Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Time to Socialize?: Some Thoughts about Conversations during Shul/Rituals/Ceremonies

A (non-Jewish) co-worker of mine was telling me about an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah she attended over the weekend. Her observation: the congregants seemed much less respectful of the rituals taking place than she’d expected from such a religious ceremony. All around her, everyone was talking to each other – regardless of whether the Bar Mitzvah boy was reading from the Torah, the rabbi was giving a speech, etc.. She found it appalling.

I have to say, I was less than shocked. Though, admittedly, I haven’t been to shul in quite a while, when I used to go regularly to my parents’ MO shul, the chatting was so loud and constant, it required more than a few “shush”ings from the gabbai. Indeed, several years ago, the shul sent out a letter to all families requesting that everyone be quiet during services.

My favorite of such moments:

When I was 19, a bit more religious than I am now, I was sitting in shul next to my mother. During the entire Torah reading and davening, two women in front of me were chatting away, rather loudly. Then, the president got up to read the announcements and the two women to their right began to talk (quietly). One of the first two (chatting-during-davening) women quickly got annoyed and turned to the newest chatter with a loud, “Shush!”

Back to the general topic of talking during ritual/ceremonies: While I haven’t attended that many yeshivish-type shuls to discuss their in-shul chatting or lack thereof, I have been to numerous yeshivish (as well as MO) weddings. And one thing I can say: although there have been a few exceptions to this rule, generally speaking I’ve found that the more religious (/to the right/yeshivish) the wedding, the more (and louder) the chatting.

[I can’t confirm if this is true in shuls, too? Anyone else?]

It seems so paradoxical: why would the more fervently religious have such a propensity to talk at these seemingly sacred rituals? The first thing that popped into my mind is that the more “religious” (scare quotes deliberate) you are, the more weddings / bar & bat mitzvahs / services / rituals you’ve been to. (The number of wedding/bar & bat mitzvahs one is invited to tends to increase in Orthodox circles. See previous post for more on this.) Thus, each one becomes less special/sacred, as it were.

Maybe, though I’m not sure. Other speculations?