Jews Talk Too Much…. But Not Enough to God

In recent visitations away from home, I always try to find the nearest synagogue to walk to on Shabbat. Most recently I attended a bar mitzvah in a Conservative synagogue

It was a spacious sanctuary, men and women were permitted to sit together and women were called up to open the Aron Hakodesh,  (Holy Ark) to remove a Torah scroll and carry it to the central platform from which it would be read.

During the Torah reading, the only voices that could be heard were those of the reader and the one chosen for an Aliyah, the honor of reciting the 2 Torah blessings.

One could literally hear a pin drop. No other voices were heard. No one telling the person next to him where he and his family were planning to go on their next vacation. Should it be a cruise on the Danube or a visit to Bhuddist shrines in Thailand?  The food is not kosher but the massages are great.

No one was complaining of Donald Trump’s snub of the American allies, France, Germany, England or Canada. No one was expressing anger or concern that our IDF had not been successful in shooting down the Gazan kites which have caused extraordinary fire damage to our fields and nature parks.

No one was expressing disappointment with Bibi. Would he be indicted? Would Sara (hopefully) be indicted? No one seemed to care about the trivia of the day. They were there to speak with God.

The Jews in that synagogue were too busy listening to the portion being read from the Torah and whispering their own very personal prayers and petitions to God.

On another synagogue-hopping visit to a large Reform temple, it was quite similar albeit that since everything was in English and a choir of lovely voices accompanied the music of the organ,  I felt that I was in a church rather than a synagogue.  In spite of it, the Jews were there to pray.

But in both of the non-Orthodox houses of worship there was immense respect for the religious service.

“Ad raba”… on the contrary … not so in most Orthodox synagogues where idle chatter is the rule rather than the exception. Jews walk in and out of the synagogue at times convenient for themselves. A nine o’clock Shabbat service can find men arriving at nine-forty five or ten o’clock. Of course, this is an observation rather than an exaggeration. But an observation I have seen in the Orthodox synagogues of the 45 countries which I have visited !

As the chazzan chants the prayers, it is too frequently impossible to hear him over the din of idle chatter.  Jews have a habit in  many (perhaps most) Orthodox synagogues when meeting and greeting friends, of entertaining unnecessary and disturbing conversations. They talk too much but not enough to God.

In my Orthodox synagogue I would like to hang up a sign on the entrance door:

“Dabru l’chaverim ba chutz. B’bet haKnesset dabru l’ Kadosh Baruch Hu”… Speak to your friends outside; In the synagogue speak only to God.

I’m sure such a sign would only increase the conversations. “Who wrote it? Who hung it up on the door? It is an insult. It’s nobody’s business if I want to talk to my friend inside. Who made this rule, the Likud or the Bayit HaYehudi? Probably the work of some haredi nuisance”, etc. etc.

And the chatter goes on unceasingly.  I find this to be true in my Orthodox synagogue in Rishon, in synagogues in Tel-Aviv, B’nai Brak for sure and in Jerusalem for a certainty..with the exception of the magnificent Bet HaKnesset HaGadol, the Jerusalem Great Synagogue with it’s close to 100% of decorum. Probably because most of the worshipers are non-native Israelis but rather Jews from Anglo-Saxon countries where decorum is a must.

Israelis love to talk. Silence is not a feature in our culture or society.  And with all the chatter, is it possible for prayers to ascend and to be heard at the Throne of the Almighty?

When Sarah wanted to be rid of Abraham’s concubine, the non-Jewish Egyptian Hagar and her son Ishmael, Abraham provided them with food and skins of water for their journey into the wilderness.

When the water was finished and Hagar saw her son dying of thirst, she sat him under a tree and walked several paces away in order not to see Ishmael’s suffering. She cried and she prayed. And an angel appeared from heaven to comfort her. “Do not weep, Hagar. God has heard the prayers of the child ‘ba asher hu sham’… from the place where he now is.”

That is to remind us that God hears our prayers from where we are. Even over the noise of the chattering worshipers.

Nevertheless, as I raise  my voice above the noise surrounding me, I fervently wish that my worshipping fellow Orthodox Jews would have kavod.  .honor and respect..  for the place and for the intended meaning of being in God’s House.

Let them talk to their friends outside.    But in God’s House,  talk only to God.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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