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Minhag in Shul - Modesty


Rabbi Jonathan Blass

3 Adar II 5763
Dear Rabbi, Recent events in my Shul have led to much friction and debate. As in most Shuls, announcements are made at the end of davening regarding upcoming events and times for minyanim during the week. For decades, a man has always made these announcements. Recently, a change has occurred and a woman now makes these announcements from the women’s section. Let me give you some details. This is an Orthodox Shul. The mechitza does not prevent men from seeing the women. The women’s section is higher up then the men’s but the wall ends by their waist. When the announcements are made from the women’s section, it requires the men, who are usually still wearing their tallaisim and holding their siddurim, to look into the women’s section. I would like to get your ideas on this subjct and perhaps you could direct me to some sources. I was told this activity does not violate Halacha but I certainly believe it does or at least hits upon a grey area. I’d appreciate anonymity.
The mechitza according to HaRav Moshe Feinstein must fulfill two requirements: 1)it must prevent any intermingling or levity between men and women and 2)it must be a barrier between the men and those women who may come to shul dressed in a way that is inconsistent with the laws of modesty. For this reason, for example, a mechitza that consists of a lattice-work that allows men to see into the ezrat nashim only with difficulty and prevents cross-mechitza discussions is, according to HaRav Feinstein, acceptable (Iggrot Moshe Orach Chayim I 43 and Orach Chayim III 23). It is accepted practice for a woman, after giving birth or after recovering from an illness, to say “Hagomel” from behind such a kosher mechitza (Shu”t Y’Chavve Daat 4,15). Any answer to the question you raise must, therefore, address three considerations: 1)Does the shul’s mechitza fulfill the requirements for a kosher mechitza? 2)Is there a frivolity in the announcements- for example: calls from the crowd, kibbitzing etc.-that, as opposed to Birchat HaGomel, would make the new practice unacceptable even from behind a mechitza that was unquestionably kosher? 3)Does the new practice encourage a fraternization between men and women even during other parts of the service- breaking down the mechitza from a social point of view? If your shul has a community rabbi- only he can give a psak that binds the community. Based on the considerations previously mentioned and assuming that there are no other factors that are not included in your letter, I would not permit the adoption of such a practice in my community.
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