Segregating Men and Women

by: Guy Templeton

September 5, 2013

On my mission, my companion thought it would be fun to attend a Jewish Synagogue.  We knew Jews worship on the 7th day, rather than the first, so he called on Friday night to find out when “church” would be on Saturday.  To our surprise, the Jewish Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to Saturday, and the rabbi said that the service would begin in about an hour.  We didn’t have any appointments on a Friday night, so we were happy to head over to the synagogue.

Malala Yousufzai

Malala Yousufzai

One of the things that struck me at first was that the men and women were segregated, and it reminded me of how men and women are segregated in LDS temples.  Of course, Islam calls for strict segregation of women; so strict that they don’t even like women to go to school.  (I’m sure you heard that 14 year old Malala Yousufzai was shot in Pakistan by the Taliban.)

In the Book of Mormon, it says in 2 Nephi 26:33

black and white, ebond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.

What do you think of this segregation?  Does it signify equality?  Is it a religious relic that needs to go?

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21 Responses to Segregating Men and Women

  1. Hedgehog on September 5, 2013 at 1:50 AM

    I hate segregation.

    Back when I was a YSA, I sometimes reached the point where I couldn’t bear to attend yet another sugary sweet RS lesson, but because it was absolutely ingrained in me that I should be in class, I attended the elder’s quorum instead. What a breath of fresh air!

    I’ve always wondered what the etiquette regarding badge-wearing is for missionaries attending the services of another religion. Presumably you aren;t there to proselyte.

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  2. Hedgehog on September 5, 2013 at 1:52 AM

    I can’t type, obviously.

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  3. Guy T on September 5, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    I don’t know what proper etiquette is, but we wore our name tags. The rabbi was very nice. It was December, right before Christmas, and he said, “Oh, we’re going to be talking about Jesus Christ tonight. It would be nice to have representatives of his church!” He was also kind and gave me a prayer book that I still have.

    We actually went for several weeks. Some of his congregation complained that if they wanted to learn about Christ, they would be Christians, and I believe he lost a few members because of his sermon. However, the congregation was very cordial to us; it was a fun experience. I actually started getting better at repeating some of the prayers in Hebrew and even understood a few words. Like I said, I became good friends with the rabbi.

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  4. Jeff Spector on September 5, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    This is not exactly accurate about all Jewish congregations.It is only in Orthodox congregations that men and women are separated. In Conservative and reformed, families sit together.

    And, I am not sure of your exact experience, but in most Orthodox, the women are not just separated from the men, but they are typically seated in the back of the Shul behind a partition and/or a curtain. Not full length, but high enough to barely see them while seated. in the case of older Synagogues, they may be in a balcony.

    In addition, they have no role in the worship service itself. they are worshiping but only as observers.

    So, it is quite a different picture than you paint versus the LDS Temple. In fact, in the Oakland Temple where they have two large endowment rooms with a theater style arrangement, the long rows of seats have men on one side and women on the other. But the people in the exact center sit next to a person of the opposite gender. if you worked it out right, you could actually site next to your wife. And if you and her ended up in the same row with one spouse in the center, it was not uncommon for the other patrons to change seats so the two could sit together.

    The other difference is that LDS women fully participate in the temple ceremony.

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  5. Guy T on September 5, 2013 at 8:18 AM


    I’m pretty certain it was not an Orthodox service, and I believe it was a Reform service. (I recall the rabbi saying to us after the meeting that being a reform Jew was just as strict?–or something like that–as an orthodox jew, though he understood that many would disagree with him.) From my experience, there was an aisle down the center, much like an LDS Temple. Women weren’t in the back, and I suppose a couple could sit across the aisle from each other. There were no head coverings that I remember, except by the rabbi. Women were easily visible, and except for the center aisle, seemed equal in all respects of the service. Nobody contributed to the service–it was run almost completely by the rabbi. It seemed the women and men participated equally as far as saying the Hebrew prayers.

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  6. Lorian on September 5, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    Gender-based segregation is a relic of societal prejudice in which women are not full human beings with rights equal to those of their male counterparts, and exist only as accoutrements to serve and bear children for men. It needs to go. Just like race-based segregation, It is wrong.

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  7. Bro. Jones on September 5, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    To be fair–Islam in general has no problem with girls attending school, it’s the Taliban that do. Education in Saudi Arabia, for example, is gender-segregated from a pretty early age but there’s no problem with women attaining education up to the doctoral level.

    As for gender segregation in the States? My sister attends a women’s college, and she likes it plenty. But she chose it of her own free will, and nobody will hold a gun to her head (literally or figuratively) if she wants to have a boyfriend or meet a male professor alone in his office. Fine with me.

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  8. Tom Irvine on September 5, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    The current seating arrangement should not be a concern for LDS Temple endowments.

    Sometimes people need to help those standing beside them with changing of robes, etc. An elderly or disabled sister would probably feel more comfortable having another sister help her rather than a male.

