Paul and the Mechitza

1Cr 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Are women to be “silent in the church?” This is a highly debated subject among gentile believers in Christ.

Did apostle Paul really mean that knowledgeable women do not minister to other believers, or witness to unbelievers? Their only role is to baby sit and make cookies?

Even though all believers are exhorted to study, to show themselves approved, in season, and out of season, once they are qualified, half of them need to remain silent? So even though there is a gospel to preach to the ends of the earth, half the work force is not allowed to do anything?

While I will only explain one aspect of Jewish culture, it may shed light on the possible meaning of what Paul said. True, women had a lesser role in official participation in most anything of that day. This is still true today, in many countries.

But the answer might be a simpler one. If one just examines what a “church” would have looked like in the first century AD, it would most likely resemble an orthodox Jewish synagogue, the organization of which is most like the ancient times of Paul.

Men and women are separated during prayer times, which creates a different “atmospheres” on each side.

The Mechitza


A Mechitza (partition) is a divider used to separate men and women in Orthodox synagogues and at some Orthodox religious celebrations.

The women’s section of the synagogue is called the Ezrat Nashim (women’s area) after a similar area in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Source of the Mechitza

In the Temple in Jerusalem, a divider between the sexes was used during the Sukkoth Water Drawing Ceremony (Simchat Beit HaShoevah). Each year a balcony was created for this festive ceremony. The women sat on the balcony, and the men sat below. The balcony was built to ensure the people would be more focused and less frivolous during the joyful ceremony.

*** water drawing ceremony:

According to the Talmud (Sukkah 51b, 52a), the rabbis based their decision to have this balcony assembled for this ceremony in the Temple each year on a verse in Zechariah (Zechariah 12:12).

Zechariah prophesied that men and their wives would mourn separately when Moshiach ben Yosef (the redeemer who will help usher in the Messianic era by preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah) would be killed.

**** this is a reference from a Jewish website. Notice they admit the Messiah would be killed!!

The rabbis of the Talmud decided that if a sad occasion necessitated a separation between men and women, then the happy Water Drawing Ceremony – when the Evil Inclination is certainly present – also necessitates a separation between the sexes.

Thus, some Orthodox rabbis believe that the balcony in the Temple was biblically ordained. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a vocal adherent of this belief, declared that Orthodox Jews are prohibited from praying in synagogues without Mechitzot. There are other Orthodox rabbis who believe that use of a Mechitza to separate between the sexes in the synagogue is an ancestral custom. And they believe that such customs cannot be changed. Whether use of the Mechitza is based on binding law or custom, the overriding policy in Orthodox Judaism today is to separate men and women worshippers via a Mechitza.

So, according to Jewish Law, men and women must be separated during prayer, usually by a wall or curtain called a mechitzah or by placing women in a second floor balcony.

Also, many pagan religious ceremonies at the time Judaism was founded involved sexual activity and orgies, and the separation prevents or at least discourages this.

The physical placement of the Mechitza

There are 3 ways of modern separation:

Women are put in a balcony. Worst place to sit, cannot hear much. This is the way it was in Paul’s time.

Women are put in the back of the room, behind a screen or curtain. About as bad as the balcony.

Women are put to one side of the room with a divider between the men and them. This is the best placement, since women can actually hear more. Most of the time, the divider is glass so the women can also see what is going on.

What it is like on the woman’s side

Women are not obligated by Jewish law to attend formal religious services, and cannot participate in many aspects of the services. The combination of exemption from certain commandments, like daily prayers in order to attend to children, and this physical separation (Mechitza) often has the result that women have an inferior place in the synagogue. Woman’s obligations in the home often keep them away from synagogue, so less are expected from them, and therefore they have little participation in leadership.

The women’s section is sometimes poorly climate controlled, and women cannot see (sometimes can’t even hear!) what’s going on in the men’s section, where the services are being led.

Considering even the best of conditions, I have sat (of course) on the woman’s side, and have a good view of what it is like even in the best (side by side) conditions. Children make noise, mothers have to talk to children, babies cry, children fight or want something.

