Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Guess It had to Happen Sooner or Later

I am not adverse to letting others practice Yiddishkeit in their own fashion as long as they let me practice mine in my way. I understand that we might be coming from different approaches. That doesn't mean that I am not sometimes puzzled by others' actions.

I happen to teach at a college under Jewish auspices in the men's division--and no, I'm not naming names. I am one of the few female teachers who teach in this division. I can't say that I've ever run into a problem with my being female, despite my being the first female teacher many of these young men have ever had. My students are aware that I have something of value for them to learn and so they basically get over their "female aversion" rather quickly. Yes, this includes the chassidishe students we sometimes get as well.

The school building has only two elevators and at any given moment one of them is not working. I suppose I could drag myself up four flights of stairs pulling my briefcase with me, but I don't. Once classes are in session I'm going to be sharing that elevator with any number of male students. Yes, I try to be accommodating, and squeeze myself into the corner by the controls. The students also are accommodating and leave me my space. But we all share that elevator, males and females alike.

This week, however, I finally ran into a wee problem. One student and I were waiting for the elevator to arrive. When it did and the doors opened I headed straight for my little corner. The student, however, did not follow me in to the elevator. I must have looked puzzled but he smiled and said that he would wait for the next one.

As the doors closed I had my duh moment and suddenly realized that he would not get into the elevator with me, just the two of us alone. I'm sure he was thinking of a yichud situation. For the four seconds that it took to get to my floor I actually smiled about that. I don't think it was his intention, but I was actually flattered. I guess I must not be as old as I always thought I was if a younger male can consider me in the light of yichud. Of course this raises a different question as well: what is going on in our world that a young man can consider a woman about 40 years his senior in light of yichud? I'm sure his rebbi would have been pleased, but are we really producing generations of young men for whom sex is the organizing tool for every action that they take?


harry-er than them all said...

maybe its halacha that dictates everything they do? (assuming it is halacha or chumra mandated)

Bracha said...

I had a similar situation in a hotel in Israel. I'm also not 20. I was waiting for an elevator to go down to the lobby. A man I guess in his 30s was also waiting. When i came he pushed the button for the other bank of elevators. I thought maybe I had pushed the wrong button so I asked him why he pushed the other button. Without looking at me he said that it would not be correct for the two of us to share an elevator and that people seeing us both come out of the elevator together might come to the wrong conclusion. He said that it was both a ma'aris eiyen issue and one of tsnius.

Am I missing something here? Since when did a public elevator in a public building become a yichud problem?

Anonymous said...

Bracha - Am I missing something here? Since when did a public elevator in a public building become a yichud problem?

It's a yichud problem because it doesn't have a window that can be cracked open*.


* When young people go on dates and travel in a car together, they are told to avoid the yichud problem by cracking one of the windows open by about an inch while they are in the car together.

Sonia said...

So the halacha that governs yichud is in affect no matter what the age of the two people enclosed in the elevator or the car? If the male is 15 and the woman is 70 and they are in a car together the window has to be open? Is it looked at differently if the man is 70 and the girl is 15? They can't share an elevator? Can a man of 22 ride in an elevator with his aunt by marriage? Does her age matter? Does being related change the status?
And why shouldn't the public/private division make a difference? There's no belief that you have privacy in a public elevator. Anyone can come on or off that elevator. So a 5-10 second ride makes it yichud?

Kalman said...

To be honest I've sometimes wondered how your school handles the issue of females teaching in the mens program. Does the school require you to leave the door of your classroom open when you are in class with the boys? Or do you need to leave a window open? Or do they care at all and leave it up to you?

If this really is a problem of yichud in the school elevator, and I'm not so sure that it is, wouldn't it make sense for the school to designate one elevator for males and one for females? The school has to know who its students are and what they might find offensive.

Anonymous said...

Would having a security camera in the elevator taping what goes on inside or hooked up to a monitor somewhere in the building solve the problem?

JS said...

It's stories like this and hearing about cracking a window in a car that make me thank God every day I'm Orthodox, but not too Orthodox. Sheesh.

Lion of Zion said...

in an age when newspapers can't print faces of baby girls, or even the first names of women (or give women bylines), i'm surprised that anyone is even surprised by this. seriously, PROFK should just be happy that they guy let her go first and he didn't tell her to wait because he should go first.


another (dangerous) heter for daters is to leave the dome light on when travelling at night

halachic input needed said...

