Men are respectable only as they respect. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve noticed that the volume in a room is often in direct proportion to the comfort the people in the room feel. Parties can be unbearably loud. Cemeteries are appropriately quiet. However, there are multiple occasions where quiet is both expected and given. Official assemblies of all sorts will have their moments of quiet.
Synagogue prayer is a conundrum. On one hand, we want participants to be happy and comfortable. For many it is a great opportunity to catch up with friends, to relax and chat. However, we are also supposed to be there to pray to God.
Jewish law is unequivocal about talking during prayer — it is forbidden, besides being rude, insensitive, ego-centric and disturbing. Our Sages went so far as to institute a special prayer bestowing great blessings upon those who are careful not to speak in the synagogue.
The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 26:19 takes things a step further. He explains that when one is focused on his prayer, it is as if he is constructing a crown made out of prayers which is then placed, as it were, upon God’s head. However, subsequently, in some spiritual, mystical sense, that crown then returns to the prayerful person. However, those who instead of respecting the prayerful quiet choose instead to talk during the services, instead of receiving a divine crown, they will be punished. The punishment, states the Baal Haturim, is that they will receive thorns all over their body.
May chatter in the synagogue be diminished and may we be spared from any punishments.
To all the participants in the Maimonides Shabbaton. Thank you for a great Shabbaton and for quiet and meaningful prayers.