Sunday, August 26, 2012

To Talk in Shul

I was digging through some old posts for something and came across an old post that was very near and dear to my heart. Thus, I started writing this blog post.

Several years back, I attended shul at probably the most talkative congregation on the face of the planet. The entire experience was a mess for me -- someone who cherishes the silent moments while davening or listening to Torah reading or being in solitude with someone saying kaddish. I love what I like to call the "organized chaos" of an Orthodox service -- when there are places for loud or communal davening, the voices intermingled whooshing upward are beautiful to me. But the rest of the time? Silence is golden.
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 then there is the Mishnah Berurah citing the testimony of the Eliyahu Rabbah who writes in the name of the Kol Bo saying, "Woe to those people who speak during the prayers. For we have seen several synagogues destroyed as a result of this sin."

So what's to do? According to a halachic ruling by the Kaf HaChaim, a person who habitually talks during prayer should stay home and pray alone, rather than bring others around him down to his depths of disrespect, making him a chotei u'machti es harabim -- a sinner who casuses others to sin and forfeits his portion in the World to Come (olam ha'ba).

I understand that so many people come to shul to be social, but there's a reason most synagogues have a social hall. There's a sanctuary, there's a social hall. I guess I don't understand why for some these two spaces have to be the same. Is it really so difficult? And with more and more studies coming out showing that multi-tasking is a myth, you can't really say that someone wants to be present for the Torah reading but also be social -- you're not taking in the parshah if you're talking, and you're sinning by talking during the reading anyway.

What do you think?

Note: These texts come from a two-part bit in "Praying with Fire" -- one of my favorite mini-books.