Women have to come and go, as babies need their diapers changed, or they need to go outside because the baby is crying. Dealing with children results sometimes in interactions with other women.

If they can’t hear, it gets worse, and the distractions created by the children lead into idle chatting among the women. They end up talking about something at home, or how the child is doing in school, or how someone has been sick lately, or where are we in the prayer book now?

This situation would be much worse in a balcony back in Paul’s time. They did not even have sound systems then and microphones! It was a different world up in the balcony.

Since distractions lead to a loss of focus, which leads to chatting, or maybe just talking, to get caught up on where the service is, this means that the women are NOT SILENT. This also means they can make enough noise to bother the men.

Looking back to what Paul most likely meant

Jesus had indicated that the kingdom on earth (the church) should reflect the kingdom as it is in heaven, where there is no male or female. It seems like Jesus would consider both men and women the same, when it comes to spiritual matters. Paul even confirmed this:

Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Socially, there may be differences, but spiritually they have equal value. This would mean that women could minister as well as men.

Since what Paul has to say must be in line with what Jesus indicated, then there must be a reason he told the women to be silent. To him, all this talking was “shameful” because he was trying to present the glory of the gospel, and bring salvation, and the women were chatting away, and making noise so much they bothered him.

Think of the Mechitza.

The women in the balcony, or in the back of the room, were making noise while Paul was preaching. This disturbed him, so he told them to be quiet. Notice he did not say, “do not minister,” or “do not preach the gospel.”

There are records of prophetesses like Deborah and Ann who were even old testament ministers, despite their socially limited roles. So, it is my opinion that women of Paul’s time and women today are free to minister as much as men, while dealing with their own social issues.

Why limit the work of God because of gender? This will slow the work of Christ on this earth, and delay the great commission being fulfilled.

PS. thought – the first evangelists were women, not men.  The “woman at the well” ran to tell others in town that the Messiah had come.  Those who found the empty tomb and ran to spread the news of the resurrection were women. If Jesus did not want women to be involved, he would have just preached to men.  But Jesus even included children, who have the purest testimonies, and make wonderful witnesses.

16 Responses to “Paul and the Mechitza”

  1. […] here for […]

  2. This background information is so needed in understanding the “why” of Paul’s writings. Christians today readily agree that Paul was addressing certain situations and cultural issues concerning slavery, but when it comes to women, their hermeneutics change. Christians were called “heretics” and “rebellious” for opposing slavery by other christians. Many clergy men wanted to keep the status quo during the 60’s as well. Christians believing that godly women called and gifted by God are sinning for teaching men God’s Word, are suffering the same blindness.

  3. It may not be perfect, but I just hope to show that many women may have other overriding responsibilities, so they do not help. But for the women that are free to help, it is Ok for them to minister in various ways.

  4. 1 Timothy chapter 3 is dedicated to the offices in church. See also Titus 1:5-6 as unto elders. In both instances the positions are instructed to be filled by men.

    I have heard many good women preach with all Godly intention and sound teaching too. I am sure they will have prayed this through first, and if they have a husband, to of submitted this calling to their husband first. It would be humbling to hear a male pastor/deacon to introduce her with an open offering to the congregation a statement like this ‘ If any person has any objection they may make it known’. Doubtful a man would do so (a few might rather leave), and should a man object then for the pastor/deacon to explain his support. Now the congregation have themselves submitted to hear the Word of the Lord as spoken through a woman preacher. Any thots.

  5. hi derek

    I think of this verse:

    1Cr 7:34 There is difference [also] between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please [her] husband.

    I interpret this as the married woman is preoccupied with the husband and family, but the single woman is free to do the “things of the Lord,” which could be seen as including ministry. But maybe not.

    It seems like a waste of spiritual gifts for single people to be barred from ministry. I assumed most women in Paul’s time either were married or wanted to get married, which is kind of the case today too. 🙂

    I personally do not hold any office in a church. I am just Marianne, who writes her bible studies and shares them with others.

