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Let he who casts the first ‘shoosh’

Rules of engagement in the epic battle between the talkers and the hushers in synagogue

I was talking in shul. Maybe a little too loudly. But then the subject demanded it, and I was trying to keep it down a bit. And besides, no one could really hear the bar mitzvah boy anyway.

And that’s when I was “shooshed” in a big way. It was a full body shoosh. A dramatic swivel, a turn-around-to-face-us reprimand. It was the full angry explosion of a man who doesn’t get much of a word in (being Jewish) at home, and it was a bit embarrassing actually. I am 47 years old (just) and I felt like I was at school. Only I am not.

“Shoosh! It’s enough already!” he choked. His face was red and his eyes were bleeding. I had never noticed his ears before, but they too were in full flight. Pulsating and angry. His son next to him was cowering, both afraid and in awe of his very brave dad. It was the shul version of a bar-fight, only we didn’t have the alcohol to actually enjoy ourselves. No chairs or limbs were broken and only feelings were hurt. And it ended there. Or so he thought. Because as he returned his thin frame towards the front, he did so having purchased my full attention along with that of my co-accused. We felt violated and uncomfortable, so much so that I even had lost the thread of my conversation. And I am pretty sure it was important.

And that’s the problem with “shooshing”. From the moment that you cast that stone, you had better be darn certain that you are only a hairsbreadth away from owning all God’s attributes. In every aspect of your behaviour. It goes without saying that you dare not speak in shul. Ever. Even if it’s in six week’s time and even then it’s because you are debating the interpretation of a piece of text with the Moses himself.

You had also better stand up and sing “Mazal Tov” at the top of your miserable voice, while clapping your rejoicing hands when that bar mitzvah boy ends his debut. And you had better pay attention to the rabbi as he addresses the child that you fought so hard to protect. Because if you don’t, and if by chance you opt to learn a piece of Talmud whilst the rabbi addresses the new little man, and you sway as you learn (distracting us listeners), then the person you have shooshed is going to wonder if your version of acceptable-shul-behaviour is any better than his. And you really don’t want that. Because then nothing has been gained.

It must be really annoying not to be a talker. I get that. I know that there are people who actually go to shul to pray and not to socialise (but like the Loch Ness, I remain doubtful as to their authenticity). I get that it’s disrespectful to fellow attendees, to the rabbi, to the chazzan and to the bar mitzvah boy (bless him). And of course to God Himself. Because He hates talking. But hell, sometimes the length of service, and the fact that there is so much to cover, makes it a real challenge.

Which brings me to the looming High Holidays. 45 hours in shul over 3 days. What’s a guy meant to do? I am certain that even God couldn’t pay attention for that long — not without medication. What’s more, the service will be packed and we will be at close quarters and I just know, deep down, that I will be seated next to the thin bloke who thinks that it’s enough already.

About the Author
Howard Feldman is a lawyer, a physical commodity trader by industry and a writer by obsession. He is very active in the Jewish community and passionate about our world.
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