Mechitza literally means to divide, but did you know there is no where in the Torah where it says that men and women cannot pray together, in fact, many more modern families these days will even say Kiddush and certain brachos in the same room as a woman because it is their minhag from Sinai to do so. The history of the mechitza is long and complex, the mechitza is solely responsible for the conservative-orthodox split and it is one of the most hotly debated items in the orthodox and Jewish community at large.
Many people look at the mechitza as a sexist object, a wall to keep the women out, to keep them far away from the action – solely because men don’t have control over themselves and may come to do horrible things to women if they were seated next to them.
The mechitza was invented during Talmudic Times, the sages said that without the temple to keep men strong, we needed to have a physical divider during times of prayer, it used to be a simple line, but as we moved farther and farther away from the shechinah – we came closer and closer to sin.
Slowly but surely, as we became more susceptible to our taivos (desires) the mechitza became a short wall, then a taller wall and finally an impenetrable wall made of stone with sharp shooters situated nearby to take out any man who felt the need to have sex with his wife during a particularly long shabbos morning drash. Finally when the Jewish people were at their lowest point, in the days of the shtetl, the mechitza was done away with and the women were forced into the balcony.
The balcony lasted for a pretty long time, but in order to compete in the treifa medina with modern orthodox synagogues which had already begun to break down the fences that the sages put up so we wouldn’t break down the other fences in the first place – the ultra orthodox former shtetl dwellers decided that for kiruv purposes only it was ok to have women sit on the same floor as the men. It was decided suddenly that we had morals again, mostly because everyone in America was so low – we had to keep ourselves high.
I have done vast amounts of research and according to countless testimony, not having a mechitza in your shul will definitely lead to divorce, affair and mayhem. Many eye witnesses from conservative and reform temples have told me that people are so horned up in shul that the constant close contact shuckeling has led to many a private Kiddush club in the weekday shul if you know what I mean.
But this is not the case in orthodox shuls, orthodoxy holds itself to a higher standard and saves sex for Friday nights and mikvah night, never would orthodox people think of hopping over the mechitza and making out with their spouse, or friends spouse during the haftorah – it just doesn’t happen by us. We have embraced the Berlin Wall style mechitza with open arms because it keeps us strong and keeps the men in control.