(אגרות משה אה״ע ח״ב סי’ יד): ״בדבר הליכה בסאבוויי ובבאסעס בזמן שהולכים בני אדם לעבודתם שנמצאים שם אנשים ונשים דחופים זה בזה, שקשה מליזהר מנגיעה ודחיפה בנשים אם מותר אז ללכת בשעות אלו שם. הנה מצד הנגיעה ודחיפה בנשים אז ליכא שום איסור משום דאין זה דרך תאוה וחבה, וכל איסור נגיעה בעריות הוא אף להרמב”ם שסובר שהוא בלאו דלא תקרבו דאורייתא דוקא דרך תאוה וגו’…  ולכן לא שייך לחוש מללכת בסאבוויי ובאסעס בשעת הליכה לעבודה שדחוקים ודחופים אנשים ונשים אף שלא יוכל ליזהר מנגיעה ודחיפה בנשים, דהנגיעה בלא מתכוין מחמת שא”א לו ליזהר אין זה דרך תאוה וחבה. וכן ליכא איסור מהאי טעמא גם לישב אצל אשה כשליכא מקום אחר דג”כ אין זה דרך תאוה וחבה.״ עכ״ל.

This theme was repeated elsewhere as well:

)בשו״ת אז נדברו ח״י סי’ כח כתב להתיר לשבת באוטובוס ליד אשה זרה וכן בשו״ת שלמת חיים סי’ ט)

The same Psak was written by the Rishon Letsion Harav Yitschak Yosef Shlit”a in Yalkut Yosef with caution not to touch the other gender:

 (אוצר דינים לאשה עמוד שעה): אף על פי שמעיקר הדין אין איסור לאיש לשבת ליד אישה באוטובוס ציבורי או ברכבת, וכן אין איסור לאשה לשבת ליד איש כל שלא נוגעים זה בזה כלל, מכל מקום מנהג בנות ישראל הצנועות להמנע מכך, וישראל קדושים נמנעים מדברים אלו. וכן ראוי לנהוג בפרט אם היושבת לידו לבושה בבגדי שחץ ופריצות, ללא שרוולים, או בחצאית קצרה״.


Brief Stay

Another leniency is if the occurrence happens during a brief stay.

We learn this from the case of the Sotah. When she brings her sacrifice, the Kohen puts his hands under her hands (with a separation) and brings it. Tosfot (סוטה יט,א) asks how is this allowed to help her in such a way and answers with the concept of אין יצר הרע מצוי לשעה, meaning when something is done quickly, the Yetser Hara doesn’t affect the person.

Accordingly, when one walks into a mixed room for a moment it doesn’t affect him. (Of course, if one knows himself to be affected he shouldn’t walk into such a place).

This is how some Sefarim write L’Halacha. 

(שו״ת אבק דרכים יו״ד סי״ג, הובאו דבריו בשו״ת מלאכת שלמה קמחי סי״ג ובדרש אברהם ח״ב דף 


The Levush’s Chidush

Some poskim add the words of the Levush (הלבוש במנהגים אות לו, וראה משנה הלכות ח״ו סי’ רכו) saying that there is a difference between ancient times and today regarding separation, since then women were always at their home and hardly ever walked out; thus when a woman would be seen it had a strong impression. But today, since women are commonly out and about, it doesn’t have much of an effect.

Needless to say that this Chidush wasn’t accepted by the majority of the Poksim, but at certain times they added this to other leniencies.


Mechitza- a Barrier

After we’ve learned that when there is a mutual event men and women must sit separately, we still must see when a separation of a Mechitsa must be erected between them.

Rav Moshe Feinstien  (או״ח ח״א סי’ מא) wrote that whenever it’s such an event that the people participating are obligated to join, a Mechitsa must be put between them; but whenever they aren’t obligated to come they are exempt from placing a Mechitsa.

Following this ruling he writes that since one isn’t obligated to join a wedding and the guests freely come and join, there is no obligation of Mechitsa, although it’s definitely the right thing to do. In his words:

״ובמקום קיבוץ לדבר הרשות, ואף בחתונות וכו’… ויותר נוטה שאין איסור זה״.


Height of the Mechitza

Amongst the many disputes of Rav Feinstein with the Satmar Rav, one of the more famous was over the height of the Mechitsa.

Rav Feinstein felt that the purpose of the Mechitsa isn’t to prevent men from seeing women, as that is always forbidden, but rather it’s to prevent engaging with each other and also touching their hands, thus a separation that reaches over their shoulders would suffice, despite the fact that their head can be seen. The Satmar Rav wrote very strongly against that, as he held that the purpose of the Mechitsa is also to prevent men from looking at women, thus he held that the Mechitsa should rise above the head. L’Halacha many poskim agreed with the latter approach and some wrote that this is also the custom amongst Klal Yisrael.