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What You Miss When You Talk During Shul

Published: (Updated: ) in Jewish News by .

Sitting in shul can become a mindfulness exercise.

The post What You Miss When You Talk During Shul appeared first on Jewish Journal.

 

I spent Shavuot in another part of town and therefore missed being in my neighborhood shul to celebrate the holiday. The two shuls where I am most active have excellent decorum during services. One of the shuls has earned a reputation as overly strict in their no-talking during services policy, which sometimes turned off newcomers.

But I like it that way. It’s not always easy to focus on a prayer in practice. There is an architecture to each service, poetry in the Tehillim and a backstory to the prayers. It has taken me many years to earn the level of appreciation I now have for davening, and I still have a long way to go. A quiet shul provides the spiritual space to focus on furthering my connection to prayer without being distracted by other peoples’ irrelevant conversations.

On the second day of Shavuot, I missed my shul even more when a woman sitting two rows in front of me began talking to the woman next to her and wouldn’t stop. She kept it up even as the Torah was being read — and here we were, celebrating the gift of the Torah itself. How does someone just talk over God like this? It felt like the height of insensitivity.

I understand that there is an important social aspect of going to shul, and talking is that social glue. I love seeing my friends at shul and chatting with them during kiddush, too. Maybe this woman felt starved for the connection she had missed for so long during the pandemic. But honestly, when is it ever okay to talk during a time carved out for us to talk to Hashem? To talk when Hashem is speaking to us?

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Naturally, there are people who disagree with me. One friend defended talking in shul as adding to a feeling of vibrancy in a community. But we Jews are already a talkative people. We may be accused of many things, but a lack of vibrancy isn’t one of them. In a world where talk has become so cheap and incessant, the quiet in shul really is holy and necessary space. And when our voices rise together in sincere, communal prayer, at the right moment and at the right time, it is beautiful.

It was hard for me not to feel angry at this chatterbox, but I know that anger is one of the most destructive of all character traits. If I gave in to it, it wouldn’t stop the talking; it would only bring me down emotionally and spiritually. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, as the Torah requires me to do. But this was a tough one. If she was discussing something of substance, wouldn’t she take that conversation elsewhere? If her conversation was time-sensitive and urgent, why did her expression remain so casual? She gestured with her hands, and her numerous diamonds sparkled. She had certainly dressed with care to go to shul. Even as I kept my eyes focused in my chumash, I saw her disrupting motions in my peripheral vision.

We sat in shul as Israel was under attack from thousands of rockets fired from Gaza. With my phone and computer off for Yom Tov, I had no idea what news there might have been about the fast-moving and heartbreaking developments. I was worried about our people, our land, about the war spiraling out of control, about rising anti-Semitic violence and anti-Semitic political talk, now even coming from some in Congress. Lies about Jews and about Israel were being shot out in the media faster than the rockets. Shul is one of our only refuges, where we can hear truth in our prayers and from the Torah. We dare not drown it out.  It shocked me that given all we have been through in the past year, with the Meron tragedy so fresh and now with more war, this woman had not been humbled into at least a temporary ceasefire of words.

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Fortunately, I realized I felt more pain than anger at her. It can be hard to understand or feel the relevance of each Torah chapter — maybe reading just one article a week on any of the terrific Jewish content websites about the parsha could help her feel more connected. We cannot connect without understanding, and understanding takes effort.

But Torah is our life force. Without Torah we are not a people. Without it, we are lost.

Many people are uncomfortable with silence. We are so used to sensory overload that when silence descends, we may rush to fill it with our own noise. But sitting in shul can become a mindfulness exercise. If you don’t know how to pray, breathe mindfully. Focus on one prayer or one sentence of one prayer that speaks to you and reflect on it. Sit in quiet solidarity with the congregation; pray for healing for the sick. Offer silent prayers from the heart, for your family, for the Jewish people, for peace for all of humankind. Every sincere prayer matters.

Sitting in shul can become a mindfulness exercise.

The Haftarah reading that day included a vision by Habakuk of our exile from our land. At one point the man chanting it was overcome with emotion and had to stop to compose himself: “Oh Hashem, I have heard Your news of impending exile, and I was afraid; O Hashem, during those years, keep Your accomplishment alive; during those years, make it known, amid rage —remember to be merciful.” 

This happens so often — the Torah or the Haftorah reading exactly mirrors what is happening in our lives at that very moment. God is talking to us through these holy writings. It is riveting, sometimes spine-tingling, when we read and hear its relevance to our lives. Listening to the emotion in the man’s voice, followed by his silence, and then his continuation of the reading, was one of those unforgettable and poignant moments of connection that I believe I will always remember.

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It would have been such a shame to have missed it.


Judy Gruen is a writer and editor. Her books include “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith.”

The post What You Miss When You Talk During Shul appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/columnist/336825/what-you-miss-when-you-talk-during-shul/

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