Touching A Nerve
I would like to thank “The Guy Wearing the Frock” for his response (in last week’s 5TJT) to my letter concerning men who go to shul but then do not join the minyan for davening. Instead, they sit around in a side room, talking.
The writer noted that some people have difficulty davening with a minyan and would not even show up to shul if they did not have “this space” to go to during part (or perhaps all) of the tefillah. This is a very significant issue, and he is absolutely right that we are all different.
Upon reading these words, I was actually quite sympathetic, until I heard that last Friday night, when his shmoozing room was taken over for a simcha, he and his crew relocated to the back of the shul itself and spent the entire time talking. Not only were they now wasting time that should be spent davening, but they were brazenly disrupting the tefillah of genuine mispallelim. My sympathy pretty much vanished as this point.
Nonetheless, there is a genuine issue here: What does someone who cannot sit through the entire tefillah do? The writer insists that “each of us has his ways of serving Hashem.” He is correct; indeed, my comment that some of the young men in question dress in a very frum fashion, even wearing a frock, was not meant to be derogatory. To the contrary, the recognition that one should honor Shabbos by dressing differently is worthy of praise. This is a very appropriate manner of avodas Hashem. Yet the notion that one cannot, on Friday night, sit through a 40-minute davening is hard to swallow. My friend, what would you do if you had to sit in traffic court for 40 minutes? Would you spend the time talking? Would you leave and go into another room? Neither would seem a palatable option, because the judge would likely not be amused.
I also wrote about a shul where on Shabbos morning, a group of men spends Kerias HaTorah and Musaf in an auxiliary beis midrash. I agree that the daytime service is long. But if one is truly interested in davening, yet cannot sit through the long service, there must be an alternative to simply deserting the shul for the last hour and a half of tefillah. One would hope that those who cannot stay the entire time in shul would at least return for part of the davening. For example, at minimum, there is no one who cannot daven Musaf in shul. The entire Musaf, with chazaras hashatz, takes about ten minutes. In that narrow space of time, you can be part of tefillah betzibbur and hear Kedushah as well. Think of the merit you will gain for yourselves and your families! Another option is to pick a shul that has a shorter davening. (And using a beis midrash to talk, simultaneously disrupting those who may be learning there, is simply wrong.)
With any spiritual difficulty that we confront, we must ask ourselves whether we truly are doing all we can to overcome that difficulty. If it cannot be fully resolved, perhaps small steps are in order.
Let me note that immediately after my letter appeared, a very prominent shul rav in the Five Towns called my home to compliment the contents. This rav said that he had been bothered by the same problem for a long time but was unsure how to address it. The rav of the shul where “Frock” davens also complimented my letter. And a friend called from Brooklyn to offer his praise. Clearly a nerve has been touched.
It is not my goal to belittle anybody or any place of worship. It was and will remain my goal to improve the atmosphere of our synagogues, so that our tefillos will rise, unimpeded, to Heaven.