Girls in men’s section

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Hi!
Until what age can girls daven with their fathers in the men’s section?
Are there any Halachic sources on this? Is there room for leniency until Bat Mitzvah?

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Asked on March 26, 2024 7:11 am
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Private answer

Thank you for sharing this question with us.

Questions along these lines are best addressed to a local halachic authority, so that a response can take specifics of a situation and a community into account. Our response is meant as a general discussion of the relevant issues.

From a technical perspective, the answer to this question might begin by looking at halachot connected to tzeniut and to what one can see during prayer, since concerns about tzanua interactions between genders are related to the underlying logic of separate seating. Rav Elyashiv (here) takes this approach. He draws on a ruling of Chazon Ish (here) to maintain that a community can agree to girls praying in the men's section until they reach puberty, by which point they would move permanently to the women’s section. By this logic, we could argue that boys can pray in an ezrat nashim until puberty, by which point they would move permanently to the men’s section.

Puberty is an upper limit, but difficult to apply in practice. It could entail differentiating between individual children of the same age based on their level of physical development, which is best avoided.

Rather than focusing on an upper age limit related to sexual restrictions, we can center this discussion on considerations of chinuch for communal tefilla, which includes education for observing the halacha of separation during prayer.

If we focus on chinuch, then a central question is: When are male and female children ready to join the prayer community of, respectively, men and boys or women and girls?

In many cases, this would take place in the early grades of elementary school. At this point, children typically have reached the halachic age of chinuch regarding prayer and the synagogue, have often begun to participate more actively in prayer, and may have begun to develop more independence. This is also an age when gender identity tends to become more pronounced, certainly in communities in which classes or activities for this age are separate. Along these lines, Rav Ya’akov Ariel (here) suggests around third or fourth grade as a time by which the transition should be completed.

The transition should ideally be gradual and organic. Very young children can move freely between the men’s and women’s sections. As they grow older, girls will ideally start to view the women’s section as their primary base, and boys will view the men’s section as theirs. Eventually, children will reach the point where they are praying exclusively in the women’s or the men’s section.

For this to work well for girls, the community should consider how to make the women’s section an inviting and comfortable space for them. As much as possible, girls should feel that they are entering a prayer community of women, not that they are being excluded from the “main shul.” For example, if there is a “candy man” in the men’s section, there should be a “candy woman” in the women’s section as well.

A particular challenge arises when a child comes to synagogue accompanied only by an adult of the opposite sex. Chinuch for prayer is generally most effective when a child has support and guidance from an adult. Community members can make informal arrangements to look out for unaccompanied children. A community can also institute formal support, such as designated adults or older teens to fill this role.

See more Q&A here.

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Answered on March 26, 2024 7:19 am