My the­ory about what makes for rude shuls

The po­lite­ness of Pro­gres­sive ser­vices seems al­to­gether ab­sent in Or­tho­dox con­gre­ga­tions

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - JAN SHURE

SHORTLY BE­FORE the High Holy-Days, I at­tended a Shab­bat ser­vice at a pop­u­lar, in­de­pen­dent “Mod­ern Or­tho­dox” syn­a­gogue in the heart of Jewish North-West Lon­don. Through­out the time I was there (and I ar­rived dur­ing shacharit, and left af­ter Adon Olam), I could hear, com­ing through the win­dows, a ca­coph­ony from the shul play­ground, where up to 150 chil­dren were belt­ing around, shout­ing, laugh­ing and chas­ing one an­other. Th­ese were far from be­ing the feral chil­dren of Daily Mail scare-sto­ries, but they were run­ning wild, for at least a cou­ple of hours, without vis­i­ble adult su­per­vi­sion.

There was no chil­dren’s ser­vice for them to at­tend since this syn­a­gogue, in com­mon with many Or­tho­dox shuls, chooses not to hold chil­dren’s ser­vices on Shab­bat, in­stead let­ting the lit­tle dar­lings burn off their en­ergy out­doors.

In­side, mean­while — even eight rows back from the me­chitzah — I could hear the men catch­ing up on gos­sip and busi­ness with their neigh­bours in an end­less stream of chat­ter that barely ceased when the To­rah was raised for hag­bah, or when the rabbi was de­liv­er­ing his ser­mon.

My own back­ground is mid­dle-of-the-road United Syn­a­gogue. From when my chil­dren were ba­bies un­til they were well into their teens, I was in shul ev­ery Shab­bat, join­ing in the ser­vice, cut­ting cake for kid­dush and (I ad­mit it) oc­ca­sion­ally in­dulging in the odd bit of loshen hora (gos­sip, as it is known in the wider world).

Peo­ple chat­ted a lit­tle, but knew when to shut up. There were chil­dren’s ser­vices to oc­cupy the kids and if, af­ter those ser­vices ended, any young peo­ple were con­gre­gat­ing in the syn­a­gogue grounds, there were adults around to tell them to keep the noise down.

Th­ese days, when I go to shul (not so of­ten, I ad­mit), I at­tend a large Re­form syn­a­gogue where deco­rum is im­pec­ca­ble through­out the ser­vice. When they are not en­thu­si­as­ti­cally singing or chant­ing, the worshippers are so quiet you could hear a kip­pah drop. And the chil­dren are in chil­dren’s ser­vices, mean­ing that syn­a­gogue at­ten­dance is a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and a place where they un­der­stand that good be­hav­iour is ex­pected.

Which got me think­ing (cue Car­rie Brad­shaw Sex And The City- style words scrolling across the screen)… is there a slid­ing scale of deco­rum, with the most re­li­gious con­gre­ga­tions the nois­i­est and most per­func­tory in their par­tic­i­pa­tion, and the Pro­gres­sive con­gre­ga­tions those which demon­strate the great­est deco­rum? And, if so, could it be be­cause there is an as­sump­tion in the more Or­tho­dox con­gre­ga­tions that be­ing more re­li­giously ob­ser­vant lets you off the hook in terms of sec­u­lar forms of de­cent be­hav­iour, such as cour­tesy to­wards other con­gre­gants and the main­te­nance of dis­ci­pline over your chil­dren so that they show derech eretz? In other words, if you be­lieve you have the in­side track on God, do you be­lieve that hu­mil­ity and cour­tesy are un­nec­es­sary in a house of prayer?

Con­versely, if you are a Pro­gres­sive Jew and have been hear­ing the mes­sage, both overtly and sub­lim­i­nally through­out the en­tire 200-year his­tory of your move­ment, that your form of wor­ship is some­how in­fe­rior to the longer-es­tab­lished and more Or­tho­dox va­ri­eties of Ju­daism, do you feel the need to be ex­em­plary when it comes to your be­hav­iour in a House of God as a way of prov­ing that you mea­sure up?

But maybe there is a more pro­saic ex­pla­na­tion: in Or­tho­dox con­gre­ga­tions, where men and women are seg­re­gated, and haven’t seen their neigh­bours in the ad­ja­cent seats since the pre­ced­ing Shab­bat, there’s a lot of catch­ing-up to do. In Re­form, how­ever, you are sit­ting with your spouse — and how much news can you ac­cu­mu­late to ex­change be­tween break­fast and Mah Tovu?

Jan Shure is the JC’s travel ed­i­tor

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