When I go to shul, I like to sit in the first or second row, by myself. Even if I arrive late, the first and second row are reliably empty, so I can have my pick of seats (I like to sit on the aisle) and I like to put my tallit bag on the seat to my right, effectively preventing anyone from sitting next to me. I do this intentionally so I won’t end up sitting next to someone I like and talking to them the whole time.
I am intensely anti-taking during davening. Partially, this is because I’m totally a rule follower. When I was a kid in Jewish day school the rule was no taking during praying or you would get in trouble. I hated being in trouble, so I didn’t talk. As an adult, though I don’t often feel moments of transcendence during davening, I still really don’t want to be having a conversation with anyone during services. It feels rude. I also feel like there’s a time for davening at shul (services) and there’s a time for socializing at shul (Kiddush). Though I do occasionally mix the two, I try not to. But the reason I’m not super tempted to talk during davening is because when I want to daven I feel like I’m part of the group. My voice is important, I can see what’s going on, and I’m invested in the prayer.
The women in our shul were talking all through the services yesterday. More than once I found myself thinking What a gaggle of geese. Can’t they shut up? Other man made faces, rolled their eyes, and gave little condescending shrugs. A few times, the gabbai walked to the back of the shul, and rapped on the mechitzah. That helped, but only for a moment. Then the dull hum of their chatter would start up again. “Like a horde of locusts” said my table mate.
I started to agree, when I caught myself and realized something important.
The women in our shul talk, because they’re segregated into a tiny box in the back of the shul, from where they can’t really see or hear anything. The mechitzah is 9 feet tall and solid wood, and the room’s acoustics are such that a chzan, standing in his spot way at the front of the room, needs to project like a professional actor to be heard on the woman’s side. According to my wife, its next to impossible for a woman to follow the service. If you were trapped in such a woman’s section, would you find it easy to join the minyan? Our women aren’t allowed to be part of the shul, so they don’t act like they’re part of the shul. We make it impossible for them to participate so they don’t participate. And then adding insult on top of injury, we men, the architects of this unhappy situation, decide that women are uninterested in davening and incapable of keeping their mouthes shut, and therefore require nothing more than a little room, with no view and bad acoustics.
There’s more. Go read it.
And next time, think before you talk at shul.