[Note: Haveil Havalim is here at My Shrapnel!]
I know rabbis who complain about chatter in shul and comment that Christians know how to conduct themselves in church. They say, “Imagine if someone who was not Jewish would come to shul – wouldn’t you be embarrassed?” A popular theory explains the allegedly contrasting experiences, arguing that Jews feel a greater sense of at-homeness in shul because they are (theoretically) present for twice-daily davening, where churchgoers are only present on a weekly basis.
I’ve always felt the claim of “Churchgoers are more decorous” was weak, along the lines of asking, “Why can’t you be more like the neighbors’ kids?” when we all know the neighbors’ kids behave ten times worse than we do. Now, Time Magazine offers proof, reporting on preachers who not only tolerate, but actually promote, Twittering during services and speeches. (CNN coverage here.)
The argument in favor of tweeting promotes this as a way of building community during worship, as well as a way of showing that the church is in sync with the modern world.
I hear these arguments, but it's not for me. Obviously, it wouldn't be acceptable on Shabbat, but even during the week I wouldn't go for it, not during davening and not during the speech.
We do promote minyan and communal worship in shul, but still, our worship is supposed to be private, personal.
During Psukei d’Zimra, we all say the same things, but we say them individually. [Note: This is not universally true, and wasn’t always the way it was done, but it is the way Ashkenazim have done it for centuries.] This is also one reason for our emphasis on having a silent Amidah.
One congregant of mine labelled it “parallel play,” a la the style of very young children who will play in the same room, with the same toys, but act as though they are alone in the world. I think she was right – that’s what we do. We want everyone to do it together, but we still do it personally. So having people communicate with each, even positively and even focussed on prayer, seems to me to defeat the purpose of our silence.
I wrote more on Silent Prayer here, but to quote one passage:
Silence is also an expression of spiritual depth… Consider Aharon’s silence at the death of Nadav and Avihu, and the praise heaped upon him for his articulate inexpression. Consider Chanah’s silent plea for a child… a servant of Gd, nobly stoic in her suffering. And, finally but most significantly, consider the contrast between Eliyahu’s thundering rage and the Divine קול דממה דקה with which Gd rebukes him, a sound so thin as to be nearly inaudible, and yet deep enough to contain the majesty of the Creator of All. This is a silence of presence, of pent-up power, of tzimtzum, of a Being who surely can thunder like Eliyahu but who chooses the containment of Chanah. To me, the silence of Shemoneh Esreih is an attempt to capture this noble state of expressive restraint.
Some time back I had a Shabbat guest in shul who conversed with his seatmate whenever I rose to speak. It was incredibly distracting for me, to the point that I actually went over to him privately and asked him to stop.
I hated to do it – both in terms of embarrassing him, and in terms of looking like I was concerned for my own honor. But it wasn’t about my own honor; it was about the fact that when I am addressing a room, even a big room with 150 people in it, I get distracted if I someone in my sightline is conversing, and once I am distracted I can’t speak intelligently. I get completely thrown off.
I imagine Twittering would have the same effect on my concentration.
So no Twittering during services, thanks. Let the churches have fun with it instead.
Your mileage may vary, of course. I attended a meeting at a Conservative temple last week, and saw a sign banning texting during services. Maybe they’ll read that article and post a new sign promoting it…