This is interesting as a human interest story. However, I see a disturbing lack of knowledge/understanding of hilchos yichud here.

1) The age difference is not relevant. Hilchos yichud applies despite such differences, great though they may be. Hey, there are stories of circa 75 year old men marrying circa 18 year old girls, and no, not only Confederate war veterans.

2) In the case of the elevator, since the ride/time together is just a few seconds, as you report, there is no problem. The duration of the time is a consideration in the halacha here.

3) I think the student should be commended for his piety, even if he overdid it some.

4) Re why the student didn't walk in to the elevator - perhaps a) he was unaware of the halacha that it was not a problem due to the very brief duration, or b) maybe he was trying to be extra pious, went beyond letter of law, special circumstance, or something like that.

5) I think the comment in the last sentence is out of order.

Firstly, if the halacha requires a certain thing, that is the way for us to go. Secondly, it doesn't mean that what you say is the "the organizing tool for every action that they take". It is a factor though. Do you think it is not a factor in the outside world too (in a different way of course)? Let's not live in a dreamworld. Finally, I think we could proudly say something like that we are producing generations of young men for whom halacha is "the organizing tool for every action that they take", even if they may sometimes over or under do it.

This blog makes some important points, and in this case, it has drawn attention to how the man's action may be viewed by others, which is food for thought and worthy of a consideration in the future. However, when it comes to halacha, people should be more guarded in their comments if they are not proficient in the area.

Lion of Zion said...


"make me thank God every day I'm Orthodox, but not too Orthodox."

i would change that (but unfortunately can't) to "make me thank God every day I'm Orthodox, and that i don't live in brooklyn"

ProfK said...

Halachic Input,

In retrospect, I've decided that you may be correct that the last line should have been differently worded. Perhaps what was needed was a line that stated that young men aren't being taught all of the halacha or are extrapolating from what they have been taught to situations where the halacha does not apply.

Nope, I'm not "learned" in the halacha of yichud. I did, however, have some "practical" learning as regards the elevator situation. When my husband was in the hospital the rav who came up to see him rode down in the elevator together with me, only the two of us. No, I didn't ask him if this was acceptable under the laws of yichud. What I "learned" from what he did was that it was acceptable. Nor is this an isolated case--it has happened in other situations with gentlemen who most certainly did know the halacha.

Re your example of the 75 year old man marrying the 18 year old girl, yes I have heard of the rare case of the senior marrying the junior, but never with the reverse of the 75 year old woman marrying the 18 year old man. Since you seem to know about the halacha, why would the age not matter? If the question of yichud is one of possible sexual impropriety, then shouldn't age be a factor? Even in today's crazy atmosphere I just can't envision an 18 year old male having lusty thoughts about a 75 year old woman. No matter how well preserved the woman is, the picture just doesn't compute. Like the commenter above I am also curious whether or not a familial relationship would make a difference, whether by blood or by marriage.

Allen said...

Yichud is an interresting problem in today's world. There are many more situations where we could find ourselves in seclusion with a member of the opposite sex than there were in the days of the Gemorrah. What about a man who comes for a job interview and the interviewer turns out to be a woman? She closes the door to the interviewing office. Can he stay in the room?

Re the elevator, let's say the woman gets on the elevator on the first floor, going up. On the 6th floor a man gets on the elevator. Does she have to immediately get off? Our Rav holds that elevators do not constitute yichud. He also holds that a car is a problematic area but that because it has windows all around that can be seen through, and because highways are illuminated so that people can see into the car, even at night, the car under normal circumstances doesn't present a situation of yichud. If a car has tinted windows he says that is a different story.

Halachicinput, it may just be the times we are living in, but it does seem to be that the issues that are polarizing people today have a sexual element to them. Tsnius issues, and they are at the forefront, seem to all center around women as sexually provocative beings from whom men need to be protected.

Meir said...

Strange that you should post an elevator story. I remember that someone asked about elevators specifically when we were lerning about yichud. Our rebbi said tht elevators aren't yichud. He also doesn't hold that cars are real yichud under regular ways of being used. He said tht if you drive a car to the middle of a forest with no other people around and no way to expect tht other people will find you then the locked car would be yichud. Otherwise not.

I do remember this from my yeshiva days. Unless you asked about something specifically we learned the rule and almost none or none of the exceptions. I can see the logic in learning the rule well first but if you don't know the exceptions you treat everything like it was covered by the rule. Probbly how your student had the elevator is yichud idea.

