Avi Rockoff

Too Much Shul

The Holidays finally ended last week.  For our sins, we in galut experienced these as three three-day Yomtovs in four weeks.

When people are stuck together for too long in close quarters, they start snapping at each other. When these close quarters are shul, outbursts of annoyance may be expressed in halachic terms.

On Shemini Atzeret, a stranger appeared two rows behind me. I didn’t notice him until, after kedusha in shaharit, the fellow to my right at the end of the row said something to the man in front of him. This was interrupted by a very loud SHHHHHH!  I don’t know about you, but I find aggressive shushing more distracting than the chatter it is supposed to stop. Looking behind, I saw the shushing source to be a rather cross-looking gent sitting by himself.

My neighbor to my left turned to make an observation about something.  This too elicited a SHHHHH! from the decorum monitor.  My neighbor lowered his voice to a whisper.  That he got away with.

When davening was over and we headed up the aisle to the exit, I saw our visitor getting into it with Ben, whom he had apparently shushed as well.  Ben had not taken kindly to this.

“It’s assur to talk during tefillah!” declared the guest.

“Well, I find talking to my friends spiritually inspiring!” countered Ben.

This kind of religious debate is about as edifying as two five-year-olds shoving each other while arguing about who started.

There are, indeed, religious rules about things.  Most of us who follow these rules know that we sometimes bend them to get along with people, or to survive dozens of hours chained to our seats.  While our visitor may have been technically “right” about quiet in shul, he was less punctilious about other kinds of rules, like the unwritten one about not insulting your host, even if he acts like an uncouth boor.

Of course, you don’t have to be a visitor to quarrel about nothing much after being closeted in shul for days at a time.  Regulars argue about many things too:  Why don’t we start earlier so we can get out?  Why don’t we start later, so we can sleep in?  Why didn’t I get a pasuk for Ata Har’eta until after that newcomer who never shows up?  Why didn’t I get a hakafah until #6?  Why did they pick that guy to read Kohelet, when he takes so long?  (Ironic, given the theme of Kohelet, but irony never gets in the way of a good kvetch.)

If I haven’t seen them, all over a lifetime of shul-going, I’ve seen most of ‘em.

I’ve also watched these weighty disputes vanish like morning mist the minute Yomtov finally ends, as we all finally get to return to regular routine, religious and otherwise.  Weekday shaharit complete in 35 minutes.  Imagine that.

Free at last!  Z’man herutenu may not come till Nisan, but that doesn’t mean we can’t experience a foretaste of freedom at the end of Tishre.

Now there is something to shout about.  Outside of shul, of course.

About the Author
Avi Rockoff came on aliyah with his wife Shuli in March 2022. They live in Jerusalem. His new book, This Year in Jerusalem: Aliyah Dispatches, has been recently published by Shikey Press.
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