Volume 40 Number 82
                 Produced: Fri Oct 10  5:13:48 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Children in Shul (4)
         [Rachel Swirsky , Batya Medad, Leah S. Gordon, Robert J.


From: <swirskyr@...> (Rachel Swirsky )
Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2003 08:47:31 -0400
Subject: Children in Shul

It seems every year I reply to this same topic.  And every year I say
the same thing.  Shall we say that a Baal Teshuva not be allowed into
shul until he or she is able to daven without needed to ask any
question?  Should a diabetic not be allowed in to shul because he or she
might need to eat periodically?  Or how about the elderly who might need
to go in an out to go to the washroom?  Are we to keep out the mentally
challenged?  Those with Turrets?  Where do we draw the line?  There is a
woman who sits near me on the high holidays.  Children and adults alike
know her as the grumpy lady; any sound will get you a LOOK and a
nasty shush.  This year she shushed me and told me I should know better
because I coughed.  Am I to be banned from shul as well?

I grew up sitting with my mother, my grandmother and my
great-grandmother in shul every week.  I used to take off to run the
halls with my friends when we got bored.  I would have books and snacks
and sometimes even toys with me.  The upshot of all of this is I am now
perfectly at home in the shul.  I know my way around.  I know the
routine.  I know what to expect; more than that, when my child is
IY'H born 5 and a half months from now I hope to raise him or her the
same way.

As a teacher and as a regular shul goer I see so many people who do not
have that comfort level.  As bar mitzvah boys you can see them bored and
uncomfortable as the Rabbi needs to help them along.  As teens they are
the ones who are not there.  As adults they are the ones who stand
awkwardly and never really look into their siddurim and who come only
for yizkor and make a fast getaway.  Is this what we want or our
children?  Children need to experience in order to learn. For those who
say bring them only once they know how to behave, how are they supposed
to learn?  How are we to expect children to learn the decorum of a shul
if we do not allow them to enter?  How are they to learn to be
comfortable with davening in a minyan if we do not allow them in until
they are old enough to behave?  These things do not come naturally to
anyone.  Are people this venomous towards adults who talk and rustle
candy wrappers in shul?  That is what these children are likely to
become if they do not learn now.

In a society where so much of our life is centered around creating a
Jewish home and raising a good Jewish family there seems to be a fair
amount of motzei shem ra and biases against children.  They are the next
generation... the people who will take up our jobs when we are no longer
capable of doing them.  We are all willing to put up the little
annoyances of needing to train a new assistant, or a new cleaning lady
because we know that eventually we will be rewarded for our efforts.
Are we too short-sighted to see the reward of training our children to
be comfortable and happy and content in their Judaism?

From: Batya Medad <ybmedad@...>
Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2003 15:25:06 +0200
Subject: Re: Children in Shul

      children, or fathers "trying to give mommy a break" by getting the
      offspring out of the house, to attend, since they have

Give mommy a break by taking the kids to the park in the afternoon so
she can nap, or stagger dovenning times; one at an early minyan, and the

This Yom Kippur I had to stop my dovenning to search for parents of kids
who were disturbing the women and taking sfarim out of personal boxes.
I never found the mother in the downstairs ezrat nashim but finally
found the father, who isn't even a member.  Then the kids wouldn't go
down.  It was horrible.

The one advantage of our ezrat nashim being too small is that there's no
room for carriages and strollers.  (besides the long narrow staircase)
There's a section downstairs where there's more room, but worse


From: Leah S. Gordon <leah@...>
Date: Thu, 02 Oct 2003 14:36:44 -0700
Subject: re: Children in Shul

In regards to Anonymous' post about bringing children to shul--

I am sorry that you were so upset by the toddler in shul, but the fact
is that children are not hobbies, to be brought out as it pleases other
adults.  Children are *part of the congregation* and are actually
required (by some opinions) to be in shul at least for the duchening
[priestly blessing] and shofar blowing.

If ever my shul instructed me to "stay home with the children" rather
than go to the davening that I helped to support via
tickets/dues/donations/presence, I would immediately look for another
place to pray.

