Be Quiet, for God’s Sake!

I don’t know about you but I like the whole davening in shul thing. I like the liturgy, a touch of chazanut, a shtickle Carlebach niggun, a good speech from the rabbi, and I am uplifted. Add in a decent kiddush after services, and I am good to go. I usually only get to shul Shabbat morning, so I really cherish my shul time.

Every shul is different with what level of background noise it will tolerate. I have heard of men being bodily ejected from shul because they were flapping their gums too much. Some shuls insist on silence only during Torah reading and the rabbi’s speech, other shuls there is a constant hum of conversation.

I can socialize after shul. Catch up on the latest gossip or shoe sales or sports stats or what-have-you. To me, that’s what a Kiddush is for. Why do people find it necessary to talk during shul? That is your time to pray to God.

“Sorry, God. Hold on a minute, God, Jay has to tell me what happened on the ninth hole erev Shabbat, I wouldn’t disrupt this one way conversation unless it was important”.

Seriously, have we become so jaded that talking in shul is normal? Look, I am not perfect, and have been known to talk in shul, but I really do try not to. There are some people, though, that spend the entire davening deep in conversation with their neighbour, barely pausing to daven the swiftest Amidah ever before they resume their discussion on the healthcare system, how they think Tiger Woods scored that hole in one, or that cute blonde that just walked in, or the rebbetzin who is looking a little heavy around the middle again, and her baby is only 11 months old!!

People! You are standing in a house of worship! You have come there to daven, to pray to God, to thank him for your abundant blessings and ask him to cure your aunt Millie and put more money in your bank account. Yet, in the middle of all that praising and supplication you press PAUSE so you can chit chat? Who do you think you are? No one tells God to wait. No one, not even Moses, can get away with that.

What if, in the middle of you talking to your neighbour, God decides He wants to talk to you? You won’t pick up on that because you have closed your spiritual pathways to talk to your friend. Hey, maybe God wants to tell you what lottery numbers to play this week but you are too busy talking about the Yankees that you won’t get the message. He wanted to answer your prayers but you let Him go to voice mail.

How hard is it to stop talking in shul, except to God? In a courtroom no one dares to speak. No one, or they are in contempt which means a fine. Or prison time. Or both. And the Judge is a human being, yet no one would dare make a cellphone call in the midst of a legal argument. The idea of talking in shul should be just as terrifying if not more.

We are standing there in front of God, and communally we are showing Him major disrespect. I would like to be able to daven in peace in shul, not be disturbed by inane chatter, whispering and giggling. Not have to hear the Gabbai pound on the Bima and say “we shall only continue when there is silence” – there should be silence as a matter of course.

We are coming up on Rosh Hashannah, and of course everyone will be silent in shul, as they will on Yom Kippur. We are being judged, of course we are going to be quiet. Come on, what a crock! God knows that we talked in shul last week and missed all the leining. God knows that we are going to talk next week in shul and the week after, and that we have no intention of shutting up in shul. Except the Day of Judgment. Because, you know, maybe we can pull the wool over His eyes. Give me a break. Stop talking now and stick to it, and concentrate on your prayers. Maybe, just maybe, you will reconnect with your inner spirituality. It won’t bring you the Maserati you have been dreaming of, but maybe you will sleep better at night.

I know that I am making a commitment to be quiet in shul from now on. I want to connect with God. I don’t want to just say words, I want to mean them and reflect on them. Don’t you be the one in shul to ruin my kavannah. God has a lot more up His proverbial sleeve that I have.

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15 responses to “Be Quiet, for God’s Sake!

  1. On the flip side, Shul is major boring. Too much shmooze is not good but I gotta shoot the bull a bit.

  2. i think there are a significant amount of people who go to shul to socialize or becuase of community pressure but have no real interest in davening.

  3. Shabbat is time set aside for rest and reflection,supposedly. Throw a party if you want to socialize. Isn’t it hypocrisy to do something when your heart is not in it? It seems childish to be silent on the Holidays, but not weekly.

  4. Jacob, if shul is boring, think of joining another one, or maybe its time to find/look for that connection with G.od.

    I have walked out of Shuls, where chatter was simply unbelievable. When I first brought it up, I was told that it was how it was, and that was it.

    After several times walking out of Shul on the verge of tears, one day I picked up my belongings and left in the midst of Torah Reading. The chatter was simply too much, and I never went back there to daven on Shabbos.

    they say they miss me, but I have told them, I dont miss the shul one bit.

    I know and understand that it is hard for men. You do it 3 times a day, and expect to have that connection, that want to connect. Yeah, you want to connect, to your neighbor, Shul is the only place you get to see him and catch up, but as H so nicely said…. when G.od will try to connect with you, the line will be busy, and then you will ask yourself where G.od is. Kinda catch 22, isnt it?

  5. I’m not actually a talker-in-shul, but I don’t necesasrily think it’s a “bad” thing (provided that you are not disturbing others).

