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What are some good books, articles, websites, or seforim for learning about the Halachot of constructing and maintaining a Shul Mechitza (the barrier between the men and women sections)?

Issues include: How tall and wide must they be? Can there be any gaps between the sections? Must they completely opaque on both sides, or can they be one-sided mirrors and the like? Do they have to be permanent? Etc. Appreciated, but not required: What's the history of the Mechitza?

I'd appreciate materials that are well sourced and\or footnoted, in either English or Hebrew. Thanks you.

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4 Answers 4

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Rabbi J.H. Henkin has an excellent essay, going from the Talmudic sources to his interpretation of modern-day requirements. I strongly recommend you start there. (Link is to Google Books; many good libraries have this book in English. I believe this essay is based on material he's previously published in She'elot UTeshuvot Bnei Banim, which is available as pdf on hebrewbooks.org.

Here's one organization's roundup of sources.

But on one foot:

  • How tall? See Henkin's essay for the technical height requirements. For America in the 1960s and 1970s, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein recommended 5 feet; that way if a woman showed up at synagogue "with bared arms ... and more", all that's visible (for an average-height woman) from the men's side is from the neck up, so prayers can still be said.

  • Width, gaps -- see Henkin's essay. Depends what exact requirements it must meet.

  • Opacity: some, including Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar, insisted that a feature of a mechitza be opaque, that men shall not see the women. As I understand it, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein felt that a glass mechitza would have met all requirements, so long as the women dressed appropriately. (As often they didn't, he advised five feet of opacity.)
  • Permanance: again, see Henkin (though many a synagogue does use a hanging curtain). Another question is whether any prayer service requires one, or only a fixed service, open to the public. More here.
  • History: Talmud says they had to add a women's section in the Temple because of excess levity. As I understand it, archeological excavations of synagogues back to easily 1700 years ago have always found a mechitza of some sort.
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  • re opacity: fascinating teshuvah by R. Aryeh Leib Baron z"l hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40797&st=&pgnum=26 Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 18:34
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    side comment -- the book linked to references the Rambam Hilchot lulav 5:12 but it should be 8:12
    – rosends
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 12:46
  • Re: archaeology, not true as far as I have seen. There's no evidence of mechitzos in ancient Israel. But as likely that's because there were no women in shul; similarly, there were never mechitzos in Morocco at any point.
    – user25970
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 13:45
  • question about mechitzas in shuls in Morocco: even if there was no physical seperation the men and women at least sat seperately correct? Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 18:57
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Here is a publication titled "The Mechitza according to the Halacha", by Rabbi Sholom Yehuda Gross, Shlit"a, who is the head of the Rabbinical Court of Holmin, (taken from here). It brings many sources with citations you can use for further research.

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    Thank you. Would you care to elaborate on what\where the "Rabbinical Court of Holmin" is?
    – Shmuel
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 2:55
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    @ShmuelL: If only I knew :) . The website israel613.com/ENGLISH.htm has tons of publications like these, a lot of them from Rabbi Sholom Yehuda Gross. However, he is pretty much collating different sources, and brings a citation for all of them, so it is great as a starting point for more research.
    – Menachem
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 3:05
  • It's a shtiebel in Beit Shemesh. A Gmaps review says "The synagogue is neat and clean with distinguished furnishings. Admor Gross, who officiates, is the scion of a Hasidic dynasty. The congregants are refined, polite, and helpful. They are an eclectic group with Hasidic learnings. English and Hebrew are widely spoken. The rebbe often speaks Yiddish. Shacharis on Shabbos is around 8:00 and Mincha at candle lighting time. Seuda shlishis is a collection of salads and eating utensils are used, during which a d'var Torah is given."
    – user25970
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 13:50
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See Igrot Moshe, Oruch Chayim, helek alef, siman lamud-tes.

That is the pivotal tshuvah on the subject and addresses exactly those questions.

It is fair to say that that is effectively a primary source.

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  • your answer is good but only so far as it goes. It would be enormously improved if you included a summary of the teshuvah. Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 19:37
  • I am not interested in contributing to Mi Yodea and I regret posting even this. People without shimush even appearing to answer shailos is totally over the line. Taking a vote on the responses is no less absurd. And you see the result in highly rated answers promoting issurei duraita, I think it is a michshol l'rabbim and responsible Rabbonim would ban it specifically if they knew what was going on.
    – DrM
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 20:53
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For history, see Jonathan Sarna, "The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue" in The American Synagogue ed. Jack Wertheimer pg. 380-386 (here) and Marc B. Shapiro, Lieberman and the Orthodox pg. 14-15 and the sources he cites.

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