Key words: Disrespect, children in Tefillah, decorum in Synagogue.
In the following essay, we shall attempt to address some of the more blatant issues in this regard, providing both sources for additional contemplation and advice for alternative pedagogy. We shall begin with a definition of the problem and cite selected sources that highlight the approach of Hazal. These sources treat the essential question of the role of children in the performance of mitzvot and in particular, examine the consequences of rote versus informed performance. We shall look at the importance of parental role modeling and conclude with suggestions for a collaborative effort utilizing the resources of parents, teachers and rabbis.
Generally speaking, we have successfully inculcated the notion of hefseik (a prohibited interruption by talking, walking, etc.) during birkhot keri'at shema, the Amidah, Kedushah, and the reading of the Torah. We have failed to convey and imbue that same seriousness of purpose to the repetition of the Amidah, the Kaddish and other parts of the service.2 Standards are maintained regarding Kashrut, Shabbat, hametz, arb'ah minim, and shofar. But the strictures concerning talking in the synagogue and the distractions caused by children who are not supervised by parents, or who are too young to be there in the first place are ignored and overlooked.3
This problem is not new. Talking during prayers has vexed leading rabbis who have railed against it for centuries.4 We shall focus on the educational issue of disrespect and lack of reverence in the synagogue as manifested by the noise and distractions generated by conversation, and the disruption caused by bringing very young children to the synagogue. It is an example of the experiential impact of Jewish practice on children. The entire community is the classroom. Day school students spend many hours in the synagogue, and this practice continues into adulthood. Therefore, the environmental influence of this informal educational setting is an extremely crucial determinant of future behavior. Children are often taught by example to ignore what they have learned in school. This is an educational issue, and we shall offer some pedagogic suggestions to curb this behavior.
Our sages understood that what should be common sense and elementary good manners required a legal framework. They knew that complete and total attentiveness and concentration in prayer is difficult to attain. Therefore, they insisted that one must make every effort to pray in an environment that is conducive to this level of "total immersion". Even kissing one's child during prayers is considered a hefseik since, during prayers, one's love and kavannah should be directed only towards God.9 The Talmud teaches that one is not to pray in a place where there are distractions (Eruvin 65a).
In his Mishnah Berurah commentary to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim (98:1:3), R. Israel Meir Hakohen quotes a lengthy peroration on this subject by R. Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (the Shelah, 1565-1630):
In the Shelah (Shnei Luhot ha-Berit) he inveighed mightily against those who bring children to the synagogue, i.e., youngsters who are not yet in school. The reason for this is that young children play and jump around in the synagogue and desecrate its sanctity. They also disturb those who are praying. Furthermore, when they get older, they will not stop these practices which have been inculcated in them from infancy to act wild and demean the sanctity of the synagogue. However, when they are able to understand [the purpose of prayer and why they are in shul], of course they should be brought with him [i.e., the father] to the synagogue and he should teach them how to behave, to sit with awe and reverence. A parent must not allow a child to wander from his place. He must be taught to answer Amen, [to respond] during Kadish and Kedushah.The Mishnah Berurah then continues to warn about the severe consequences which will befall a father [parent] who allows his/her child to chatter idly and prattle in foolishness while in shul.10 He further warns that terrible things will happen to synagogues that tolerate talking, citing the Magen Avraham and the Pri Megadim as follows:
It is imperative to educate [children] to demonstrate awe and reverence [in the synagogue]. Very young children, who run back and forth and play in the synagogue would be better off not being brought [to the synagogue] at all, since habits develop into behavior patterns. In addition, they disturb the prayers of the congregation. (124:7:26,27,28)
Nevertheless, the emphasis on this in the texts cited above indicates that, in fact, young children were brought to the synagogue.
