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Points of View
Sanctuary Much--Again
My Point of View, July, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Every now and then it seems that the matter of conduct in and out of the sanctuary during Shabbat services becomes an issue. Ironically, the guests who join us for celebrations are pretty well behaved (or respond to my requests for cooperation). Instead, our own members — often our regulars — have a relaxed attitude about what goes on during Shabbat services.

Some synagogues in Israel have signs that read, "It is forbidden to talk during prayer time!" Aside from the absurdity of applying those words literally, the presence of that admonition reflects both a theological and sociological reality. Worship is a time for prayer, not conversation. But the prohibition would not be codified as Jewish law if it were not for the natural desire people have to enjoy each other's company. Our sanctuary will never bear such a sign. However, the principle still applies. If you wish to say more than a few words to your neighbor while we are in the midst of davvenen, please step outside.

For those reasons, our ushers (who are volunteers, please remember) have instructions to control the traffic in and out of the sanctuary. During Barkhu, Sh'ma, the Amidah and the actual reading of Torah and Haftarah, it is inappropriate to enter or leave the sanctuary. Similarly, when someone is addressing the congregation (most often the rabbi, as it happens), it is distracting for people to come and go, except, of course, if the matter is urgent. Please do not argue with the ushers if they remind you of these courtesies.

Given the patterns of arrival and departure that are familiar to all of us, it is not unusual for a small crowd to accumulate outside the doors of the sanctuary. Those doors are not soundproof, and the cumulative noise of conversation can be disturbing to worshippers within. People arrive early to claim the coveted seats in the very back, so later arrivals are asked to be considerate. By the same token, a place in the rear of the sanctuary conveys no special authority to instruct or greet congregants.

Finally, I remind you again that parents are responsible for their own children. It is not a transferable responsibility, unless your kids are in the care of our organized and supervised activities. Kids will be kids. Kids should be kids. We love them too much to ignore unsafe, unsupervised, or disruptive behavior; an adult's desire to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer is not an exemption from parental responsibilities.

The fact is, you know everything in the paragraphs above. I encourage you to gently remind each other when someone forgets (emphasis on "gently"). But I conclude with the admonition you each remember from when your parents heard inappropriate sounds coming from the basement playroom: Don't make me come down there!

Have a great summer.

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