Every so often, one reads something written some years ago, and one has the opportunity to witness great words eviscerated by the progress of time. Below is an excerpt from a collection of essays found in Sanctity of the Synagogue, edited by Baruch Litvin. The work was published in late 50's, when the mechitza issue was tearing quite a few synagogues apart, and, more than anything else, drove the decisive wedge between Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism. The excerpt if from an essay by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, who would later go on to become President of Yeshiva University. His defense of the Mechitza amounts to an accusation of hypocrisy against Conservative rabbis who in the name of egalitarianism wished to remove the mechitza. Considering the egalitarian trends that eventually swept through the Conservative movement, the essay should remind us how important it is to take the long-view if one intends to write for posterity. Tomorrow, I shall provide another excerpt, which to my mind, still rings true...by R. Joseph Soloveitchik. In the meantime, here is Rabbi Norman Lamm:
"THE EQUALITY OF THE SEXESSeparate seating, we are told, reveals an underlying belief that women are inferior, and only when men and women are allowed to mix freely in the synagogue is the equality of the sexes acknowledged. To this rallying call to "chivalry'' we must respond with a demand for consistency. If the non- Orthodox movements are, in this matter, the champions of woman's equality, and if this equality is demonstrated by equal participation in religious activities, then why, for instance, have not the non-orthodox schools graduated one woman rabbi all these years? Why not a woman cantor? (Even in Reform circles, recent attempts to introduce women into such positions have resulted in a good deal of controversy) . Why are Temple presidents almost all men, and Synagogue boards predominantly male? Why are the women segregated in sisterhoods? If it is to be equality's then let us have complete and unambiguous equality.The same demand for some semblance of consistency may well be presented, and with even greater cogency, to the very ones of our sisters who are the most passionate and articulate advocates of mixed seating as a symbol of their equality. If this equality as Jewesses is expressed by full participation in Jewish life, then such equality must not be restricted to the Temple. They must submit as well to the private obligations incumbent upon menfolk: prayer thrice daily, and be-tzibbur, in the synagogue; donning tallis and tephillin; acquiring their own lulab and ethrog, etc. These mitzvoth are not Halachically obligatory for women, yet they were voluntarily practiced by solitary women throughout Jewish history; to mention but two examples, Michal, daughter of King Saul, and the fabled Hasidic teacher, the Maid of Ludmilla.Does not consistency demand that the same equality, in whose name we are asked to confer upon women the privileges of full participation in public worship with all its attendant glory and glamour, also Impose upon women the responsibilities and duties, heretofore reserved for men only, which must be exercised in private only? We have yet to hear an anguished outcry for such equal assumption of masculine religious duties. So far those who would desecrate the synagogue in the name of democracy's and “equality'' have been concentrating exclusively upon the public areas of Jewish religious expression, upon synagogues privileges and not at all upon spiritual duties. They must expand the horizons of religious equality..."