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In the collection of Rav Soloveitchik’s responsa Community, Covenant and Commitment, there is a series of letters railing against mixed seating in the synagogue. Amongst the points raised there is a claim made in letter 18, pg 134. I quote:

When primitive Christianity arose as a sect in the Holy Land, and began to slowly introduce reforms, one of the innovations which the sect established at once in the externals of synagogue practice was to have men and women sit together. In many instances mixed seating was the unmistakable sign by which a Jew could recognize that he had found not a place of sanctity for Jews to pray, but rather a prayer-house for a deviant sect; for in those times the Christians had not yet formally differentiated themselves from traditional Jewry. As a sect they endeavored to hide their identity, and only through certain definite signs could they be recognized.

Where is the source for this?

  • I highly respect the Rav זצ”ל, but I find this hard to believe. This sounds like conflation to me. – Noach MiFrankfurt Oct 7 '14 at 15:20
  • @TRiG -- do you have any input on this? – Shokhet Oct 7 '14 at 15:26
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    @NoachmiFrankfurt What do you think he's conflating? – Shokhet Oct 7 '14 at 15:28
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    Historically, seating in churches was always complex and involved many factors, gender among them. 'Mixed seating' as we'd understand grew in approx. late 17th century, merely because there were more important seating considerations (social status, age) – הנער הזה Oct 7 '14 at 16:18
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    @user6591, no, although that would be the point of the academic consensus that this article is arguing. I think rather the point is that on page 81 there is an explicit reference that pre-4th century Christian practice was not separate. That may be what he was referring to. Obviously R. YBS would be of the opinion that separate seating was the Jewish practice all along. – Yishai Oct 7 '14 at 18:25
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In this answer from Christianity.StackExchange there is good evidence that Christians were not mixing the sexes during prayer/worship gatherings in the 1st century. It states that St. Cyril of Jerusalem notes in the 4th century that men and women were still separated.

Further consider 1 Cor. 14:34-35 of the Christian scriptures where Paul states

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Along with other verses that advise women to wear hats, submit to their husbands, teach only younger women and never men, etc. this is a good indication that the first Christians were very Jewish in their gender roles.

With this in mind, it seems that Rav Soloveitchik’s quote is not well founded.

  • I thank you for bringing this to my attention. However, the author of that answer himself writes " It is clear that Jesus challenged this trend in His public ministry. Even still, by the fourth century it appears that men and women were separated in churches, as St. Cyril of Jerusalem says," he himself makes an unfounded claim of Jesus unifying the sexes in prayer. His own link however says no such thing. In fact that entire link Is fanciful historical imagination at play. It lays a claim that women were not invited to synagogue? The holy temple should negate that claim from the get- go. – user6591 Jun 10 '15 at 17:06
  • Up until very recently, perhaps in the last few centuries, women felt obligated to go to synagogue, more so to hear the Torah being read than to join in the prayers! I can't go through every point I feel was conflated, but suffice it to say there are many assumptions being thrown around. – user6591 Jun 10 '15 at 17:08
  • @user6591 Yes, I think it's a matter of opinion that Jesus challenged the trend. I cannot find a part that says women were not allowed to synagogue. I see "The women were not required to attend the annual festivals only men were (Exod. 23:17; Lev.23-- three times a year men had to attend the feasts Deut.16:16). Women were permitted to attend if they chose to do so (1 Sam. 1:9, 21-22)" which seems to say the opposite. – 3178 Jun 10 '15 at 17:54

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