The mekhitza is a divider between men and women in a synagogue.
Sometimes it is simply a physical separation between the two sexes, such
as a room divider or curtain. Sometimes the women's section is in a balcony.
The basis for a mekhitza is from the Ezrat Nashim (women's section)
part of the Temple.
It is found predominantly
among Orthodox synagogues. Conservative and Reform synagogues do not have mekhitzot.
The reason for a mekhitza is to provide the
men with a greater opportunity to focus on their prayers, rather than
on the attractive women in the room. A second reason for the separation
stems from early religious rituals coinciding with the start of Judaism.
These rituals involved sexual activities, and a separation between men
and women helped decrease chances of Judaism's religious practices following
the customs of their neighbors.
Although the mekhitza does not exist specifically
to relegate Jewish
women to a lesser status, it inadvertently does so at synagogues
where the mekhitza does not provide enough space, or is located
in a place where the women feel their presence is an annoyance. Because
women do not participate in Orthodox services, they do not always attend.
The women's section is stereotypically a place where women talk without
regard for the prayer service. This is not always the case, however.
Some synagogues have zero tolerance for talking, even in the women's
section. In addition, there are many synagogues, where a mekhitza provides women with a chance to hear and see the synagogue service in