Monday, November 11, 2013

Why does talking in shul bother you?

Some time back, I was in a minyan at which a family was celebrating a happy occasion. They had quite a few guests, including people who quite clearly were not regular shul attendees.

As happens when people see each other after a long hiatus, there was a good deal of conversation among those gathered. The noise disturbed some people davening near them, causing them to Shush loudly.

I turned to one of the Shushers and commented that the talking these people were doing didn't bother me much; I am far more troubled by the noise of people who know the value of davening, and talk anyway. To which the Shusher pointed out that their talking was disrespectful toward those around them.

I've thought quite a bit about our attitudes toward shul, and toward shul decorum, as my various posts on the topic on this blog indicate. But in contemplating that brief exchange, I had a thought that I had never formulated in quite this way before: Neither of us had our davening disturbed by noise itself, but rather by the issues accompanying the noise. He am disturbed by disrespect. I am disturbed by a lack of spirituality. It's not the noise, it's the baggage.

What do you think?

13 comments:

  1. I try not to let things like decorum, speed of davening, or air conditioning bother me. I've seen disagreements or arguments about all of the above, and it is the discord that bothers me more than anything else.

    With regard to decorum, I am happy that people come to shul - especially if they are not regular shul goers or are not "into" the tfilla. And if talking is the only way they can handle a long unfamiliar or uninspiring service that is unfortunate, but shushing them won't solve the problem - just make the experience worse for them. If the level of noise distracts my Tfilla, I try to find a different seat where it is quieter - as a rule the front third of the sanctuary normally have available seats and is normally quieter :)

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  2. I am disturbed by my curiosity and my own limitations as a davener. Often overhearing a word or two could set me multitasking between my siddur and trying to follow their conversation. Too often what I hear engages my interest, if not more than saying the same words yet again from the siddur, at least enough to pull my mind away from finding meaning in it.

    So to me the issue isn't decorum, it's efficacy as a house of prayer.

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  3. I am upset by noise and by lack of decorum and spirituality, in different ways. If regular shul-goers are talking, I get upset about the lack of respect for the shul, for other people davening and the wasting of an opportunity to talk to G-d. I get less upset when I see young children talking as they don't know better (and part of me is glad to see them feeling comfortable in shul). This applies even in parts of the service where I am not davening, like the repetition of the Amidah.

    But I definitely do get distracted by talking (and loud davening) when I am trying to daven. I'm the type of person that gets distracted easily by noise (I can't work with music on, for instance) and even a low level of whispering where I can't work out what is being said can be very distracting.

    Of course, loud shushing can be just as distracting and disrespectful as talking (disrespectful to G-d, the shul and other daveners and also to the talkers who probably shouldn't be publicly rebuked like that).

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  4. As the sign I once saw on the wall of a shteibl in Queens said: If you come to shul to talk, where do you go to daven?

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  5. Speaking as someone who grew up attending a shtiebl, I don't associate decorum with spirituality. There is a decorous, G-d As King, way to approach minyan. It's emphasized among Yekkes, the way Young Israel's take out and return the Torah, etc... But it doesn't play a large role in my nostalgia and thus in my relationship to shul.

    I can handle people noisily davening around me. And that's non-decorous, but actually (in my experience, YMMV) adds to the spirituality of the shul.

    But if they're talking about something I can half-hear and think might be interesting...

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  6. I agree with David's point about children's noise generally not bothering me during davening. What I have a hard time with is what I see as willful neglect for the fact that someone else is actually talking to God.

    Imagine if everyone had thought bubbles over their heads as they davened. You might see some really inane things, but you might also see stuff like 'please God don't let my wife die of cancer'.

    If you were in a hospital waiting room and you heard someone say that would you feel comfortable continuing your conversation with your friend? I think more likely you would probably take the conversation elsewhere because you appreciate the gravity of the situation and the in-congruence of your behavior in that place at that time.

    The same is true here, but even more so. It's not the noise per se that I have the issue with it is the fact that those causing the noise, and I would include those who don't normally frequent a shul because ostensibly they know what a shul is for, either don't really believe that anyone in that room is actually talking to God, or haven't taken the time to stop and realize what that means.

    I expect the latter from a child, not an adult; any adult.

    Personally, I sit in the back of the shul were the talkers are. And whenever there is talking I daven for the talkers. I daven that Hashem should forgive them and that their talking in shul should cease. They are not always meizid, but they are not really shogeg either, perhaps its is p'shiah.

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  7. "Imagine if everyone had thought bubbles over their heads as they davened."

    I'm more for the Cone of Silence

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  8. Thanks for all of the comments and personal reflections.

    To an extent, it seems that we have a distinction between being distracted (no animus, just finding kavvanah more difficult) and being disturbed (more of a reaction to the disrespect)?

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    1. Or maybe those who are both distracted and therefore disturbed, personallly offended that the other doesn't care enough and those who are disturbed by the disrespect to the institution, G-d, the community -- on a non-personal level?

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  9. Talking during davening only bothers me when it is loud. Where I have grown up and currently daven, most people talk during davening, myself included. Therefore, it would be hypocritical of me to shush someone. That being said, if you are going to talk-do it quietly. That being said, one thing that does bother me is people who normally talk, getting upset at a child or a parent for their child. You can talk all you want, but get upset at a child for being a child?

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  10. When I am asked about talking during davening, I always think back to my years as a litigator. In my experience, no litigant or lawyer would dare speak when court was in session when it was not appropriate to do so. Would a litigant dare to speak out of turn and risk upsetting the judge who would ultimately determine the case? The smart litigant would show the proper respect and deference to the judge. Shouldn't the same behaviour apply to the Judge of all judges?

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    1. Maybe this shows that people don't really believe they are before a Judge in shul.

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  11. The most stressful and distracting speech is when the rabbi, gabbi, or president talk during davening. These are the ones who are always stressing the importance of not talking, and yet they find some exemption for themselves. It's distressing because, as I've heard from others, talking shortens one's life (assuming one should know better). If so, we are watching people shorten their lives by this behaviour. Not feeling any pain during such talking would be problematic.

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