Anonymous said...

Ever seen the movie 'Harold and Maude'? Anything can happen....

nmf #7 said...

There is an amount of time that also has to be taken into consideration. Certain elevators sometimes stall, and that can constitute yichud, yes even with an older woman and a younger man.
It's still considered yichud.

I learnt something to the tune of 1.5 minutes- but there are other rabbanim who say 3, 5, and 8.
Oh, and it may not be halachic, but it may be his specific sensitivities.

nmf #7 said...

Here's a link to some opinions on the matter:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
halachic input needed said...

Guess what?

Today's NY Times, in the Fashion & Style section, has a sizable article on an explosion in older women-younger men relationships (with some interesting words on a 'shidduch crisis' in the outside world too)!

Boruch Hashem that hilchos yichud don't have to be updated now for it, since they were not dated in the first place!

Our Rabbis were pretty smart after all....

Deb said...

two questions-
one-maybe cracking a window is an halachic heter, but isn't it ridiculous? If being alone in a car is not yichud when the window is open, I guess my definition of alone is not the same...

two- what about therapy sessions? Are you aware that if a client in a clinic does not get his requested gender therapist, and we have an opposite sex yichud "issue," it's common for the client to ask for the door to be "cracked open." really conducive to the therapeutic relationship. not.
so lest you think I forgot my question, it is simply this- have we all gone mad?

E. Fink said...

2 things:

Many poskim hold there is no yichud in an elevator due to the short time the doors are closed, thus there is not enough time for yichud to be a problem (it needs to be "long enough".

Also, I have NEVER heard about this window cracking business. If there is a true yichud problem in a car, such as on a deserted road, late at night (yes, that is a real yichud problem) cracking open a window is pointless. If there is no real yichud problem, like in the city or on a populated road, or during the daytime, there is no need, or use in cracking open a window, unless you are trying to get rid of a bad odor...

halachic input needed said...

Deb : "what about therapy sessions? Are you aware that if a client in a clinic does not get his requested gender therapist, and we have an opposite sex yichud "issue," it's common for the client to ask for the door to be "cracked open." really conducive to the therapeutic relationship. not.
so lest you think I forgot my question, it is simply this- have we all gone mad?"

Deb - no. The halachos are there for a reason. For the holiness and protection of am Yisroel. Such halachos limit possibly dangerous situations which take place and cause problems with greater frequency in the 'outside' world.

Additionally, I believe some of the nashim tzidkonios are having trouble here, as they don't fully grasp the nature and power of the 'yetzer hara' in this area. But they should realize that it exists, even if they don't fully understand it, and the Rabbis responsibly made provisions for the real world, where such things need to be guarded against.

P.S. I assume the following needn't be pointed out, but just in case, I will say it anyway.

Keeping the door open a bit and/or unlocked, doesn't mean that the whole world is listening to your session (which would be against halacha as well, by the way).

Anonymous said...


I would think that a having a therapist of the opposite sex is problematic to start with. I had a male therapist when I was single, and there was definitely an element of "transference" on my part. I wouldn't do it now. Don't people usually become very emotionally close to the therapist in successful therapy?

s(b.) said...

profk wrote: If the question of yichud is one of possible sexual impropriety, then shouldn't age be a factor?

to which halachic input needed very politely replied: ...I believe some of the nashim tzidkonios are having trouble here, as they don't fully grasp the nature and power of the 'yetzer hara' in this area. But they should realize that it exists, even if they don't fully understand it...

As someone who will playfully refer to myself as lower on the nashim tzidkonios scale that our esteemed profk, I will confirm that guys certainly have the ability to think less-than-appropriate thoughts about women many years their senior. An ex of mine explained this to me in more detail than I am willing to share in a public forum, but rest assured, age in not necessarily a deterring factor for some men (or some women, for that matter).

My own opinion is that men who sit and learn way more than men who do not should have more ability to control their urges, rather than have in a seemingly hypersexual perspective on women, but I'm not a guy, and I certainly don't spend my days in a mostly single-gender environment. Perhaps if I did, I would be prone to think intimate things about more men more more often, when I did see them, in general.

I think tznua (is that the right word?) is something that is much more effective when it comes from the inside out and is about how you want to carry yourself in the world, not about trying to protect oneself from the many urges of the opposite gender. But that's me.