[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]
I've written quite a bit about the phenomenon of talking in shul - two of my favorite posts were in the summer of 2008, here and here - but a few weeks back, a two-second tableau gave me a new thought.
A child, somewhere around 10 years old, had just finished watching a video in a child-oriented, game-filled public facility (situation anonymized to protect child and parents), and he instantly declared to his parents, "I'm bored!"
The kid was surrounded by things to do, and people to do them with.
He hadn't tried to engage himself in anything. He hadn't worked at anything.
He just wanted to be entertained, and when the entertainment stopped, he was bored.
Watching this, I wondered: Is this the shul problem? Is it as simple as the fact that we anticipate, and feel entitled to, entertainment, so that the moment we are not entertained, we turn to others in the hope that they will fill our need?
We keep multiple windows open in our browsers while at work, so that we can take frequent breaks for entertainment.
We have Ipods and Iphones, as well as the old stand-by books and radio and tv, to fill in every moment with chatter and comedy.
We eschew privacy and quiet personal time, in favor of screens populated by those who will make us laugh or cry. How many people are left who just sit and think for any period of time?
Nirvana said it - "Here are now, entertain us!"
I've blamed the shul decorum problem on a whole host of other factors - long davening exacerbated by a multiplicity of mi shebeirachs, synagogue layouts that place people in close proximity for hours at a time, lack of education on the power of silent tefillah, lack of a nucleus of silent daveners, distaste for intensity, lack of depth in the approach to mechanistic ritual, and so on. And all of these are true and real.
But at its core: Are like that pre-adolescent kid, seeking entertainment? Is it that simple?