Now, due to our many sins, [this practice of bringing young children to hear the Megillah] has been turned upside down [venehafokh hu]. Not only don't they [i.e., the children] listen, but their disruption prevents the adults from listening as well. The entire purpose of their coming is only to make noise at the name of Haman. In this, the parent is not fulfilling the mitzvah of educating [the child] at all! In truth, from an educational perspective, a father must make his children sit with him and supervise them so that they listen to the Reading [of the Megillah]. When the Reader gets to [pronounce] the name of Haman the Aggagite, a child may make the customary noise - but this should not be the primary reason for bringing him to shul (MB to S.A.O.H. 690:17).Rabbi Moses Isserles cites the Or Zarua that it is customary to bring infants to kiss the Torah as a means of imbuing them with a love for the Torah and its mitzvot (gloss to S.A.O.H. 149:1, end). In context, however, the reference is to returning the Torah to the Ark before the Musaf service. Perhaps, bringing children that late in the service is a valid means of gradually acclimating them to sitting quietly during services.
According to Rabbenu Tam, children below six or seven years old are exempt from the obligation of reciting the Shema. When they reach the age of comprehension, they are obligated to recite that prayer - on time, and with all the attendant blessings before and after.12 Rashi, however, disagrees and rules that even if a child is capable of understanding the concepts contained in the three paragraphs of the Shema, he or she is still technically exempt from this obligation. His reasoning is based on the potential absence of the father to instruct the child. Since he may not be home early enough in the evening and often leaves early in the morning before the child wakes up, he will be unavailable to teach his child. Rashi clearly links the obligation upon children to begin the performance of mitzvot with parental role models.
All this refers to the commandment to recite the entire Shema. However, there is a consensus that the first line of the Shema must be taught as soon as a child is able to speak, and not necessarily at the regularly appointed times. It is also agreed upon that when a child reaches the age of understanding, prayer in general becomes obligatory, i.e., a parent must be an appropriate role model. Today's parents have no excuse not to follow Rashi's position.13 The extrapolation of the principle of age appropriate religious behavior, modeling, and participation in rituals flows easily from the discussion relating to Shema.
Proper concentration need not initially involve sophisticated knowledge of each aspect of every prayer or commandment. However, the minimal requirement is a general understanding of what the prayer means or what the commandment represents. Even the mere conscious awareness that one is fulfilling a religious obligation simply because it is a commandment is sufficient.15 That is the reason for training children properly in the observance of mitzvot. Properly trained, children will grow into adults habituated to proper observance of mitzvot including synagogue decorum. They in turn will educate their children.
The Mishnah states that when a child knows how to properly wave the lulav, it becomes an obligation upon him to do so. The Gemara indicates that this applies to other commandments as well (Sukkah 42a).16 Elsewhere, the Mishnah describes what happened to the lulavim and etrogim of young children after prayers were completed on the last day of Sukkot indicating that, in fact, children did have their own arba'ah minim (Sukka 45a).17 Today we train children to observe mitzvot, but generally do not offer the full accouterments. Young children, however precocious, are not usually given a kosher lulav and etrog until a few years prior to their Bar Mitzvah. However, we do allow minors to recite the haftarah, wear tefillin prior to their Bar Mitzvah, and to stand by their fathers to offer the Priestly Benediction. Since, with the exception of blessings relating to eating, prayer is the most frequently performed mitzvah, it seems that it should be taken seriously by the adults who serve as role models and by educators who often neglect adequate instruction about prayer, the siddur, and proper "davening."
The Arukh HaShulhan makes the same observation and states succinctly that there is a time for study and a time for prayer, with the only exception being a rabbi to whom an urgent question is posed which requires an immediate answer. He condemns in very strong language those who converse during the repetition of the Amidah. He is frustrated by this practice since it is quite prevalent and is very difficult, if not impossible, to stop. He reserves his most severe criticism for those who have once learned the law but persist in violating it. Furthermore, he characterizes talking in the synagogue as a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name. This is especially offensive, he says, when it occurs in the presence of non-Jews (Arukh haShulhan, O.H. 124:12).20
The lack of synagogue decorum by an otherwise observant congregation is a manifestation of that phenomenon known as halachic compartmentalization. Jews who abstain from non-kosher food, leave work early on Fridays, don't eat gebrukts on Passover, and observe many, many mitzvot - not to mention extra stringencies - daily, have difficulty with this basic law. What of those who take their prayers seriously? If the atmosphere in the synagogue is not conducive to prayer, why go to Shul? Under these circumstances, some authorities have in fact endorsed praying at home.21 The rationalization that is offered by frequent shul-goers that they feel "at home" and "comfortable" in the synagogue is at variance with the prescribed requirement of awe, and reverence.22 What lessons do children learn from this behavior?
