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In Judaism, especially in Orthodox tradition, there are a number of settings in which men and women are kept separate in order to conform with various elements of halakha and to prevent men and women from mingling. Other forms of Judaism rarely separate genders any more than secular western society.
The main reasons for gender separation in Judaism are:
- Prevention of forbidden intercourse from occurring. While, sex drives and sexual control vary by individual, and some may call it "easy" to refrain from such sexual acts, these laws nevertheless apply equally to everyone.
- In men, prevention of a vain emission of semen. Exactly what triggers sexual arousal in each man varies. However, exposure of a man's eyes to an immodestly clad woman must be avoided, and extreme measures must be taken to avoid such sights. If a man finds something else arousing, he must avoid that site too.
During prayer services in Orthodox synagogues, seating is almost always separate. A mechitza is used to divide the men and women, and often to block the view from one section to the other, though mechitza heights vary by synagogue.
Conservative, Reform, and other types of synagogues generally do not have separate seating.
Weddings and Bar Mitzvahs
At many Orthodox weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, seating at the ceremony and often the reception is separate, sometimes with a mechitza.
In Orthodox Judaism, many believe that men and women should not swim together. The laws prohibiting mixed swimming are derived from the laws of tzniut. This is due to concerns that bathing suits are inherently immodest, and do not meet tzniut requirements. In particular, a woman who comes dressed in a bathing suit to a pool is appearing publicly not meeting the requirements of tzniut, and a man who comes to a pool where women are dressed in bathing suits will inevitably see women dressed in this manner.
Many pools within Jewish communities have separate hours for male and female swimming to accommodate those who follow this law.
Some women following the laws of tzniut will wear a long T-shirt style dress over their bathing suit that meets tzniut requirements, considering this to be sufficient for swimming in the presence of men. Men, though, are more strict about the presence of immodestly-dressed women, due to concerns over the possibility of arousal.
Currently, the majority of Orthodox Jews do not participate in mixed dancing. Dancing in most forms involves some contact between dancers. Even when there is no planned contact, incidental contact may occur.
Many followers of Haredi Judaism have taken on the practice of separate seating while traveling. These range from abstaining to sitting adjacent to a member of the opposite sex, to having separate vehicles altogether.
Socialization with members of the opposite sex
In Judaism, it is preferable that men converse with women minimally, for a seemingly innocent conversation has the potential to lead to sin.
The Pirkei Avot says that "a man should avoid talking to women. He should keep conversation with his wife to a minimum. How much worse is it then to talk to other women?"
The yetzer hara encourages a man, including a married man, to enjoy casual conversation with women, prefer conversation with women than men, and to feel joy whenever he is put in a situation in which he converses with a woman, even when he has not sought out the occasion. Though such conversation in itself is not sinful, it is considered the seed to sin.
A man should even avoid too much conversation with his female blood relatives, though restrictions are not as strong.