Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Passion, Fire, and Self-Respect: Part II

I posted a few days ago about my frustration and dare I say disgust with a weekend spent in a certain community -- from the way people talked their way at full volume through the davening to the jungle-like attack on the kiddush table after services. And a lot of you agreed that it's a problem. To be honest, the latter is of less importance in the long run, and people's manners are something I can't exactly change. It can be attributed to how we're raised, what our parents tell us is right and wrong, our own perception of decency and self-respect, and having respect for those around us. People, I'm sad to say, lack a general filter for right and wrong when it comes to manners nowadays, and I find this pervasive among the Orthodox Jewish community. I'm not saying people live in filth and are out-and-out rude -- there are exceptions to every rule and assumption -- but overall, I'm frequently blown away. Now, maybe I'm partial but I can think of two communities (including for the most part my own) where this isn't such a problem.

But the talking during davening? This exists everywhere. Everywhere except maybe a few select shuls where if you talk, you're really, seriously chastised with an unverbal, eye-piercing excommunication from the sacred space.

Interestingly (one of those "wow" moments), the readings for the weekend in my "Praying With Fire: A 5-Minute Lesson-A-Day" addressed the very issue that I was experiencing. Maybe it aroused more anger in me, maybe it brought the situation fully into perspective. I joked about taking the book with me, and shouting to the people what exactly our sages have said on this very issue of talking during davening. But I didn't. Instead? I'm going to share it with you here, and maybe I can alter how some of us (we're all imperfect; even me!) carry ourselves in shul, while davening.
"The harm done by disturbing others (by talking during prayer) is so substantial that the Shulchan Aruch rules that to avoid disturbing others, a person saying Shemoneh Esrei should not raise his voice in prayer (Siman 101, Se'if 2). ... If this is the halacha regarding voices raised in tefillah, one can surmise that there would be no tolerance for disturbances created by voices raised in casual conversation."
The text goes on to discuss various rabbis who cited the cause for certain  massacres being because the community didn't respect the shul, they spoke during davening, bringing harm upon the community. I think this is a little harsh (at one point it is suggested that the reason the Sephardi community was saved from the Holocaust is because of their strict rules NOT to speak during davening), but interesting to ponder at any rate.

The Zohar identifies a person who speaks about worldly matters in synagogue as a "kofer b'ikar," -- a heretic (Parashas Terumah 131a), and the Roke'ach adds that one who speaks during prayer is guilty of "masig g'vul" or stealing the sanctity of the synagogue (Hilchos Teshuvah, Siman 26). One text goes so far as to say that he who speaks in shul is "chillul Hashem" -- desecrating the name of HaShem.

And this text was made for me: "The impact of talking during prayer is sometimes perceived more keenly by newcomers to Judaism (that's me!), who have not become desensitized to it. They cannot reconcile the great divide between what prayer truly is and how it is sometimes treated." Now, I see the divide, I'm just really annoyed. The author goes on to discuss that if this is the impression to a new comer or ba'al teshuvah, imagine how the children feel. If they see it, they can't discern what is normal and what is not, and thus talking during services is the "norm" -- it perpetuates the myth that this is in fact okay.

In essence, by talking during davening, you're negating the mitzvah of davening by committing the sin of nullifying the prayers! It's a horrible cycle. Why don't people see that? On Shabbat, for example, a person is 13 blessings short of the required 100. Throughout Shabbat, we fulfill the commandment by eating various foods and delicacies, but if we fall short, we compensate by listening to the blessings said over reading of the Torah and the Haftarah and responding Amen. But if we're talking during all this, we probably fall short, and where's that leave us?

Let us talk to G-d quietly, in devotion that is personal. After all, "there is too much ugly noise in our world today." Why bring more?