YHE-HALAKHA: TOPICS IN HALAKHA
Praying Facing a glass Mechitza
R. Baruch Weintraub
A question has been raised regarding the existing situation in the
women's section of
Yeshivat Har Etzion and other synagogues, where the women pray
facing a mechitza made of glass (actually, a one-way mirror). The problem
is that at night the image of the woman standing in prayer is reflected in the
glass, a situation which seems to be at odds with an explicit ruling of the
A person is forbidden to pray facing a mirror, for he appears to be bowing down
to his own reflection. (90:71).
In my humble opinion, however, there are several reasons this ruling
should not apply to this situation.
1) Based on an
understanding of the source of the prohibition to pray facing a mirror, which is
to be found in the words of the Radbaz:
[Our Sages] of blessed memory said that a person is forbidden to pray [while
standing] behind his master. And I heard that the reason is so that people
should not say that he is bowing down to his master… Based on this very reason,
we forbid a person to pray facing a mirror, so that people should not say that
he is bowing down to his own reflection. (Responsa Radbaz, vol. IV, no.
The Bet Yosef (no. 90) cites Mahari Abuhav, who cites Sefer
ha-Me'orot, that with respect to permanent seats in a synagogue, one is
permitted to pray while standing behind his master. And this is also the ruling
of the Mishna Berura:
For everybody knows that this seat is designated for the master, and this one
for the student, and so there is no arrogance, or [concern about appearing] as
if he were bowing down to him. (90:76)
That is to say, the reason "that people should not say" does not apply.
There does not appear to be any reason to distinguish in this regard between
praying while standing behind one's master and praying facing a mirror. As such,
any distinction between the two should need to be proven.
2) As was stated above,
the basis of the prohibition to pray facing a mirror is that the person would
appear to be praying to himself. It seems clear that this argument is only
applicable to a person praying facing a mirror, but not to a person praying
facing reflective glass or the like that is not meant to serve as a mirror. For
somebody praying facing reflective material does not appear as if he wished from
the outset to pray to himself. So writes the Shevet ha-Levi in a
responsum addressing a question raised concerning a chazzan who stands
before a "Shiviti" sign that is made from polished metal and presents the
chazzan with his own reflection:
The Radbaz and the Posekim are dealing with an actual mirror that is made
so that a person may see his reflection and anyone looking into the mirror does
so with this intention. This is not the case here where the letters are made for
the sake of the sanctity of "Shiviti." This is the goal, not the shine
and polish of a mirror. Accordingly, he will not come under suspicion of bowing
down to his own reflection, for everybody knows that he is bowing down to the
name of God, blessed be He (Shevet
ha-Levi, vol. 9, no. 21).
An argument similar to that of the Shevet ha-Levi is found in the
Yalkut Yosef (90, no. 41; 150, no. 11).
It seems to me that these allowances provide sufficient basis to overcome
the problem of the person appearing as if he were bowing down to his own
reflection. I wish to present another consideration that relates to a second
problem discussed by the Posekim regarding one who prays facing a mirror,
namely, the problem of mental concentration. It seems to me that analyzing this
consideration should shed additional light on the entire discussion.
It is indeed possible that from time to time a woman will not adopt the
recommended solution of closing her eyes when praying facing glass, and her
mental concentration on her prayers will indeed suffer. It seems to me, however,
that even if the concern about diminished concentration is legitimate, the great
gain afforded by allowing women to pray in the women's section of Yeshivat Har
Etzion and other such places, even though they are facing glass, outweighs the
small possible loss. In the Yeshiva, it is on the High Holidays, when the
women's section is especially crowded, that there is particular demand for the
seats facing the glass. This is true despite the concern that the women's
reflections will lead to a decrease in their concentration. The reason for this
seems to be clear. The women sitting close to the mechitza can see the
prayer in the Bet Midrash and feel that they are part of the collective service.
Despite the concern that at times they will momentarily become distracted by
their reflections, the overall gain and improvement in their prayer is so much
greater and more significant, gain that would be utterly lost by the
installation of shades or curtains.
May our women's prayers be accepted before Him who listens to prayer, and
may the words of Eli be fulfilled:
Then Eli answered [Chana] and said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel
grant you your petition which you have asked of Him.” (I Shmuel 1:17).
(Translated by David