What kind of seating does your shull have?

If you have noticed I have been slacking in the responding to comments department, I am on vacation sort of, so bear with me because I will still post and get to comments later than usual. I have some good stuff up my sleeve and just have to find the time to organize it.

What kind of seats does your shull have?

It used to be that pretty much every shull had wooden benches, if you were lucky they had those little red cushions for added support during long stretches of sitting, like during laining. Sometimes they added velvet backs, padded arm rests and little shtenders in front all for the comfort of the seasoned davener. The padding wasn’t every where of course, and many fols including myself had to suffer while sitting on dark wood grain benches devoid of any cushioning materials, while holding our siddurs in our hands because there were no supports in front of us.

Of course this was back in the day when things were simple. Back when there was one large shull for a community and everyone davened in piece. Enter the breakaway shull and everything changed, the basement shull was invented, the rented room shull in some day school was invented and the living room breakaway minyan was also invented, and with that other ideas of how folks should sit were born. Folding chairs once thought of as primitive and unholy were brought en masse to cinder block walled rooms in the rear of yeshiva gyms as the breakaway minyan took hold.

Suddenly instead of the classic dark wood benches, there appeared to be a cultural shift in the ideas of shull seating. Stadium seating replaced the old tired benches in large shulls to compete with the individualized folding chairs of the day school minyan. Foot rests and shtenders were added to the traditional benches as well as cushier red velvet padding. Little dividers like in subways could be seen and all the sudden the large bodied people had to choose their shull based on seat width, when back in the day the large seamless benches made all shapes and sizes feel welcome.

Overview of shull seating:

The Bench:

Usually made of a dark well worn wood, this traditional shull seating method could be seen with countless small deviations. Most of the time a small magen dovid is carved into the sides, underneath the very sought after arm rest. The first seats to go in bench shulls, are the sides of the bench, which allow for easy retreat to the Kiddush club, bathroom and positioning for shmona esray. This of course depends on the bench design. Those with mdeuim height armrests are most sought after, since leaning on your arm to sleep during the Rabbis speech is best. Higher armrests allow you to hang your arm off the bench end and go for the whole cool rebel look, the relaxed with your hand out the window soaking up a farmers tan look. Rounded armrests are much more popular then square which tend to clue you into how old the bench is, square armrests tend to be present on benches that were placed in Conservative shulls that were bought out by orthodox ones, as conservative Jewry lost members in the last few decades. Rounded ones are much more orthodox and older.

I have never seen a cushion colored other then blue or red. Most of them are velvet or bumpy rough material designed to prevent you from lying down in shull. In recent years velvet has come under controversy, since people tend to come to shull while rolling on E, and then proceed to rub the velvet bench cushions repeatedly. As many of you know red has been banned in many ultra orthodox communities and that goes for shull as well, even more so because it attracts wandering eyes towards the ladies section where red may accentuate their looks more then necessary.

The benches also allow those who want their own place to set their claim, rather then peeing on their spot, they just keep some ugly cushion with wheels, to set their claim. Maybe they will have a gel seat or neck pillow as well, sometimes they have a whole butt padding convention going on, and usually they like to leave dirty tissues around to prevent any trespassers.

Folding Chairs:

As stated before when the breakaway minyan was invented which happen to coinincide with the establishment of a left wing branch of modern orthodoxy that demanded shulls have lower mechitzas and the woman wear lacy doilies instead of hats, many frummies felt ostracized and formed what is known as the basement shull in Monsey and Brooklyn. Since most of the shulls were started by bal habatim with little resources for shulls they scrounged for chairs and usually came up with a mixed assortment of folding chairs, dining room sets and chairs that were purchased from public schools that were closing down and have the local school district name on the back.

Then the Arab oil embargo ended and plastic prices went down, this event combined with Wal Marts bid to take over the world and cheap post Vietnam labor prices, brought the price of plastic folding chairs down to near zero. Suddenly old metal folding chairs from public schools, cast away dinette sets and random milk crates ere replaced with the popular and mass produced squeaky white and black plastic folding chairs. You know the ones that feel as if they will break whenever someone who weighs more then 50 pounds sits on them. The ones that creak and moan during any sort of shuckeling effort, and then ones that must be folded to say shmona esray in any old basement shull, because there never can be enough room.

Stacking Chairs:

Hard to explain, but these are the ones that even have little carts that can carry a whole stack of these. They are usually cushioned and usually don’t break, in fact besides for the fact that they sound like death during those parts of davening like slichos when sitting and standing happen every two minutes, they are pretty sturdy and comfy chairs. They also have an easy handle to carry them when you want to make your own seat, you know when they are all next to each other and some rebel (usually me) wants to make more room for himself, you can just push over the whole row, this is never possible with regular old folding chairs due to their unsteadiness.

Stadium Seating:

I think Lincoln Square synagogue, other wise known as Wink and Stare was the first shull to install stadium seating. The shull in fact looks like a boxing ring with a glass mechitza that acts as a physical divivder but in no way does it seem to mesh with orthodoxy, which tends to favor the Berlin Wall over the glass. Anyway stadium seating is tricky, because you think its gonna be a great experience, until you realize that stadium seating in shulls requires that they mess with your leg room, and foot room by placing drawers where your feet would normally go and shtenders where your legs would normally fold.

Stadiums seats are also annoying because they tend to slam back and make noise when you get up, they also may not go back at all, forcing you to push them back and down when you sit on them again. They also offer no place for you to your head down, because you almost never get an aisle seat, forcing you to rub your neighbors thighs with yours.

Room issues aside, stadium seating is normally found in modern orthodox shulls for some reason, maybe it’s a money issue, maybe they are trying to compete with wealthy conservative shulls for attention, don’t really know why that is.

I have even been in a shull with a retired seat, and this could really only be done with stadium seating. Stadium seating also allows you to buy seats more efficiently for high holidays and they allow for more comfortable sleeping during sermons and shull president announcement.