Traditionally, men and women were segregated during synagogue service. This was done to eliminate distraction and to keep everyone focus on the service. Men and women are still separated in Orthodox synagogues and will sit in distinct portions of the synagogue for the service.
In liberal synagogues, there is no separation between men and women during services. Instead, the rabbi may choose to have all persons sitting together, according to their own preference. Some rabbis may also choose to have men and women sit apart during certain parts of the service, such as the recitation of the Ten Commandments.
The cantor leads the congregation in prayer by singing sacred songs and reading from the Torah. He is usually an ordained priest or rabbi who serves as a conduit between God and man. The word "cantor" comes from a Hebrew term meaning "one who sings for joy." In ancient times, people didn't write music scores like they do today. So, the cantor needed another way to lead the congregation in song. By reading off notes written on a parchment scroll, he could sing prayers and praise songs that were not familiar to everyone in the congregation.
Men and women were traditionally not permitted to sit together in the synagogue since it was regarded to be distracting. This is still true for Orthodox Jews today. In Reform Jewish synagogues, however, men and women are permitted to sit together. The reason given for this difference between movements is that Orthodox Judaism takes its text seriously and would therefore regard any attempt to combine the sexes as an infringement of God's plan for human sexuality.
In fact, there are many examples of similar practices existing side by side within the same community. For example, men and women sit separately on buses or trains, even though they may have to rush to get a seat. This is because it is regarded as inappropriate for them to be sitting next to each other.
However, these are social conventions that do not reflect any actual prohibition. There is no biblical basis for prohibiting men and women from sitting together in synagogues.
The practice of separating men and women in worship arises not from Scripture but rather from human tradition. This being the case, it can be reversed without violating God's will.
Men and women sit apart in Orthodox synagogues, but people of different genders sit together in Reform synagogues. Some Orthodox Jews wobble when praying, which helps them focus on what they are saying. In Reform temples, everyone is encouraged to move about during prayer time.
In both Orthodox and Reform synagogues, men are called to the front for prayer. Women follow behind them. In some Conservative synagogues, men and women pray side by side. But in most cases, they don't touch. When reaching across the gender divide, it's best to use the male pronoucements for God and avoid patting women on the hand or rubbing shoulders with them.
Outside the synagogue, Jewish males should walk at least three miles within a 24-hour period, while women need only walk a mile.
The Talmud says that even though women are not obligated to pray, their voice goes up in merit when men pray. This is because all humans were created in God's image, so it's important to recognize His presence even outside the walls of the synagogue.
Women's Place in the Synagogue Second, many pagan religious festivals at the time the Torah was given on Sinai included sexual behavior and orgies, and the separation forbids or at least discourages even contemplating such things. A division similar to that found in today's synagogue existed in the Temple long ago. The women congregated in one part of the temple area and the men in another; there were also separate courts for men and women. In Judaism, as with Christianity, there are always two classes of people: those who are holy and those who are not. The women were considered holy because they gave birth to God's covenantal promise through Isaac.
The division between men and women in the synagogue is still present today. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately throughout the prayer service. In some Conservative synagogues, men and women may use the same ark for the Torah reading and may sit together in certain sections of the sanctuary. However, in most cases, men and women do not mix during services.
Although this rule seems harsh, it probably had more to do with hygiene than worship. The altar was usually made of wood, so it would have been dirty after being used by the priests.
Every Jewish activity has both basic and deeper, more spiritual interpretations. Separate sitting in a synagogue has the obvious benefit of ensuring that the main emphasis is on the prayers rather than the other gender. It also prevents potential conflict over which direction to face during prayer.
The practice of separating men and women dates back at least as far as King David himself. The Talmud notes that when David established the daily worship service, he ordered it to be led by male and female priests who would face opposite directions. The implication is that everyone should pray facing forward, not toward each other.
This separation continues today at most synagogues. It can be done either physically (by sex) or spiritually (by voice). Women usually sit in one section of the hall and men in another. This way they don't have to look at each other or hear each other speak.
There are several reasons for this custom. First of all, it ensures that the focus remains on God and not the worshiper. Secondly, it allows for greater participation by women. They are not distracted by having to listen to the men talk or laugh. Finally, it avoids any possible confusion about which part of the service to attend.
Today, this practice is still followed in many synagogues around the world.
During prayers, men and women sit apart according to Jewish tradition. Many (older) synagogues include women's sitting in a gallery above the sanctuary. However, it is more customary for men and women to sit on the same level, separated by a mechitzah ("partition").
In some Orthodox synagogues, women are not allowed entry during certain parts of the service. They may enter only after the shofar is blown at the beginning of each day's prayer or when there is incense on the altar.
In some Reform and Conservative synagogues, women are welcome anywhere in the building during worship services. They usually have seats assigned them in family-friendly areas away from the altar.
In most communities with large populations of Jews, there are also several smaller synagogues that serve as anchors for Jewish life. In these "hilltop" synagogues, women often have a separate room where they can pray together or learn with a rabbi while men listen over their shoulders.
There are also many small "in-house" synagogues within larger companies where employees can find a place of worship that fits their needs. For example, many universities have a "student union" which includes a synagogue for use by students and faculty members.
Finally, there are numerous church-synagogue relationships around the world today.