It seems that there are two conflated issues here:

1. Some people have varying tolerances for "kid-noise" in a shul.  This
can be hashed out in each congregation (age limits, tot-shabbat
services, parents taking turns in nearby room, certain times w/no
toddlers, etc.)  There is a wide variation, as there should be, between
not allowing a peep for 100% of davening (and of course this applies
equally well to middle-aged chatter)...and a free-for-all with many
dozens of kids running through, as I've also seen.

2. Apparently there are people who view others' children as a reminder
that they do not have children, for better or for worse.  As a former
sufferer of infertility, please believe me that I understand that this
can cause much pain.  However, that is most assuredly not the fault, nor
the responsibility, of the parent or his/her children.  Single people
have much to find fault with, legitimately, in how communities do not
support their needs.  But parents of small children are really not an
appropriate target, especially when the crime is mere existence.

--Leah Sarah Reingold Gordon

p.s. I would like to respond, as well, to Ms. Esther Posen, who writes
that, "children do not belong in shul, ever...especially on Purim...."

In my opinion, this is an unsubstantiated and shocking statement.  Purim
is a wonderful time to see children in shul, in their costumes and with
the whole family happy together.  And of course children do belong in
shul (as per my previous comments).  I hope never to be in a shul that
does not recognize children as part of the community.

A shul without children is a dying shul.  Has anyone ever been in a shul
on any chag/shabbat without children?  The only times that has happened
to me are in college Hillel minyanim and very old congregations where
everyone is past 65.  The former kind of davening is fine, but is
obviously a temporary arrangement.  The latter is depressing, because
who will be there in 30 years?

Judaism does not require a parent (mother?) to stay out of shul for "ten
to twenty years".  What an outrageous suggestion.

Why not reserve your indignation for the adults who use annoyingly loud
groggers, or cough and sneeze on others, or "save" seats well into
davening, or talk during the sermon, or any number of other irritating
behaviors?  Regarding the shofar blasts, what we normally hear in shul
seems to be even more than required ("just in case"), so I hope that
reassures the poster who thinks that a baby's noise might have obviated
her mitzvah.

But the main point is that a congregation is an assemblage of humanity,
and frankly, humanity can sometimes be annoying.  That's what makes it a
vibrant, real community.

From: Robert J. Tolchin <tolchin@...>
Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2003 11:09:28 -0400
Subject: Children in Shul

This is in response to the "Anonymous" posting regarding children in

I am the father of two little girls. My kids are very vocal, and in fact
the older one started talking very young and hasn't stopped for a moment
so the issue of my kids talking in shul is very current with me.

While I sympathize with the perspective expressed in the anonymous
posting, I have to say that it is very intolerant and I resent it, at
least as much as the poster resents the kids she saw in shul.

I've noticed that there are two streams of thought on this point, and
two corresponding types of shul. There's the perspective that kids don't
belong in shul until they can daven and keep quiet, and there's the
perspective that kids should come because Jews belong in shul and if
they make some noise the grownups will just have to be grownups and deal
with it like adults, just as they deal with every other distraction in
life. I have been yelled at in various shuls for my kids making noise,
and I have been welcomed in other shuls by people who appreciate that my
kids are learning from the earliest age that shul is where Jews belong.

What I've noticed about the two types of shuls is that the
kid-intolerant shuls tend to be moribund, while the kid-tolerant shuls
tend to be vibrant. Could be that vibrancy comes from having young,
active, energetic people around, and those people tend to have kids and
go where kids are tolerated.

I completely disagree with the concept that bringing kids to shul when
they're too young to remain absolutely quiet is bad for their chinuch.
You are missing the forest for the trees if you focus on the idea that
they learn to talk in shul. That is nonsense. Kids behave like kids in
all situations, but all the time they observe and learn what adults do,
and they really try to emulate adult behavior. It takes time,
though--they have limited attention spans, limited motor skills,
etc. But they keep at it, and over a period of years they do learn
everything.  Kids don't just wake up one morning all mature and behaving
like grownups. They mature over time based on their inherent desire to
emulate grownup behavior. For example, kids don't suddenly learn to
drink from a cup. They spill their milk hundreds of times trying before
they get it.  Yet we keep giving them a cup to teach them, knowing full
well that they probably will spill. Same with toilet training; hundreds
of "pee accidents" occur before a kid is fully toilet trained, but that
doesn't mean we forego putting them in underwear and sitting them on the
potty until they are fully trained. Full training will NEVER happen
unless we continually thrust them into a situation where they are
expected to behave properly, knowing that they won't be able to do it,
but hoping that they'll get a bit better each time.

