I 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.”
At 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.
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.