Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shul What-Ifs

I was reading a piece on CNN's site about odd declarations in job interviews (examples: "I have a problem with authority." "You touch somebody and they call it sexual harassment!" "I've never heard such a stupid question." "What is your company's policy on Monday absences?") and was reminded of something I contemplate every once in a while: Shul What-Ifs.

Over the years, I’ve had a few What-Ifs - unexpected and/or awkward moments, the sort of occurrence you don't expect to happen, and which you need to handle immediately. These include congregant outbursts, kids running amok (moreso than usual, yes), a sefer torah nearly being dropped, a fire alarm being pulled by accident, a cell phone ringing during Shabbos davening, a man seating himself in the women’s section, etc.

Every once in a while, though, I wonder how we would handle something truly unusual. As in:

• During the rabbi’s speech, someone stands up and starts singing the national anthem;

• The chazan for musaf says the repetition of the amidah, word for word, backwards;

• All of the people sitting in an entire section of the shul stand up for the silent amidah – and recite it aloud;

• All of the people sitting in an entire section of the shul stand up for the silent amidah – and turn to face south while reciting it;

• All of the people sitting in an entire section of the shul stand up for the silent amidah – during the Torah reading;

• A sinkhole suddenly opens up under the bimah;

• The rabbi abruptly halts mid-speech, and sits down.

I like to contemplate these cases (especially if the chazan goes on too long… now you know what I’ve been mulling all these years…), and wonder what would happen in my shul in these situations.

What would happen in yours? And what unexpected/awkward circumstances have you witnessed?


  1. Or teh REALLY fun ones -like what if some guy walks in and interrupts the drasha claiming to be Eliyahu? ;)

  2. • The rabbi abruptly halts mid-speech, and sits down.

    I've seen this happen.

    Unfortunately, it was because people in the congregation were disrespecting the rabbi by talking in the middle of his speech.

    The Wolf

  3. Didn't the Malbim get arrested for treason in the Middle of a Shabbat Drasha and was carried away by the Hungarian Police (after congregates who wanted to get rid of the Rabbi informed on him to the authorities).

    now THAT surely beats anything that you could imagine...

  4. At the Glen Avenue shul in Baltimore I saw a non-Jewish man wander around, ask several people 'what page are we on" and pay attention to the answer. He then went upstairs to the women's balconey and was eventually asked to leave.

  5. Tzipporah-
    Eliyahu can't come on Shabbos. Book 'im.

    Ouch. That's sad.

    I don't remember the story, but, yes, that's a topper. Unless it's Eastern Europe/Russia and the middle of one of those communal fights they've been having for the past decade or so, re: control of the community.

    Anonymous 3:41-
    Interesting; I wonder what the back story was.

  6. In our shul the bimah is on wheels and my father often wonders what would happen if it were to roll away during the Torah reading.

  7. I've seen a baal koreh walk off of the bimah b/c he felt there was a halachic problem w/ the person who was called up for an aliyah.

    I've also seen a full blown fist fight erupt over seating during a regular Shabbos (not even during Rosh Hashana/ Yom Kippur).

  8. Not an in-shul story but definitely a rabbi's duty story. Two sets of feuding muchatonim at their childrens' wedding. A fist fight breaks out during the dancing between the two fathers. It almost breaks out between the two mothers as well. (Put a real damper on the festivities, to say the least.) The mesader kedushin, one of the couples' shul rav, was asked what he would have done if the fist fight had broken out before the chupah. He blanched and said he honestly didn't know. Years later he says that he still has nightmares about the scenario and what his response should be.

    Postscript: the couple got divorced after a few years. I would imagine that bad family relations had something to do with it.

  9. former allentownerJuly 22, 2009 at 9:07 PM

    technically, halachically, nothing wrong with a man sitting in the ezrat nashim (if he's not davening). but, of course, disrespectful to the congregation, and disrespectful to the women.

    2. there is an unwritten law in the us, that a rav's drasha can be no longer than 11 minutes.

    i have seen rabbis conclude whatever they were saying at 10-1/2 minutes, no matter what. perhaps thats an option. conclude no matter what.

  10. rav... why are you giving people ideas? :-P

  11. Something that happens almost every Shabbat I'm a a guest in a certain NY shul: During leining, just before the bracha, the rabbi tells everyone to be seated. I've been taught to stand for the bracha. So, of course, I stand up.

  12. I was once a substitute rabbi and during the מי־שברך לחולים when people were telling me names to add, someone asked if they could add a dog.

  13. Ahh. What is the Rebbetzin's Husband policy regarding regarding מי־שברך לחולים ?
    Do you recommend everyone saying the name from their seat or do people come up to the bimah in single file?

  14. Daniel-
    Some twenty years ago I saw that done to someone on purpose, on Simchas Torah. For the record, I do not approve.

    Oy and Double Oy.

    The Oys have it.

    I'm not sure this is correct.

    Life's been a little dull this summer...

    Frummer than the rabbi? (kidding)

    What did you say to him?

    We keep a list. We allow people to give the mevarech new names, and then the mevarech says, וכל הנרשמים בדפי החולים.

  15. During the rabbi’s speech, someone stands up and starts singing the national anthem;

    I haven't seen that, but I have seen the rabbi be heckled.

  16. Ooops! it was a cat, not a dog. anyway...

    They asked if it were appropriate to add their cat, so i told them that it wouldn't be quite appropriate to add the cat to the מי־שברך itself, but i would do something else. So i finished "collecting" names, and then continued with the מי־שברך — and then after it was all finished, i paused, and then improvised something along the lines of
    וכן ישלח רפואה גם לחתול הנזכר

  17. Jack-
    I've heard of heckling, too - as well as a shul in which someone punched a heckler in the nose.

    A cat? Now I understand. Anyone dedicated enough to take care of a cat would likely be dedicated enough to try to get it into the mi shebeirach...

  18. I've witnessed these:

    1. It was so noisy in shul, at least in the section I was in, and someone near me had finally had it. He turned to the one most responsible for the talking and said, "For Chr**sake, would you be quiet?!"

    2. A man was upset his recently donated Sefer Torah wasn't being used. It was Rosh Chodesh or something else, and his Sefer was used for Shabbos. He said, "Why the he** aren't they using my G***amn Torah?"

    3. It was P. B'shalach - Kriyas Yam Suf and the baal kriyah was going exceptionally slowly. I think it was a bochur who had just come back from his year in Israel and wanted to show how frum he'd become. But that's another story. Anyway, this man was so frustrated as we all were. He yelled out, "If you go any slower the Mitzrim will catch us!"

    Come to think of it, maybe these were all the same guy.

  19. Wanna Saab-
    Wow, those were great. I may use #3 someday!