Volume 26 Number 21
                      Produced: Sun Apr  6  8:46:11 1997

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

A travesty of the highest order
         [Freda B Birnbaum]
Alzheimer in shul
         [Eli Turkel]
Alzheimer's victim in the synagogue
         [Saul Mashbaum]
Synagogue Travesty
         [Russell Hendel]
         [Yehuda Poch]


From: Freda B Birnbaum <fbb6@...>
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 1997 12:26:03 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: A travesty of the highest order

In v26n16, Chaim Shapiro vividly describes the thoughtless and heartless
treatment of an elderly person in shul.

Thanks for what obviously was a painful post to write.  It's a strong
reminder to all of us to get our priorities in order.  What an appalling
scene.  We all have such a brief window of being on top of life, not
dependent on other people... the least we could do is look out for those
who are not.

Freda Birnbaum, <fbb6@...>
"Call on God, but row away from the rocks"


From: Eli Turkel <turkel@...>
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 1997 11:56:17 +0300 (IDT)
Subject: Alzheimer in shul

    Chaim Shapiro's remarks reminded me of a story I heard from Rav

   In a conservative shul in Boston a blind man walked in on yom kippur
with his seeing eye dog. The shul asked him to leave because they did
not allow dogs in shul. The man refused stating that he could not
function without the seeing eye dog. The president of the shul then came
and hit the blind man and threw him physically out of the shul. After
yom kippur the blind man called the state attorney's office to file a
complaint against the shul. In turn the state attorney general called
Rav Soloveitchik with the story. He explained that he could file charges
against the shul only if the man was halakhically allowed to come to
shul with the seeing eye dog. Rav Soloveitchik asked the attorney
general why he was called especially since it was a conservative
shul. The attorney general responded that Rav Soloveitchik was the
recognized halakhic authority in Boston and so the attorney general
would rely on the Rav's psak.

   The Rav then gave us a lengthy discussion of the halakhic issues. The
bottom line was that if one would allow a blind guest with a seeing eye
dog into his house then he can come to shul with it. Since the Rav
assumed that no one would object to a seeing eye dog in his own home he
paskened that a blind man could come to shul with his seeing eye dog.

    After the halakhic portion was over the Rav expressed his amazement
how a president of a shul on yom kippur could physically attack a blind

Eli Turkel


From: Saul Mashbaum <mshalom@...>
Date: Tue, 01 Apr 1997 11:01:08 GMT-2
Subject: Alzheimer's victim in the synagogue

Chaim Shapiro's description (mail-jewish Vol. 26 #16) of a pitiful
Alzheimer's victim being ejected from a synagogue is moving, and there
is no doubt that the party involved deserves our fullest
sympathy. Nevertheless, I wonder if Chaim is not being unnecessarily
harsh in his condemnation of the congregants and rabbi. I am not at all
sure that the unfortunate victim's removal from the synagogue is in fact
"a travesty of the highest order".

I have had some first-hand experience with some aspects of the situation
Chaim describes. A very close relative of mine suffered from Alzheimer's
disease for several years. This wonderful woman, when well, was a kind
and gentle person known for her midat ha-shalom (peaceful
quality). However, in the course of her illness she went through a
period of socially disruptive behaviour. I cannot describe how painful
it was to me to see her in this state. Nevertheless, despite my
tremendous sympathy for her plight, I do not believe that it is obvious
that such a person belongs in the synagogue, when his/her uncontrollable
actions disrupt the prayers of others.

Having someone whose behaviour is disruptive to others removed from the
synagogue is not dependant on the disruptor's responsibility for his
actions.  As a simple example, if a baby was screaming in the synagogue
and disturbing the prayers of others, Chaim would have no problem with
the baby's being removed, as he indicates in his posting. Tragically,
the party Chaim writes about may well be likened to that baby; this is
of course very sad, but that doesn't affect the fundamental right of the
congregation to pray undisturbed.