  6. Hi Derek,

    the scenerio that you gave would be contrary to how God directly relates to women and the response of each individual woman to God. God spoke first to Mary and Mary submitted to God’s will without consulting Joseph or waiting for his approval. The woman at the well declared Jesus as the Messiah, with Christ’s approval, in a culture that believed “it is a shame to hear a woman speak”.

    I believe there has to be mutual respect, honor and accountability in marriages, but sometimes one spouse may stubbornly oppose the will of God. If a godly woman (married/single) is not neglecting the needs of her household, there is no command of God for her to be “silent” when gathered together with other believers and nonbelievers.

    In 1Tim 3:1 the word “office” is not in the originals. So I believe “character” is what is being emphasized. In that culture, as it is in a lot of oppressive cultures, the sin of subjugating women was commonplace, so that would explain the wording “husband of one wife”.

    I think it would be better for a pastor/deacon not to wait to address the subject of women preaching, but to really seek the will of Christ and preach the truth to the congregation.

    This question continues to go unanswered in the discussion of women preaching, but perhaps you could answer it prayerfully. Was the commands concerning slaves a command from God for all time?

  7. Sometimes I wish Jesus were here to clear this matter up.

  8. You’re right I did enjoy this!

    Whether for or against, whether it’s culture or custom, I believe it all comes down to this: God’s punishment of Eve and Christ’s sacrifice.

    In Genesis 3:16 we have the punishment of Eve. This is where Adam is set over Eve, to rule her, as part of her punishment; the other part was pain at childbirth. (read as: God put man in charge cause Eve didn’t make a good decision) Did you notice that this did not happen until after the fall; after she screwed up? She wasn’t created that way. It was her punishment.

    If in fact, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is sufficient, then this punishment no longer applies. This wiped out ALL sin, including the Original.

    Isn’t childbirth still painful? Yes it is. However, I believe it’s a reminder. If you have ever been through childbirth, you will not forget it. It makes you stop and think about what you’ve done in your life, and therefore you are able to repent and turn back to Christ. Our children are more reminders because we’ve all been blessed with children that behave the same way we did growing up. It’s the same with hunting, fishing, farming and any other “man’s” work. It’s a daily reminder to repent and turn to Christ.

    So my position is simple. God made me with a big ‘ol mouth and I’m gonna testify!

  9. Hi Dana

    Well, God never told the woman she could not talk at all, or what to talk about, if she did talk. Women raise and teach their children. They have to talk to do this. It is a “no brainer.”


  10. […] […]

  11. well done Marianne =) peter explains why your work is so necessary- Peter II 3:14-18.
    14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward
    to this, make every effort to be found spotless,
    blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that
    our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear
    brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God
    gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters,
    speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain
    some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant
    and unstable people distort, as they do the other
    Scriptures, to their own destruction.
    17Therefore, dear friends, since you already know
    this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried
    away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure
    position. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge
    of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory
    both now and forever! Amen.

  12. Love this! I had the exact same realization come to me, upon visiting an orthodox synagogue several years back: “Ooooh… THIS is what Paul is talking about!”! 🙂 Well-written, thanks!

  13. There is a spiritual reason for the separation too. You just can’t see it, literally.

    Peter understood by the same Spirit when he wrote the following:

    “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (1st Peter 3:7, NKJV).

    “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1st Peter 3:7, ESV).


  14. History clears things up:

    I am very thankful for the HR Movement. Thank Elohim for this pastor, and for the teaching.

    • sherry

      thank you. that was a great teaching.

      • You’re welcome. However, I do not think I can be thanked for this. It is God and the pastor who provided the teaching. You should watch some of their other videos; the ministry does fantastic work, combining history and Scripture with clear references and contexts. For example, their “Paul” series includes a video which presents the crucifixtion with how Rome’s culture would have seen it. Plus they’re very transparent and willing to admit their own flaws, which is quite rare. I think those are precious qualities rarely found in Christians right now.

        Blessings to you, Marianne. May God be with you.

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