Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Koheles for Kids?

I received an interesting question the other day: If you were running a minyan for young teens (12-15), how would you handle the reading of Koheles? Would you force them to deal with the 30-minute interlude, holding their Stone chumashim and likely staring off into space for long stretches, or would you find some creative way to handle this, perhaps abbreviating the reading?

[The following paragraph was accidentally omitted from the original post, and added several hours later:] Our Sages registered the same concern regarding the Book of Esther and the Haggadah, despite their gripping stories, and solved the problem by adding read-alongs to Esther (Mishneh Berurah 689:16) and distribution of toys prior to the Haggadah. (Pesachim 108b)

In general, I believe in the idea of abbreviating in certain parts of davening on a temporary basis, for the sake of building kavvanah. However, I have a hard time with the idea of abbreviating Koheles; it's only read once each year, and so the kids won't end up hearing the whole thing. Also, they are a tzibbur, and a tzibbur should read Koheles; this is not the same as having individuals skip certain paragraphs of Tehillim in pesukei d'zimra.

Another option might be to interrupt the reading with questions about the text, but I'm not clear on how that would work here. Even if the kids could be drawn into real discussion, the trade-off would be elongating an already-too-long reading.

Another option: I've been told that there was a minhag in certain communities, going back centuries, to split up Koheles between the opening and closing days of Yom Tov. This might be worthwhile.

For the most fun, perhaps there could be a "drinking game" variation for Koheles. Postpone the reading until after musaf, make kiddush, and then distribute bows of corn chips, pretzels, etc. Every time you hear "hevel", pop a pretzel. Every time you hear "ra", have a corn chip. Etc. The kids would read it, and the dentists would love you...

What would you do?


  1. I think it's refreshing that you're discussing these issues - at least where I'm from, there is not much thought in this manner.

    Also not sure why you'd limit it to kids. What percentage of adults are following Koheles through the end?

  2. Gary has a point.

    But I must tell you that I love the book and quote the themes all the time.
    Nothing's new.
    There's a time for everthing.
    Don't invest in norishkeit.
    Abridge it with translation to make those points, like the public readings of Eicha. And have a discussion during kiddush or other youth activities, breaking into three groups each to prepare one of those points.

  3. The Koheles reading should be scheduled such that an explanatory sermon can precede it. At least the adults would then have a handle on its basic concepts.

  4. The last idea about a drinking game is interesting...we don't have this problem. Sephardim don't read Qohelet publicly.

  5. There is zero halachic requirement to read kohelet. And while the Rebbetzin's Husband frames it as an obligation on the tzibbur as opposed to an obligation on individuals like pesukei dezimra, it's not. It's not an obligation on anybody. It's a minhag. And as the Rebbetzin's Husband alluded to, it's a minhag that has developed over time.

    And while it's true that the minhag originally was to split up OTHER megillot among a number of yamim tovim EVENINGS and motza'ei yom tov, Kohellet isn't even included in Mesechet Sofrim 14:16.

    At most, the issue is the minhag of the synagogue, which is fluid.

    And if the issue is the kids won't hear Kohelet read at all, big deal. It's not like they get anything out of it anyway. As Gary said above, neither do the adults, even if the message of kohelet is very meaningful to married, learned, established rabbis.

  6. Gary-
    I think we are licensed to expect more from adults, particularly in a book like Kohelet. I disagree with Melech; I have seen many people, rabbis and laypeople, observant and non-observant, find great meaning in Kohelet, and even during the reading in shul. One member of my shul was so moved by the reading of Kohelet that he spontaneously dedicated a klaf for the shul for the following year.

    Does a minhag of over 1000 years really have no hold on us? I disagree.

    And re: adults, I made my point above.

  7. I didn't say it has no hold. I'm just clarifying that the issue is one of synagogue practice rather than one of halachah. And once it's one of minhag (and I doubt it's 1000 years old), the rules of the game change.

    I have no idea what to do about it on a practical level. But before we discuss options, we need to know exactly what the nature of the practice is.

    My issue is suggesting it to be more chamur that pesukei dezimra which you wouldn't have an issue shortening if need be.

  8. Oh, I take that back. It actually COULD be 1000 years, or close to it.

    Earliest I could find is the shaarei dura, the student of the Maharam MeRotenberg.