    Anyway, the prayer circle has a boy-girl-boy-girl arrangement.

    And men and women can sit together in the Celestial room.

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  9. Rigel Hawthorne on September 5, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    I liked the Washington DC temple experience where instead of a center Isle, there are side aisles and a rail in the center. If you are lucky, you can grab the center seats and hold hands with your wife during the endowment presentation.

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  10. Alex on September 5, 2013 at 10:45 AM

    Does segregation signify equality? no.
    I thought Americans answered the ‘separate but equal’ question a long time ago.
    In my experience, ‘separate but equal’ is usually only invoked by the people in power – so they can maintain their power.

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  11. Hedgehog on September 5, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    All centre aisles in London, though if a session is very full and there are more women present, it has been known for women to sit behind the men on the ‘male’ side in order to get everyone in.

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  12. Jack Hughes on September 5, 2013 at 11:29 AM

    I once attended a very crowded session in Orlando, where the gender ratio (F:M) was about 2:1. Folding chairs were brought in, but ultimately a number of sisters were directed to sit on the men’s side. As a result, I got to sit next to my wife, which was pretty neat. There was no apparent degradation in the spiritual or logistical aspects of the ceremony, so I think the whole idea of gender segregation (as far as the Endowment is concerned) is largely a cultural construct rooted in tradition.

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  13. Jeff Spector on September 5, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    Guy T.,

    ummmm, I would have found that very unusual to see segregated sections in a Reform Service. I’ve never encountered that. Even back when I was 12, we went to a Bar Mitzvah of a cousin in a Reform Synagogue, which was held on a Friday night and not Saturday morning, and I was sitting next to my Mom. I’ve only ever seen the segregation in Orthodox. When I was in Israel, they had some Bar Mitzvahs going on at the Wailing Wall. Needless to say, the women were no where to be find until it came time to serve the food in an area adjacent to the wall.

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  14. hawkgrrrl on September 5, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    The segregation in our temples is because men are in the role of Adam, women in the role of Eve. And no, those roles aren’t equal. They are both participatory, so we are ahead of some faiths by that yardstick.

    I observed a CaoDai temple service in Vietnam which had the women on one side, men on the other, all dressed in white. It could have been a Mormon service except it was open to the public and they were kneeling on the floor. CaoDaism (a combination of many world religions) was founded in 1926, so it’s even newer than Mormonism.

    I noticed some of the patrons had colorful sashes and hats in addition to their white clothing. Our guide explained that patrons could advance to higher ranks based on their faithfulness and that it was a very egalitarian idea, that anyone regardless of position could gain higher station based on faith. I was intrigued. “Regardless of station in life? Both the men and the women?” I asked. “Oh, no. Of course, not the women!” was the answer.

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  15. Jeff Spector on September 5, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    See, some are worse than others.

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  16. Anon on September 6, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    I think segregation in temple seating is more about efficiency in the ordinance than an attempt to make any statement. Integrated seating means temple workers running into each other in the rows, waiting for each other aisles, and other annoyances.

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  17. MH on September 6, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    Anon, your comment shows a lack of creativity, IMO. There is no reason why temple workers will run into each other, nor is there a need for men to only give to men, or women only women. Just divide up the room as it is now, and disregard gender completely. A woman could officiate just as well as a man, and in fact there could be all-female temple workers in an ordinance room (or all-male.) It’s really not that inconvenient, except to cultural biases and thinking that the ordinance couldn’t be changed to be more gender neutral.

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  18. Mary Bliss on September 6, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I always just figured that the division in the temple was (like many other things there) symbolic, reminding us that true equality and unity is a celestial way of life (hence no divisions in a celestial room) and that a telestial or terrestrial way of life falls short of that.

    Which is one of the reasons I find the prospect of celestial life hopeful. I am convinced that it’s quite different from what we’ve created here and a heck of a lot better than what we, in our earth-bound thinking, even imagine is possible in terms of equality and integration as well as glory and grace.

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  19. JennyP1969 on September 7, 2013 at 1:01 AM

    There can never be being one when there is division by any measurement. “And if ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

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  20. Douglas on September 7, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    To those that worry about separation being unequal – seek not to counsel thy God where the temple ceremony is concerned. As HG pointed out, there are unique roles that pertain to Adam and Eve; leave the politics at the door and just participate. As Bill Cosby said intro to “Fat Albert”, if you’re not careful you might even learn something.

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  21. Ellen on September 9, 2013 at 10:50 PM

    What bothers me about the temple isn’t being physically separated by gender, it’s how women are treated in the endowment itself – the hearkening. And the veiling.

    Being with women, even when my husband is in the room, is kind of nice. It’s very close quarters during the proceedings. I feel comfortable being next to women I don’t know – not sure how I’d feel cheek to jowl with men I don’t know. I like that the women help each other if someone drops something or has trouble due to age, etc. I see the men doing the same for each other. I think it reinforces our bonds as brothers and sisters, even though we’re all there likening ourselves to Adam and Eve.

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