8 people (almost) every shul has but shouldn’t

I met David Sheril the other night at a fans house. He is the type of guy who I want writing posts for me and this beauty of a post proves why – I hope he can bust me out some more. For now – enjoy!

By David Sheril

The 140 Decibel Davener:

I was always taught that to make sure no words are skipped when davening, and to aid concentration, one should pray out loud. In fact that is one of my standard davening policies. But the individual I’m referring to takes this too far. Any person sitting within a 6 foot radius of them is literally robbed of the ability to think at all, let alone concentrate on davening. Unless you’re wearing those special earmuffs distributed by construction companies, it’s adios “kavanah”!

Included in this category is the guy who prays the silent amidah just loud enough for the person standing next to him to hear him clearly. Apart from being a non compliance with halacha (Mishnah Brurah states that the silent amidah should be recited just loud enough for a person to hear him/herself, which is much quieter than the volume needed to project the sound to the ears of the person next to you), it also ruins any hope of focus for that other person, who actually is reciting the amidah quietly.

The Endless Amidah Man:

Another thing I was taught is that the Shemonah Esrei (a.k.a Amidah) is the focal point of davening, and one should understand every word and concentrate deeply on their meaning. In yeshivas and local shuls it is common to find individuals who daven a very lengthy amidah, including within it their own personal prayers etc. and I say more power to them. But here’s the thing: I have nothing against the time-span of their amidah, but where they situate themselves during that time-span. More than once I have missed a bus, or had to stand feet-together for the rest of the services (and that’s quite a while on a day when there is a Torah reading during shacharis!) because someone decided to stand behind me and engage in a Neilah-worthy Shemonah Esrei. It’s not like an extended amidah just sneaks up on a person, you know the approximate duration of your davening, so move all the way to the front, or to somewhere else that will not inconvenience others.

The Nusach Neglector

This is my all-time favorite, especially if coupled with the first category in this article (“The 140 Decibel Davener”). I will just say this: Numerous poskim state clearly that it is prohibited to daven out loud if your customary nusach differs from that of the shul in which you are praying. Countless times I have witnessed people in a “nusach ashkenaz” shul launch into the Mussaf Kedushah with a bellowing “Kesser yitnu lecha…”, and vice versa, and that is but one of many examples. R’ Moshe Feinstein even goes so far as to call a person guilty of this a “Poretz geder” (literally “one who breaks a fence”) – “Causing a rift in the congregation”, about which it is stated in the book of Koheles “???? ??? ????? ???” – A “poretz geder” (deserves to) be bitten by a snake!

Here’s the choice: Daven your nusach silently or watch where you step!

The Self Appointed Gabbai Sheni (backup gabbi):

We get it – you’re wealthy/knowledgeable/well connected/a self-proclaimed leadership personality etc. Here’s a tip on public relations and human sociology: unless you’ve been asked by the congregation to accept the responsibility, which would have to mean you’re actually liked by the general praying public, stay out of the limelight, or you may end up wondering why the only kiddushim you’re ever invited to are the ones that you pay for.

The Verse Verbalizer:

In my short lifetime I have visited dozens of shuls, on 4 different continents, and this individual is a staple in practically every one I’ve stepped foot in. Community rabbis have a lot on their mind at any given time, as most of them learn several different topics, each in depth, during the course of every day.
It is when the Rabbi is delivering his sermon and pauses to recall the wording of a specific passuk that The Verse Verbalizer yells out the desired phrase, shattering those few moments of silence. Apart from making the Rabbi look so dull-witted that he needs to rely on some guy who luckily remembers a couple of pessukim from his Bar Mitzvah such an exploit, please see the last sentence of #4.

And yes, I’m aware that “verbalizer” is not a real word. Neither is “davener” but no one complained then…

Capitan “Von Schleppen”:

Even the finest of mornings can be severely dampened by this individual. The collective sigh emanating forth from the congregants seated in the rows behind you alerts you to the personage determinedly marching by your seat – “Captain Von Shleppen”, a man who’s davening is so schlepped (drawn out) it even makes the rabbi whimper.