Schools, and summer camps, on the other hand, have a better chance of affecting a child's behavior. First of all, a child in a day school or at camp spends much more concentrated time with his teachers/counselors (i.e. positive role models) than he/she does with parents. The opportunities abound for instruction and instructional modeling. Aside from specific curricular time devoted to prayer, teachable moments present themselves every day when children daven, bentch, or make berakhot. Schools and summer camps that tolerate or encourage hanging on the tables and adding questionable words during birkat hamazon, or who advocate speed reading of the prayers, are losing valuable teaching opportunities.
Beyond what can be accomplished by what is considered acceptable behavior during the school day, much can be achieved by allotting time in the school curriculum for bei'ur tefillah. Beyond teaching the basics of structure, the text, the halalchah and the hashkafah of the prayers, the siddur can and ought to be taught like any other Jewish text. Just as the Torah is taught with more sophistication and commentaries as a student matures, so too can a teacher teach the siddur and the mahzor.
With adequate preparation and motivation, any teacher can provide age appropriate materials in the area of hilchot tefillah, bei'ur tefillah, and kedushat beit hakeneset. Primary grades are most important, since this is when attitudes are formed. As children learn to read, they can have instilled in them the same awe and reverence for the synagogue and for the prayers as they do for a fallen siddur or humash. As they progress, there are ample texts available so that they can "learn" a prayer in the manner that they study a verse from the Bible or a passage from the Talmud. Principals need to be pro-active in this area to encourage both teachers and students, and to stress the importance of this subject.
It is unfortunately a truism, that too often we wait for graduates of our yeshivot and day schools to spend a year in Israel to make up for what they didn't get in twelve years here. Paraphrasing a Talmudic dictum, there are three sets of partners who influence the religious development of our children - parents, rabbis, and teachers. If they are all on the same track, then "the threefold bond will not easily be undone" (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
1. See Berakhot 28b, Sanhedrin 22a (based on Psalms 16:8); and Hayyei Adam 20:1(last line). Cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hil. Tefillah 4:16, See also Chava Willig Levy. "Why There Was No Gabbai at The Regency Theater," Jewish Action 55:1 (Fall, 1994), 88.
2. "We" refers to the necessary partnership of school, shul, and parents.
3. Similarly neglected laws are the prohibitions relating to gossip, shatnez, showing respect to Torah scholars and parents, honesty in business, appropriate relationships with non-Jews, minyan during the week, etc. Each community differs, and different lists can be drawn up by any rabbi.
4. see Moshe Halamish, "Profane Conversations in The Synagogue: Reality and Conflict" (Heb.) Mil'et II (Tel Aviv, 1984), 225-251. The issue of talking in shul is surveyed here from the perspective of the pietistic Hasidei Ashkenaz, kabbalists, and some Hassidic writers.
For modern treatment of this issue, see Riv-Ellen Prell-Foldes, "The Reinvention of Reflexivity in Jewish Prayer" Semiotica vol. 30 no.1/2 (1980), 73-96, and Chava Weissler, "Making Davening Meaningful" YIVO Annual vol. 19 (1990): 255-282.
5. See Torah Temimah to Exodus 20:21, based on Sukkah 53a; Rabbi Yosef Grossman, "Letting Hashem In," Kol Torah III:18 (Torah Academy of Bergen County; February 12, 1994) 1; and Rabbi Michael Taubes, "Respect for a Shul," ibid. 3-4.
6. See Torat Kohanim, Behukotai 6:4; and Semag, Positive Commandments #164. See also Yerushalmi, Berakhot 4:4; and Berakhot 6a. Cf. Maimonides, Hil. Tefillah XI:I. Cf. R. Moses Schreiber, Derashot Hatam Sofer (Pressburg, 1829) vol. II. 309d. He writes that synagogues with decorum have the sanctity of the Land of Israel where prayers ascend directly to heaven.
