Behind the Partition, Under the Veil

Written by Father Bill 8 Comments

Looking forward from behind the partitionI was fascinated to find an article in the online Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” feature.  Entitled “Prayer Behind the Partition,” it is Lucette Lagnado’s reflections on an ancient Jewish practice of segregating men and women in the meeting of the synagogue.  Commenters at Mere Comments  show that some variation on this practice is found in many expressions of Christianity, so it is not peculiar to conservative Judaism. 

No one commenting on Lagnado’s essay on the partition draws any parallel with Paul’s prescription of the veil in 1 Corinthians 11.  That practice makes just as much a distinction between the sexes during congregational worship as the partition Lagnado speaks about.  And, contrary to what uninformed pastors and teachers are always proclaiming, the veiling custom Paul imposes on the church is NOT a Greco-Roman practice.  Rather it is a peculiarly Jewish custom which Paul imposes on the Greco-Roman Corinthian Church (and all the other churches as well).  That, it seems to me, pretty well puts the kabosh on the notion that the Corinthian passage is “culturally conditioned” – as if to say “it’s irrelevant to us” because “we’re not First Century Corinthians.”

Men up front and leading, women present and participatingAt any rate, both the partition and the veil give tangible, concrete re-enforcement to the general order of the sexes that Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and 1 Timothy 2:  men up front and leading, women present and participating.

Lagnado surveys the way in which the conflict between resurgent Jewish orthodoxy and trendy Jewish egalitarianism shows up in the implementation (or the rejection) of the partition.  While the resurgence of Jewish Orthodoxy does not reduce to an allegiance to the partition, the partition becomes a tangible expression of Jewish Orthodoxy.

For this reason, a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Whatever else they do, the partition and the veil go far to highlight, exaggerate, and manifest the sexual distinctions between men and women in communal worship.  For that reason, both practices are anathema to a secular and religious culture bent on erasing, so far as it’s possible to do so, these very same sexual differences.   

 It makes me wonder if a resurgence of sexual orthodoxy among Christians will be marked by a return of the veil for women in worship.  Modern complementarians’ professions are flatly compromised by their rejection of the cover for exactly the same reasons that egalitarians generally reject the Bible’s ordering of the sexes:  “It’s all culturally relative,” they say.  “We now live in the egalitarian 21st Century.” 

On this point, I give the award for consistency to the egalitarians.
 


8 Comments

  1. Michael   |  Monday, 26 March 2007 at 2:43 pm

    Hello Fr. Bill,

    I agree with you that the egals win the award in the consistency department. So-called complimentarians are no different than them in many areas, though they claim there is a big difference, which apparently basically boils down to no female pastors. Otherwise, the prevailing culture rules.

    > The purpose of a divider …is to make sure that men aren’t distracted from their prayers.

    In my conservative Mennonite friends’ church, the females sit to the left of the aisle, and the males to the right. Yes, there is less distraction and the females dress very modestly anyway, in long, full ‘cape’ dresses. Thankfully, there are no embarrassingly tight pants or other common problems in the pew right in front of you, like is the norm at my church. What a plague, yet no one seems to care. The Mennonite women also wear white veils (not just in church). I certainly have a lot of respect for them, unlike the ones in my church who are showing off things that are no one else’s business.

    There is no Sunday School or Children’s Church, so the children sit with their parents. Men do help out with keeping small children during services. They have big families.

    > The custom of separate seating dates back to the Second Temple in Jerusalem…

    Which reminds me, there was a separate Court of the Women at the Temple in Jerusalem.

    > “People in this crazy world are looking to be anchored…they are looking for greater discipline,” says Rabbi Marc Schneier.

    Yes, if everything is temporary and faddish like the world, why bother?

    Great comeback to the complainers by the Rabbi: “Many of the people who say they want to sit with their husbands and wives at services, they don’t play golf together, they don’t have weeknights together,” he remarks. “All of a sudden, they can’t live without each other when they come to service?”

    > I no longer dream of escape to the men’s section of the synagogue. …I can go to one of those vast and fashionable egalitarian temples; yet I choose to attend the same type of intimate service I did as a child.

    Interesting to hear that these days! Egalitarianism, by chasing after the world, makes itself just another dull and boring copy of it.

    –Michael

  2. Michael   |  Monday, 26 March 2007 at 2:56 pm

    > It makes me wonder if a resurgence of sexual orthodoxy among Christians will be marked by a return of the veil for women in worship.

    Until they come to understand modest dress, I don’t expect veiling to happen first. There was an shorn old woman in front of me yesterday in church who had a sheer top on. I probably could have read the tag on her bra if I’d tried. Why do they do this, especially in church? Is that supposed to be pretty, seeing so plainly all the underlying stuff? Contrast that with your photo of the veiled woman — she looks beautiful, chaste and holy, a daughter of Sarah. Hardly looks oppressed to me. I think the ones who feel compelled to showoff are the real oppressed ones.

    –Michael

  3. Kamilla   |  Tuesday, 27 March 2007 at 11:07 am

    Hmmmmm. Fr. Bill, do you really expect a group of women who keep their hair short to veil? I suspect the two will go together.

    Kamilla

  4. Fr. Bill   |  Tuesday, 27 March 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Good point, Kamilla. And, no, I don’t ordinarily expect women who wear very short hair to cover.

    And, yet, I have seen this. Far more often have I seen women who first grow out their hair, and then adopt the cover.

  5. Michael   |  Tuesday, 27 March 2007 at 3:18 pm

    > Fr. Bill, do you really expect a group of women who keep their hair short to veil? I suspect the two will go together.

    Hi Kamilla. Yes, I’d say they are related, as when the apostle Paul used the example of the long hair being a natural covering to advocate the veil. (That was supposedly common sense that women had long hair, but we’ve outgrown that.) So, as I think Fr. Bill indicated, one would expect women who were led to cover would have also come to a more correct understanding about long(er) hair along the way, too.

    And if the veil has anything to do with modesty, chastity, or holiness, then that’s why I also say one’s attitude about dress in general may need an overhaul along the way, too. A veil worn with some things I see at church would be totally absurd.

    –Michael

  6. Leigh Ann   |  Tuesday, 24 April 2007 at 1:39 pm

    These are interesting comments. I am a member at a church that does not practice headcoverings. I wear one along with about five other women. The interesting thing is that we are also probably the most modest dressers of the women in the congrgation. I have nothing against pants, but in a worship service I like to see a woman in a skirt, something distinctly female. I would also say that I would find it hard to wear a headcovering whilest wearing pants, but that might just be me.
    Enjoying your blog muchly. Came over here via the Baylys.

  7. Michael   |  Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 8:59 am

    Hello Leigh Ann,

    Yes, it is perfectly understandable that those two things go together harmoniously. (And a refreshing sight to behold, no doubt!)

    > I would also say that I would find it hard to wear a headcovering whilest wearing pants, but that might just be me.

    No, I don’t think it’s just you. I would find such hard to look at as well, due to the incongruousness of it. I guess it would be superior to pants and no headcovering, so I shouldn’t be too critical. But that indicates to me that something is lacking in the “big picture.”

    > I have nothing against pants, but in a worship service I like to see a woman in a skirt, something distinctly female.

    A long, loose skirt, not a short or tight one. The concept of modesty has sadly fallen on hard times.

    Thanks for sharing.

    –Michael

  8. Leigh Ann   |  Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 2:42 pm

    “A long, loose skirt, not a short or tight one. The concept of modesty has sadly fallen on hard times.”

    Oh, absolutely. I guess in my mind a short, tight skirt does not even qualify as a skirt, it is more of a fabric rubberband.

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