    We all know our shuls are called Batei *Kenesset* (places of meeting), rather than Batei *Tefilla* (places of prayer). The synagogual (“synagogue” being another key word here – a “mixing of people” – again, no mention of prayer) experience is therefore, IMHO (and perhaps ChaZaL’s), as much about that social experience, as it is about convening with God.

    The beauty of being Jewish is that we can speak to God any time, any place, and at any time of day. We don’t need a building, we don’t need a conduit, we just need ourselves. Sure we have “fixed prayer”, and the concept of a “minyan”, but outside of that, if I need to talk to God, I’ll talk. He might not be listening, but I’m still talking. Prayer is (mostly?) for us humans to feel better about situations (to give thanks, or to express guilt, or to plead for something). God doesn’t “need” our gabbled and misunderstood words, and He probably doesn’t necessarily need to hear them said in the Synagogue either.

    I agree with you 100% that we should do the social thing before, after and outside of formal prayer times and places, but I think there’s something wonderful (and I consciously use that word) about a group of Jews coming together, and feeling so at *HOME* in front of the Creator, that they can just kick back and schmooze. I just don’t think you see that in other houses of worship.

    I hear, and understand, the courtroom analogy, but it’s never going to feel like that in real life. Forget about talking, when would you ever leave the courtroom to go to the bathroom? People not only do that in shul all the time, but are also required to do so, if they just gotta go. Just like you would do so at home, or in someone else’s home.

    Part of me completely understands and agrees with what you write, but the other part of me says just celebrate the fact that Jews are in shul together. If it’s too noisy for you, daven somewhere else, or maybe just realise that others are focussing on the value of that other (equally important?) aspect of the Beit Kenesset / Synagogue experience (words that I, again, use consciously).

    First time comment, long time lurker, great blog!

  6. Oh talking at shul is ok…just not during services!! Go shmooze outside then. I think sponsoring kiddush is an awesome way to encourage post service shmooze time. Then people won’t be in a rush to leave.

    Many people come to shul to socialize…so maybe it takes two to tango here, people should respect the services, and maybe the shul can start organizing something for shmoozing (see above…) lunches would be nice… 🙂 i like food 🙂 especially on Shabbos. but i digress…

    Well said Hadassah! Love the fire in you!!

  7. I think there are a number of issues at work here. Combining what AE, Jacob, and Phil have all said, there are many MANY people who go to shul for social reasons. They have no connection to the prayers or to god, but they like to see their friends and it’s expected of them that they’ll go. Without the spiritual connection the services are boring as all get out, so why wouldn’t they chat with their friends in this community center? (That it’s a house of worship loses meaning when there is no spiritual significance to the services.) They won’t dare shmooze on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur but only because it is not socially acceptable to do so. They feel like they are supposed to be feeling all of the awe and fear you describe but the shmoozers most likely aren’t, they are just going through the motions so that they fit in.

    I agree with you that it is disturbing and unfair to those who are there for genuine reasons, but the real solution is difficult to achieve. It would be help these people find/look for their connection to the prayers and to god (As Emet suggested,) but come on, in a community where it’s largely the external that counts, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

  8. We left our old shul for a lot of these reasons. Kids running around screaming and giggling during the service, people feeling the need to reach over to the closest person to them to gossip about the rabbi, etc etc etc. We found a new place and it’s a little bit more orderly and dignified. We are BIG on shul conduct, Anth and I, and we can’t stand talking during services.

  9. Nicely put. A friend and I used to joke about one shul that they should get a trained monkey to jump around and smack the people who are talking. Honestly, we cannot think of any way to get them to stop. What is most distressing is that sometimes, one character in particular (although others act in the same manner) will make a big show of telling people to shut up, and then will be shmoozing loudly a few minutes later. Sometimes, you just have to have the patience of a tzaddik (I was going to say ‘saint’ but we don’t really do those).

  10. For me, going to shul is all about prayer, connecting with G-d, hearing the Torah and learning from what the rabbi has to say. It was really helpful to have people whispering instructions and explanations when I first started going (because otherwise I would have been completely lost!) but I think there’s plenty of time for socializing afterwards. Of course, maybe that’s just my strict Protestant upbringing coming out…

  11. I totally agree with what you wrote. I think about this almost every time I go to shul; I wish there was some meaningful way to remind people about the purpose of being there. The men’s side has signs with quotes from tehillim and other sources, such as “shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid,” and “da lifnei mi ata omed,” but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Good for you and your effort to have a spiritual connection; maybe others will be inluenced to do the same.
    Shabbat Shalom

  12. Well said Hadassah! It drives me crazy when people talk in shul. I agree that it’s a place to connect w/ G-d & pray. Wait til kiddush to socialize!

  13. I can totally relate to your article I was in shul on RH and the row in front of me women were talkin and the row behind me as well, was pretty hard to concentrate, and when I told one of them to shh, she said SHUTUP, I just ignored her and continued to daven.

  14. There is a phenomenon here in NY. Boys/Men who feel like outcasts band together in a new minyan or shul with a Rav who is laxed about talking during davening. It is what they love about the shul. Is it better to have them all together, davening as a minyan? or would it be better if these guys felt there was no place for them and either davened alone, or not at all?

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