7. See Maimonides, Hil. Tefillah XI:6; and R. Joseph Caro, Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 151:1. Cf. Berakhot 31a.
8. See Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 98:2, and 104.
9. Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 98:1-2, gloss of Rabbi Moses Isserles.
10. Loc. cit. Cf. Tanna de-bei Eliahu 1:13. See also below, n. 25.
11. commentary of R. Asher b. Yehiel to Pesahim 108; Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 472:15, 690:6,7. See also Bi'ur Halachah, loc. cit. In general, the entire Jewish educational enterprise is predicated upon introducing children to texts and rituals at the appropriate age.
12. Berakhot 20a, Tosafot, s.v. uketanim; Mishnah Berurah, Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 70:2,6. Obligating children in this context means that the obligation is upon the parent to train the child.
13. Berakhot 20a; Rashi s.v. ketanim; Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 70:2; Mishnah Berurah 70:6,7.
14. See Rosh Hashanah 28a-b for the discussion of whether mitzvot require kavannah. See also Arukh ha-Shulhan, Orah Hayyim 104:4.
15. Maimonides, Hil. Tefillah 4:15; Rabbenu Behya ibn Pakudah, Hovot ha-Levavot, Sha'arei Heshbon ha-Nefesh III:9. See also the comments of the Magen Avraham to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 60:3. He writes that "...mitzvot that require speech (as opposed to action) definitely do require kavannah." See also Bet Yosef, Tur Orah Hayyim 589, and R. Avraham Danzig (author of the Hayyei Adam), Zikhru Torat Moshe (Vilna, 1821) who writes that even according to those who hold that mitzvot do not require kavannah (as far as their fulfillment is concerned), nevertheless, absence of kavannah constitutes a violation of "And you shall serve Him with all your heart" which applies to all mitzvot.
16. Sukkah 42a. A father must purchase a "kosher" set of the arba'ah minim for a child who can perform this mitzvah. See Bi'ur Halachah, Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 657, end.
17. Sukkah 45a; Tosafot, s.v. Miyad; Sukkah 46b; Rashi, s.v. miyad.
18. Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 124:7. It is interesting to note that even the saintly Hafetz Hayyim who was the exemplar par excellence of avoiding lashon hara, mandated rebuking anyone who spoke during the repetition of the Amidah. See R. Israel Meir Hakohen, Hafetz Hayyim (Warsaw, 1873) IV:7 the and X:30, especially his comments in Be'er Mayyim Hayyim, loc.cit. IV:7:32.
This form of constructive rebuke is for a positive purpose (leto'elet) and is therefore not considered lashon hara (ibid. X:4). Cf. Loc.cit. 69-71 regarding those who critique their rabbi's sermon. He also suggests that ushers be employed to control conversation. See Mishnah Berurah Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 124:7:27. See my The Life and Times of Rabbi Judah ben Asher unpublished doctoral dissertation; (Yeshiva University, 1979), pp. 114-117, for references to widespread and selective laxity in religious observance in the fourteenth century in Spain. Even the grandsons of the illustrious Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel had to be admonished not to speak during prayers! See "The Testament of Judah Asheri", Israel Abrahams, ed. Hebrew Ethical Wills (Philadelphia, 1976), 175.
19. See Mishnah Berurah, ibid. 124:17. See also Sha'agat Aryeh and Magen Avraham to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 90:18.
20. Arukh ha-Shulhan, Orah Hayyim 124:12. See below, n. 22, and Maimonides, Responsa, printed at the end of the El ha-Mekorot edition of Mishneh Torah (Jerusalem, 1944), #55, who also categorizes talking during the repetition as hillul Hashem.
21. See Hayyei Adam 17:5. "Even though it is very important to worship in a synagogue, if one's [evil] neighbors [i.e., pew mates] will cause a disruption [of concentration] because of frivolous conversation; or prevent hearing the Torah Reading or the Repetition of the Amidah - It is Preferable to worship at home with a Minyan..." See also Arukh ha-Shulhan, Orah Hayyim 98:4.
22. See Psalms 2:11; Berakhot 30b; and 28b. Cf. Above n. I