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When is a mechitza (partition) required for separation between men and women for davening (prayers)?

  • Is this only in a shul (synagogue) or anywhere men are praying?
  • Is there a minimum amount of women present to require a mechitza? If there is a large shul with one woman present, may the men daven there, or must she leave first?
  • Is there any distance criteria? If the shul is very large, and the men are only way up-front and there are a few women all the way in the back, is that ok?

  • In a public area, like in an airport or at a wedding hall, must there be no woman at all in the whole room in order for the men to be allowed to daven?

  • Does it make any difference whether the women are also davening or not?

All in all, what are the criteria which the requirement or non requirement of a mechitzah depend on?

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    I heard from my Rebbi ZT"L that a Mechitza is only needed for a place that is established as a Shul (i.e. you don't need a Mechitza in the airport), although he said it would nonetheless make sense from a distraction point of view to keep things as separate as possible (i.e. not stare at the women during davening). I'm leaving this as a comment since I don't have his source. – Salmononius2 Jun 27 '18 at 22:58
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    Igros Moshe O.C. Vol. I # 39-44, as well as other responsa scattered through the volumes are all about mechitzah. Many (if not all) your points are addressed therein. – Alex Jun 27 '18 at 23:13
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    I believe Rav Moshe (perhaps in the source cited by @Alex ) mentions that the custom used to be that if one or two women needed to say kaddish they would do so even in the men's section in a minyan without a mechitza and that a mechitza is only necessary at an established minyan. (The gemara only mentions the concept of separating the genders in context of the simchas beish hashoeva in the beis hamikdash, and, IMSMC, the synagogue mechitza is never mentioned in the Rambam or Shulchan Aruch either, though it appears to have been a very widely established custom. – Loewian Jun 27 '18 at 23:56
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    @Loewian "וגם על אשה יחידה ליכא האיסור" – Alex Jun 27 '18 at 23:58
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    related: Halachot of Shul Mechitzot – mbloch Jun 28 '18 at 6:45
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Let's first review some relevant sources then try and answer your multiple questions.

To start with it is clear a mechitza is required in a shul when people pray. R Chaim Navon writes

Here the solid, unequivocal and consistent custom in all Jewish communities is that there should be a mechitza in the synagogue during prayer times. Jewish prayer is conducted in the framework of total separation between men and women. No halakhic authority challenges the obligation to have a mechitza.

R Daniel Mann at Eretz Hemda writes

It is agreed that regarding davening in a place that is not set for tefilla, the formal requirement of mechitza per se does not exist. This is more obvious in a public place, like a plane. The need for a mechitza is more of an obligation to put one in the proper place than a prohibition to daven without it. Therefore, since there is no way to expect an airline servicing Jews and non-Jews to put up a mechitza, there is no problem. Even in places like sheva berachot and a shiva house, there is not a formal need for a mechitza (see Igrot Moshe OC I:39 and V:12).

He specifically writes that a shul itself elevates the level of sanctity and requires a mechitza but sees a kula if only one or two women are there

If men are davening in a shul at a time when there is no minyan, it would seem that a mechitza is needed if women are present (one or two women are likely not a problem (see ibid.; Ishei Yisrael 9:28)). After all, they are davening and the shul has sanctity that elevates tefilla even without a minyan (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:9).

(see at the end there for further guidelines)

R Chaim Navon here quotes R Moshe Feinstein that a mechitza is there to prevent mingling, not visual separation. As such it is possible that a very large room would not require a mechitza if women are far enough that distance prevents mingling.

The mechitza in the Temple was meant to prevent mingling that involves levity, and not necessarily visual separation. So too writes the Rambam (cited above) regarding the need for a balcony in the Temple: “So that they would not mingle.” Rav Feinstein therefore rules that a shoulder-height mechitza suffices, as it provides enough separation to prevent the mingling of men and women during the prayer service.

Finally R Yehuda Henkin in Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Women's Issues p. 124 writes

Outside of a synagogue a mechitza is mandatory when two conditions are met: first both the men and the women intend to participate in the prayers, and second, the place is being used at the time solely for prayer [...] where these conditions do not apply, a mechitzah is not required. For this reason no mechitzah is required in a wedding hall when a minyan of men gather in one corner, both because the women do not participate and the hall is not being used exclusively for prayer.


So to answer your questions

Is this only in a shul (synagogue) or anywhere men are praying?

Only in a shul

Is there a minimum amount of women present to require a mechitza?
If there is a large shul with one woman present, may the men daven there, or must she leave first?

According to R Mann, one woman is not an issue assuming she doesn't mingle with the men.

Is there any distance criteria?
If the shul is very large, and the men are only way up-front and there are a few women all the way in the back, is that ok?

According to R Navon and R Henkin it should be OK, if there is no mingling, the women do not participate in the prayer and the place is not used only for prayer at that time.

In a public area, like in an airport or at a wedding hall, must there be no woman at all in the whole room in order for the men to be allowed to daven?

As we have seen, this is not a requirement. Men can daven in an area of the hall.

Does it make any difference whether the women are also davening or not?

It does: if women daven R Henkin requires a mechitza.


See also here, here for further discussions and alternative approaches.

  • Nice answer. Perhaps a vague area regarding what defines a shul when it comes to rooms within a shul building that are generally used for other purposes. E.g., many shuls buildings have catering halls or ballrooms. If they make a minyan in that room, do they need a mechitza because all rooms in the building are considered a "shul", or they don't need it because the minyan is temporary? Of course, my question is not limited to weddings. Frequently, in my shul, they create an "overflow" minyanin a ballroom. Your last yellow citation, I think, may need to be clarified. – DanF Jun 28 '18 at 14:31
  • I once asked a rav why he had a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the back of his shul. His answer was that, when inaugurating the building, he had designated the space for mixed use, i.e., prayer but also learning and events. As such he claimed it was permitted. As an analogy if a room in a shul is designated as an event space, I do not think it has the same restrictions as a space designated only for prayers (e.g., one cannot eat in a shul but one eats in the hall you describe) – mbloch Jun 28 '18 at 14:44
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Rav Shlomo Zalman in הליכות שלמה פרק ח' הערה ד says, that a place that is not designated for Tefilah, does not need a mechitzah [such as on a plane].

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    May I suggest including a partial quote or a link to the cited passage so that readers can easily check whether R. Shlomo Zalman says what you claim he says (and therefore will be more likely to give you votes). – Alex Jun 28 '18 at 7:13
  • See my comment below mbloch's answer. I pose the same question to you, if you wish to chime in. – DanF Jun 28 '18 at 14:33

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