Of course, if the victim involved was insulted in the course of his
being removed from the synagogue, Chaim's indignation is quite
justified. Sadly, many people are very selective in their sympathy for
the handicapped. For example, some people who wouldn't dream of laughing
at a blind or crippled person who fell in the street wouldn't hesitate
to ridicule a retarded or mentally disturbed person who "fell on his
face" socially. It's possible that some people in the congregation
related to the unfortunate Alzheimer's victim with open contempt and
derision; this is in fact a basis for criticism.  For some reason, it
simply doesn't occur to some people to treat others with certain
handicaps with sympathy and respect.

I have a concrete suggestion for Chaim. The elderly gentleman involved
seems to have a need for social contact, and probably has almost no
visitors.  I propose that Chaim approach the rabbi of the shul and
suggest that he visit the elderly gentleman on a regular basis, and
encourage others in the congre- gation to do so. If even only a handful
of people respond, he'll still have visitors regularly. I should point
out that visiting Alzheimer's victims is often a very frustrating
experience; often they don't respond at all, and sometimes they respond
inappropriately. Nevertheless, it's a tremendous mitzva. It's better to
light a candle...

I conclude with a prayer for a "refuah shlema" for the elderly gentleman
Chaim described, among the ill of Israel.

Saul Mashbaum


From: <rhendel@...> (Russell Hendel)
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 1997 13:09:19 -0500
Subject: RE: Synagogue Travesty

I just read Chaiim Shapiro's shocking description of throwing an
alzheimer person out of a synagogue because of noises he made. I would
like to offer my support for his shock with 4 midrashic/halachic/legal

1) A famous verse in Proverbs states: "He who closes his ears from the
screams of a poor person, even his prayers are an abomination." The
application of this verse in this situation is straightforward.

2) The Biblical Prohibition (Lev 19) of "..showing cordiality to the
face of an elder" seems to me to apply even if the elderly person is
sick (Analogous references to "elder and sick" occur in halachic
commentaries on Lev 1). If anyone has sources on this it would be

3) When I was a little boy we had an alzheimer person in our
synagogue...he would always literally scream the first verse of Shema.
Everyone in our synagogue including of course the Rabbi treated this
person with sympathy and respect. No one ever suggested throwing him out
or even talking to him

4) My brother, a Judge in the Israeli court system had a case a few
years ago in which elderly (wo)men were being pushed down to take their
pocketbooks.  A case came before my brother. He passed down the harshest
sentence possible. Maariv, an Israeli newspaper cited him as saying "The
Bible says to STAND up before the elderly and these criminals are doing
the exact opposite of PUSHING THEM DOWN."  My brother told me that you
could hear a pin drop when he said this in court and passed
sentence. Furthermore, this type of crime stopped after this sentence.

So in summary, I agree wholehearetdly with Chaim; his shock is fully
consistent with our tradition. As my brother's case shows if harsh
measures are taken against the perpetrators of these deeds perhaps it
will stop.

Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.d. ASA; rhendel @ mcs drexel edu


From: Yehuda Poch <yehuda@...>
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 1997 14:41:40 +0200
Subject: Re: Travesty

Further to Chaim Shapiro's words:

>Last shabbos I was disturbed to see what I felt was a violation
>of a shul's honor to the highest degree.  You see, over the last month,
>I have witnessed on a regular basis (4 times) an elderly man with
>alzheimers kicked out of shul because of uncontrollable noises he made
>caused directly by his disorder.

I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion.  I am not a member of this
shul, and I have no compunction about writing these words publicly and
asking you to transmit them to the rabbi and various members of your
shul on my behalf (if not on yours, I can understand).

The famous story is told of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who was reciting Kol
Nidre one Yom Kippur eve.  Instead of the usual three repititions, he
said it four times, and then a fifth.  The members of the congregation
were aghast.  Here was the Ba'al Shem Tov, one of the greatest tzadikim
of his age, repeating Kol Nidre extra times, and coming dangerously
close to tfila levatala.  And he was really crying with a look of pain
on his face as he did.

Finally, one young shepherd boy, who had no knowledge whatsoever of
tefilla, or of Hashem, but who was moved to express himself, blew on his
whistle.  Loud.  He interrupted the whole shul, to the point where many
of the members of the congregation were ready to throw him out.  THe
Ba'al Shem Tov stopped them.

