Friday, January 21, 2022

Important Message from Rabbi Fisch

The leadership of our shul recently began a process of exploring the viability of adjusting our mechitza to make it more halachically appropriate. Our current mechitza has been in place since the construction of our current building in 1986, so it’s natural to question the logic behind this seemingly controversial decision. Every organization and entity must recognize and understand its mission. Our beloved shul, which I am privileged to lead, is no exception. The Talmud teaches that the purpose of a synagogue is to be a מקדש מעט or a mini Beit Hamikdash. The purpose of the Beit Hamikdash was to have a spiritual oasis where Godliness can manifest itself in this mundane world. The service in the Beit Hamikdash required a level of decorum to the highest degree. For this reason, the Talmud teaches that men and women were in separate areas to avoid frivolity during the sacred times of prayer. As a mini Beit Hamikdash, Orthodox synagogues have been steadfast to this tradition for thousands of years, in an effort to maintain its sacred space. It is an unfortunate misconception to project the mechitza as a way of denigrating women. Nothing could be further from the truth. We respect and revere the women of our community. We also recognize the sacred space necessary for prayer and, in that spirit, there is a need for separate areas for men and women. The reality is that, in the range of halachic allowances, our current mechitza meets the bare minimum of acceptability. For this reason, we are exploring ways of upgrading the mechitza in an effort to fulfill our mission of having an appropriate mini Beit Hamikdash in our community. While this initiative is once again reminding us of how we must balance modernity and tradition, it’s important to remember that our commitment to Halacha has kept us anchored to our tradition. In engaging in this process, it’s important for everyone to know that there is another fundamental value to which we are committed. We pride ourselves on being an open and inclusive shul. In fact, our organizational motto is “a community shul with doors open to everyone.” Our diversity is our strength and, in an era of increased polarization and factionalism, we consider it a badge of honor that our membership consists of individuals with varying degrees of observance. We have been, and are still, committed to ensuring that everyone feels comfortable at Etz Chaim Synagogue. The fundamental values of fidelity to tradition and Halacha, coupled with our commitment to being an open and inclusive synagogue, is the mandate that our mechitza committee seeks to address. It is not mutually exclusive to be a kehilla that has a commitment to a high standard in Halacha and, simultaneously, to be an inclusive shul. I am not naive enough to believe that everyone will be happy with the recommendation of the committee. I am confident that our kehilla has the ability to communicate any disagreements with Derech Eretz and mutual respect. I am confident that our kehilla can be courageous and embrace a rock solid commitment to Halacha and tradition, while remaining the community shul with doors open to everyone. Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

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