A recent Sunday night at Mt. Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights was certainly different from all other nights.
For $100 a plate ($85 for members), guests gobbled down kosher sausage, sliders, brisket and ribs from Izzy’s Smokehouse, along with a selection of beers. Four rabbis, including Mt. Sinai’s Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, shared words of Torah in the style of a Passover seder. Attendees described the event as successful and uplifting, with a crowd ranging in age and background.
There was just one catch: the April 3 event, called the “Man-Seder,” was open to men only, sparking debate among congregants regarding gendered spaces and stereotypes.
A female member of Mt. Sinai, who asked to remain anonymous due to personal relationships that would be affected by publicly speaking out about the Man-Seder, cited reinforcing harmful conventions of masculinity among her concerns.
“Male only bonding spaces are really important, but I think when a shul is sponsoring something, it’s important to be aware of what message you’re sending,” she said, referring to the stoic “be a man” stereotype that she felt the Man-Seder purported. “I also would not have so much gluttony associated with the event, especially if it’s a Torah learning event. To charge $100 for something is a little bit ridiculous — $100 could buy a family a Pesach seder.”
Isaac Brooks, a resident of Washington Heights, feels that all-male spaces don’t serve an important purpose the way all-female spaces do.
“I think most of the times I’ve heard men-only events like this being defended is this sort of idea that men should be able to be more manly and relax in an environment without women, and that just seems, to me, a very outdated way of thinking,” he said. “There are a lot of women-only spaces that have to do with, say, the unique experience of being a woman in Jewish Orthodox communities … and the men-only spaces tend to be ‘Let’s have meat and a good time.’ They tend to be a lot less serious because there isn’t any real rationale.”
Members raised questions about the program through posts on the event’s Facebook page, resulting in the Mt. Sinai administrators deleting comments for “inappropriate language.”
It is unclear whether or not the Man-Seder will become an annual event at Mt. Sinai, or if another themed seder will provide an alternative next year. Synagogue officials declined to speak on the record for this story, and Rabbi Ezra Schwartz declined to comment on the event.