    By the way, the Igrot Moshe notes that the takanah is to read Kohelet SOME TIME over the course of sukkot, and lav davka during davening on chol hamoed sukkot. So that might be a starting point to a solution for the kids.

  9. I agree with Melech's last point. Read it all at once at a different time (e.g. after mincha). Then, you could even heighten the importance by reading from a klaf and with a berachah, like the Gaon of Vilna held(now that everyone's quoting all sorts of different customs re: how it can/has been read). The problem with breaking it up is that it ruins the flow of the message.

  10. There are two separate issues here:

    1. The "halachic issue" of synagogue practice, the minhag of kohelet being read in shul.

    2. The didactic lesson of Kohelet, what an awesome message it contains that the kids will miss if the megillah isn't read.

    One needs to be careful not to rely on the "halachic issue", such as it is, if one's real issue is the second.

    The issue of synagogue practice is certainly not insurmountable. When rabbis want youth minyanim to skip Yizkor (even the communal parts for Kedoshim of the Shoah and Tzahal), they manage to find a way. All sorts of parts of the tefillah are skipped or shortened.

    Additionally, it's not like Kohelet is being skipped altogether -- it's still being read in shul, just not in this particular youth minyan.

    So really the issue is the kids are missing the Kohelet story. But as Kohelet himself says, He-chacham einayv be-rosho: when the kids are spaced out, and additionally it makes davening too long for them and makes them not have proper decorum and kavanah for the actual obligatory parts of the very long davening on sukkot, I'm not entirely sure one is accomplishing anything by insisting the kids sit through 45 minutes of something they neither understand nor are listening to for the most part. Kids simply don't have the attention spans to sit through Kohelet. They aren't getting enough out of it to warrant the price you're paying by leining it.

    The question then becomes: do you skip the minhag altogether, or keep some heker or remnant? For example, you can lein chapters 1,3, and 12 in order that the kids learn we lein kohelet. Or maybe supplement with a dvar torah about the concept of futility and vanity. There are things you can do if the goal is the didactic lesson of the megillah.

  11. The youth minyan is the training ground for future shul members. How do we want these kids to learn to deal with boring parts of davening, which cannot be avoided? Will it be okay to skip the עשרה הרוגי מלכות on Yom Kippur - because it is boring? Or will we give kids tools to learn to deal with boredom - a necessary skill and emotion.

    Skipping Koheles also tells the kids that the rabbinate thinks they are not as religiously devoted as their parents. The Youth minyan then becomes a way to daven b'di eved. The Youth minyan should be presented as a social opportunity geared for the high level of commitment of the teens (expectations will influence self-perceptions)

    I would not recommend adding explanations and speeches. Shabbos Chol Hamoed davening is long enough, adding speeches to it would make it lethal. But what do most adults do during parts of the service they find boring (ex: haftara, chazaras hashatz?)

    Well, path 1 is kiddush club - the pretzels and chips seems like a good training for that, or path 2 is people read. That is why the shul is always so full of those "fluffy" divrei Torah. Ask some of your more committed teens to create scavenger hunts, graphic divrei Torah, some trivia questions, or some light divrei Torah reading for the teens. Don't hand it out, but leave it out in piles in the back and let the popular kids know they can take it during koheles if they find their mind is wandering.

    Those who take the reading materials will feel good about how they use their time even if they don't attend to the leining itself.

  12. I have a lot to say here, but am swamped. I appreciate the thoughtful comments from both sides; I think this needs another post in the (near?) future.

  13. Anonymous:

    The reality is that youth minyanim DO typically skip parts of davening, from korbanot to yizkor. If one wants to argue that the nusach hatefillah of the main shul is inviolate, then be consistent. Additionally, sometimes youth minyanim add extra parts, such as yedid nefesh which may not be the minhag of the main shul.

    And I am certainly not sure youth minyanim have to train kids to deal with the boredom of synagogue services.

    As for not adding explanations and speeches, again, that's would just exacerbate the boredom of the kids.

    I do agree that shortening kohelet is problematic. I can hear the argument better to omit it entirely than to shorten it, since shortening it is neither here nor there, and I think gives over the wrong message.

    So too pretzel games. I am not comfortable with that, and better to omit it or shorten the leining.

    But kids are not mini adults. How kids react to, and deal with, boredom in shul is not the same as adult coping mechanisms for shul.