Consider the case of my older daughter. She has come to shul for
kabbalat Shabbat basically every Shabbat of her entire life. At first
she slept, then she crawled around, then when she started being vocal
she made a lot of noise. She's a bit quieter now, but she and her
friends still make a fair amount of noise and they do run around. Yes,
that's a bit disturbing. BUT, at the age of 2 she knew the words for
Yedid Nefesh (she started blurting it out one day in the bath); she
knows lecha dodi; she knows we dance after lecha dodi and knows when to
come running in for the dancing; lately she knows when it is about to be
time to say Shma and comes to sit on my lap and say Shma with me. AND,
she is already teaching what she knows to her little sister--which makes
noise in and of itself ("Come, Amalya, say Shma; Say Shma, Amalya") but
is an indescribably beautiful phenomenon embodying the transmission of
our mesora at the most sublime level. Out of the blue she recently
started singing ain kelokeinu, which she only learned from being in shul
on Shabbat morning.  Even though she does make noise and she doesn't
behave as an adult in shul, she is absolutely learning: a) that Jews
belong in shul; b) what Jews do in shul; and c) how Jews behave in
shul. That she doesn't do everything right at this time is OK, because
she's just learning; she's a kid, we have to give her a chance to grow,
but we have to make sure she grows the right way.

Yes, there are opinions that kids shouldn't come to shul until they're
old enough to behave. But we have to take those opinions in context. If
the kids are living in an area where there is a concentration of
Orthodox Jews, so that even if the kid is at home the kid will be in an
intense Jewish environment, surrounded by observant Jews, and all the
kids' friends from the neighborhood are in the same environment, the
need for kids to come to shul at a young age is lessened. But if a kid
lives in a neighborhood like where I live, where there aren't so many
Orthodox Jews, and the only intensive exposure to other observant Jews
the kid gets is in shul, then I believe it is essential for the kid to
come to shul as early and as often as possible. The adults in shul
should be happy to sacrifice a little library quiet for the sake of
increasing the chance that a Jewish kid grows up to be comfortable in
the shul.

I also feel that you are not being very sensitive to the needs of the
kid's parents. Having a kid is a full time job. Once you have a kid,
there's no more you--it's all the kid. You sleep when the kid sleeps,
eat when the kid eats, play when the kid plays. You can't go out
anymore, because who will watch the kid. Even if you have a babysitter
sometimes, by the time you go out you're so tired you can't enjoy it and
the need to plan it in advance ruins any spontaneity. I can tell you
that if my wife and I didn't bring our kids to shul, that would mean my
wife couldn't come to shul. Forget about staying at home with the kids
and davening at home. If you're at home watching kids, you can't
possibly daven. You have to come up with a new activity every five
minutes. Not coming to shul means not seeing your friends and not having
any social life. Convicts have it better than that. You think a mother
in shul with a noisy child she has to shhhhh likes it? No, but it is
making the best of a difficult situation.

If a person were sick and had to cough all the time and the coughing
made noise in shul, would you complain? Probably not because society
tells you not to think negatively about someone with a disability. Try
to think of people with kids the same way.

Concentrating on tfila is a mitzva, as is hearing the shofar. But having
children and educating them properly are also mitzvas, and loving your
fellow Jew is also a mitzvah--the most important one, according to Rabbi
Akiva. Try to find enough love for your fellow Jew who is trying to
focus on these mitzvas to put aside the hostility you express in your

In my shul we on the Board came up with a good policy. We recognized
that parents often don't even hear their own kids because they've been
desensitized to that sort of distraction, and that people tend to be
sensitive to noise made by kids who aren't their own. Our policy is that
parents should try to regard their kids as if they're not their own
kids, and that others should try to regard kids as if they are their own
kids.  In this way, we all try to live together, because we're all part
of the same community, etc.

Gmar chatima tovah.


End of Volume 40 Issue 82