He explained that he repeated the Kol Nidre extra times, and that he was
crying so hard, because the gates of shomayim were closed to his
tefillos.  He was not getting through, hard as he might try.  When that
innocent boy blew on his whistle in an effort to take part in the
tefillot and be closer to Hashem, he did it with a heart purer than even
that of the Ba'al Shem Tov, and his whislte opened the gates of shomayim
so that all the tefillos were accepted.

I am a ba'al tefilla for the yamim noraim.  And every year I wonder if
my tefillos are getting through.  I have most kavanna when I recite the
prayer of Hineni, describing how I am but a lowly servant, not worthy to
be sent as an emissary for everyone else's tefillos, but here I am
nonetheless.  That tefilla means a lot to me, because of what it says.

When I am in shul davening, throughout the year, or on yamim noraim, I
am upset that I cannot have the proper kavanna.  I am upset that tefilla
seems to be more of a habit than a meaningful experience most of the
time.  I see most of the ba'alei batim around me, honoured and respected
members of the community all, who come to shul and talk about the week's
events, the social lives of their neighbours, and all and sundry other
topics, but spend little time actually davening and conversing with
Hashem.  In a way it is nice to see the community come together and
share their lives with each other.  But not during tefilla.  When I see
how the rest of the people act in shul, in many communities and most
shuls that I have been in, it proves to me that I am not the only one
who has trouble finding the right path to increased kavanna.

So it is with great respect that I see, once in a while, a person, man
or woman, who comes to shul with the idea that this is the house of
Hashem, and the only purpose to even coming here is to be closer to Him
and His Torah and His way of life.  It doesn't matter if that person
actually davens or not.  That person could just simply blow on a

Recently, I have had the distinct honour of being accompanied in shul on
a few occasions, by a small child, two years old.  During the procession
of the sefer torah to the aron kodesh after davening, I see the
excitement in that child's eyes as he points to the Torah and asks to
kiss it.  To a small child, the highlight of the morning in shul is not
who davened for the amud, or what tune he sang, or what "news" there is.
The highlight is that the Torah -- Hashem's gift to the world, is so
close that he can touch it, and feel it, and kiss it.  He can see the
words, even if he can't read them.  And he gets so excited, that he
talks about it for hours afterwards.

This child, and the boy with the whistle, belong in shul.  They give
more honour and more respect to the institution of shul, and to Hashem
as well, by their presence, than do hundreds of thousands of ba'alei
batim who spend the majority of their time in shul on other matters, and
often don't realize what aliyah they are up to or where in the siddur
the chazan is davening.

I was totally disgusted to hear of the efforts of the ba'alei batim and
the rav in a shul who prohibited a man with alzheimers disease from
taking part in shul.  People with this disease cannot help their
condition.  It is very difficult for them to make the trip to shul, and
the effort they expend on it is greater than the effort a normally
healthy person would expend to go to shul 100 times.  I have seen the
effort that they undergo to get to shul, and it is truely monumental.
That effort in and of itself -- that overwhelming desire to be in a
place where Hashem is worshipped -- that in itself is worth more than
all the kavanna most ba'alei batim can ever come up with.

To simply hear a groan from a person with alzheimers and assume that
such a person cannot control himself and is therefore a disturbance is
truly insulting behaviour.  ESPECIALLY when all around him people are
talking about such inconsequential things as are usually discussed in
shul.  Perhaps shul is not the place for someone whose desire is to be
close to Hashem.  Perhaps such a person is being done a favour by being
forced to leave shul.  He needs a place where it is holy and close to
Hashem, and not a place abused by its patrons and defiled by the lack of

For such ba'alei batim, and such rabbonim, who would throw out such holy
people as this Alzheimer's victim, a simple boy with a whistle can teach
them all a valuable lesson in avodas Hashem.  A small two-year-old boy
can teach them all a valuable lesson in the wonder and awe with which
Hashem should be esteemed.  And until these lessons are learned
properly, these ba'alei batim will struggle along, never sure if their
tefillos, such as they are, are getting through the gates of shomayim.

Yehuda Poch


End of Volume 26 Issue 21