The Mixed Shul Kiddush – Navigating Changing Circumstances

As I’ve mentioned previously, Shul Politics is the art of arriving at a set of rules, customs and standards to serve the spiritual and social needs of its members. Depending on the governing structure, those rules will be set by the Rabbi, the membership or both. The rules, customs and standards differ from Shul to Shul across communities, and also within the same Shul over time.

One fascinating area where this plays out is in the mixed Shul kiddush. Thirty years ago, the mixed kiddush was the overwhelming norm among Orthodox Shuls. However, with the change in spiritual sensitivities over the years, some Shuls and members are less comfortable with them now. New Shuls can set the standards appropriate for their membership, whereas existing Shuls have to be much more careful on how they navigate change.

In Queens, the mixed Shul Kiddush is the norm, but there are a few Shuls that have separate Kiddushes. In our Shul, near the turn of the century (~2000), some members who were making a Kiddush for a simcha, wanted it to be separate. It caused a bit of skirmish, but the Shul, under guidance from the Rav, agreed that members making a private Kiddush, could choose to make it separate. Our Shul-sponsored Kiddushes are mixed but for the most part the men are socializing with the men and the women with the women.

In a Kiruv Shul, a mixed Kiddush is a no-brainer, while in a Shul serving a Yeshivish membership it will rarely be found these days. In cross-generational heterogeneous Shuls, its a little more complicated, but if it’s done with intelligence and consideration for membership sensitivities a working solution can usually be found.

Originally Published January, 2014

15 thoughts on “The Mixed Shul Kiddush – Navigating Changing Circumstances”

  1. I hope shuls keep in mind how offensive separate kiddushes are especially when it is a change of status quo. The argument that men mingle with men and women with women anyway is just apologetics, in my estimation. But if a shul does have separate kiddushes, I hope the a woman makes kiddush for the other women and don’t wait around for a man to release them from their obligation.

    I find it amusing that people focus on mixed kiddushes when really there are so many more halachic issues. How many people actually sit after and say al hamichya? And really with the amounts people eat it is hard to argue they aren’t being kovei’a seudah. Do people make kiddush on a proper shiur? At the very least, shuls should use kiddush as a teaching opportunity: proper sequence of berachot, shiurim, eating standing vs sitting, waiting for kiddush, kiddush on liquor etc. Seems to me there are actual issues that take a back seat to the shtick of separate vs mixed kidushes.

    1. Melech, you are correct that changes of the status quo can be offensive and that’s why I advocate a go slow approach.

      In this particular issue, there are a lot of good people I know who want separate kiddushes, especially when the space gets crowded. And Kew Gardens Hills is not exactly a Charedi stronghold.

      As I said that’s the beauty of Shul Politics. It’s a group of people with different perspectives trying to live and grow together. And as you’ve made clear, respect for other people’s perpectives is an important part of the mix.

  2. A lot of shuls are small and don’t have the space for separate kiddushes assuming that they wanted to do that to begin with. Also after people haven’t sat wtih their spouses for two plus hours, do they really need to be separate to eat cholent and kugel. Kiddush clubs are a another issue. If I’m drinking with the fellas,the women can do their own thing.

    1. Shimon, there are different degrees of separation. The first level, which solves the bumping into one another problem, is to have separate tables for the food for the men and the women.

      Since halachically, at least according to my Rav, mixed kiddushes are permitted, it’s not a matter of need, but rather of preference. The interesting question is how to arrive at a solution when people have different preferences which have evolved over time.

  3. Dear Rabbi Machmir,

    Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote a teshuvah in year 1951 CE
    in which he points out that men and women sat together
    mixed when eating the Korban Pesach.

    In Igros Moshe, chelek Orach Chaim, volume 1, siman 41,
    Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that mixed seating at weddings
    is permitted.

    Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, one of
    the reasons that thousands of Jewish singles experience great
    difficulty in getting married might be that Orthodox society
    separates men and women at all times, and in all places,
    and in all situations, even when NOT required by Halachah?

    Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, that by
    separating men and women at all times, even when NOT
    required by Halachah, you are worsening the Shidduch Crisis?

    Have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, never
    getting married and never having any children are much
    worse problems and a much worse sins than tznius sensitivity
    problems? Teshuvah and Yom Kippur can atone for tznius
    problems, but they cannot repair the losses which are caused
    by never getting married and never having any children.

    May G_d forgive you for the damages that you unintentionally
    caused with your good intentions.

    Sincerely.
    Nathan

    1. Nathan, thanks for you comment and for highlighting the difficulties of those who are looking for Shidduchim. I hope to write an article about what other efforts a Shul can make in this regard in the future.

      My Rav recently gave a shiur and he point out that the halacha has many variations including the normative din, being stringent, being lenient, extenuating circumstances and many shades in between. Rav Moshe’s teshuvas are never a one size fits all solution, and they must be applied appropriately by someone who understands psak halacha.

      You have highlighted another important aspect that should be taken into consideration, when a Shul, under the guidance of their Rav, determines what type of mixed social situations are appropriate for their particular membership’s situation.

    2. Rav Moshe’s pesak is irrelevant to this issue. The reason why he permitted mixed weddings is because a wedding is considered to be a private affair, as only those who are invited may attend, and only public events require seperate seating. By that logic, a shul kiddush would need to be seperate. Please don’t throw out halakhic statements before looking them up.

  4. How far are we now from separate men’s and women’s stores for every consumer good, including food? Separate sidewalks? Who benefits?

    1. Bob, as you’ve illustrated, taking things to absurd extremes does not help the discussion.

      As I’ve pointed out, our Shul is not Chareidi, yet there are a number of fine, wonderful, normal people who would prefer not bumping into people of the opposite sex at a Kiddush. Other people don’t see it as a problem and would prefer not to change. So we have to find a workable middle ground for our Shul memebership at this time.

      Every group has to examine the situation, standards and preferences of their membership and find a solution that works for them. That’s the essence of Shul politics.

      1. This was a slippery slope argument. Doesn’t it seem as if there is constant pressure to reduce contact between the genders that keeps manifesting itself in new ways?

        1. >>This was a slippery slope argument. Doesn’t it seem as if there is constant pressure to reduce contact between the genders that keeps manifesting itself in new ways?

          In our particular Shul, the option to have separate kiddushes happened 15 years ago and we have not had any changes since. So our slope has not been slippery at all, which is why slippery slope arguments are usually deemed unsubstantiated. .

  5. Mr. Frankel. I am extremely impressed with your ability to maintain your own view yet regard others views with tolerance, patience and respect. I think Moshiach would be here if we’d all act in that manner.

    Is it possible to contact you via email regarding a different matter?

    1. Shoshana M,

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m not so sure I’m disagreeing with the others, I’m just pointing out that other considerations come in to play in this issue.

      You can email me at [email protected].

  6. Thank you for your post.

    I for one am glad that some shuls, including yours, are bucking the trend toward more and more rigid separation of the genders.

    May I suggest a solution to the problem of men and women “bumping into each other during Kiddush” ? How about common courtesy? Some excuse me’s, please, and thank you’s go a long way to avoid finding a stranger’s elbows in your ribs. Perhaps if people at a kiddush remember that they are not famished and will eat again within the next hour or two, there wouldn’t be any need for concern.

    Not that I am chas v’shalom casting aspersions on your shul. I’ve been to your shul’s kiddushim and they are lovely social events and completely proper. If mixed kiddushim means people remember to be polite and courteous, perhaps there should be more of them.

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