Maintaining decorum in the Synagogue

Praying in Synagogue

In conjunction with preparing a short study session for the Tikkun Leil Shavuot on the subject of talking in synagogues and the blessing the Tosfos Yom Tov Lipman Heller wrote for those who do not talk during prayers. I found an interesting article by (Irving N. Levitz, “Talking During Tefillah: Understanding The Phenomenon” in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society XXXIII [Spring 1997]), and discussions around it, which enlightened me further about decorum at the Synagogue and the holiness of the Sanctuary, I had written in previous posts and which troubles me.

We know from various sources in the Zohar in Terumah 131a and the Talmud Shabbat 32a that we should not think of a Synagogue as a social hall, rather than a place of prayer were the Presence of God should be revered.

Levitz quotes sources from the Mishnah Berurah and Shulchan Aruch the major authoritative codices of Jewish Law,  that decisively rule that socializing is prohibited and forbids idle chatter in a synagogue as well as it forbids eating and drinking there. His study was implemented by the Orthodox Rabbinate in the US and the UK to spread the awareness of not talking in shul.

However, an authority in Chassidic Judaism, Rabbi Jacob Minkin describes that it is a fairly common practice to eat at certain Synagogues and Shtiblach and to have social events in the Sanctuary. This is particularly relevant to Chassidim who have all sorts of meals and discussions and intentionally do not create Synagogues but instead make communal buildings in which to perform all of their communal functions, including prayer.

It is also mentioned in the Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 51a, that in the Synagogue in Alexandria, people would sit together by profession and origin, and help each other. And it is seen as a good thing.

Modern rabbinical orthodox authorities as Rav Moshe Feinstein (Orach Chaim 1:45) and The Piskei Teshuvos (151:21),  spend a great deal of time defending contemporary usage of the synagogue for purposes that contradict the explicit rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah. They even allow to build a synagogue today with implicit conditions on the building’s usage that are beyond Beit HaT’filah a House of Prayer but also to be used as a Beit HaKnesset, a House of Assembly.

It is though up to us to maintain decorum when in our Sanctuary it is certainly less an issue than it is in Orthodox Synagogues.

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