A polite comment should suffice if the only reason this person is davening from the amud is a “Yohrtzeit”; it’s not really his fault, and he may himself not be such a fan of leading the congregation. But affirmative action should be taken with the gentleman who fancies himself a professional cantor, whether his assumption is correct or not, because the moment he approaches the lectern people start rearranging that day’s schedule, or clearing more room on the table to rest their heads.

Unless the congregation specifically requested “chazzonus” or lots of singing – bottle it up. If you love singing so much, you can entertain your family with all the zemiros under the sun. Don’t make people leave with a bitter taste in their mouth. On any given weekday people have appointments to keep and on Shabbos, people are hungry and want to get home to enjoy, what is sometimes, one of the only family meals of the week without being worn out from a mind-numbingly prolonged davening.

The Unknown Tune Chazzan:

I racked my brains for a catchy name for this category, but the simple and obvious really drives the point home.

Again, we get the drift – You own a copy of that “Lag Ba’Omer Carlebach kumzitz” tape rumored to have been lost during the mid-sixties in a freak hailstorm, or the very latest Jewish music record that reached stores only this morning. Either way I’m sure you’re quite proud of yourself (and in one of the two scenarios, you should be!). So how about a few statistics to help clear up your misunderstanding:

  1. Roughly 98% of Jews in the world have never heard more than the 10-12 most famous Carlebach songs. That adds up to about 98% of the congregants of any Shul on earth, and age doesn’t make a difference to the numbers.
  2. About 2% of religious Jews buy/listen to every song recorded and sold. 99% of that 2% are between the ages of 15-25. Younger than that and it’s Uncle Moishy, older than that and a person realizes that a song/singer is not necessarily pleasant to listen to just because a recording of it/them has been produced.

There are 2 groups of people in a shul – the ones who are there to daven and the ones who are there to socialize. The reality is that by choosing a mostly unheard of tune, you are alienating the only group willing to back you up during the course of a service. Any commanding officer will tell you that slighting the troops is not the best way to gain their much-needed support. Apply example to case in point. Lather. Repeat.

The Kiddush Club Corrupter:

I know this is a group not a person, and yes, I know I’m arousing the anger of the largest unofficial society of synagogue attendees, but before I get lynched, allow me to clarify:

A shul can tolerate a Kiddush club with very few members and, in my opinion; age is not the standard by which to judge this problem. To illustrate:

Age Shame Level

15-20

Minimal: You have yet to go to yeshiva and understand the beauty and holiness of davening, but you should still try to be in the shul if you’re already at shul

21-40

Moderate: You do know better and should be in the shul, not stuffing your face. But at least you’re schmoozing is not interrupting the davening/leining.

41-60

Minimal: You’re getting older and need a break from your grandchildren who are staying with you for Shabbos. Some hot pastrami and schnapps is just what the doctor ordered.

61-120

Non-Existant: You are officially old enough to not care about what anyone else thinks, and the fact that you turn up for davening gets more impressive the older you become.

But what truly saddens me is the individual, no matter what age, who brings his 6-12 year old son/grandson with him to the Kiddush club. I am willing to cut some slack to a person who tried but never really “got into” davening. I’m even willing to extend that slack to people who are simply apathetic about the sanctity of davening, or just plain lazy. It’s hard to follow the Hebrew, davening can be schlepped, leining can get pretty boring and you’re probably still dreaming of getting back into bed for a Shabbos afternoon “shluf” of record breaking proportions.

But by taking an impressionable child with you, you are conveying the message that Kiddush club during services is the acceptable way to daven. Most members of any Kiddush club will admit that what they’re doing is wrong, but that they need it to get through davening for whatever reason. Be that as it may, a child has not yet made such a decision, nor learned anything about the beauty and effect one can find in prayer. These vulnerable minds are being robbed of the ability to make that choice – and that is a crime.

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