Rabbis Declare War on Chit-Chat in Synagogue

Are Orthodox Congregations More Prone to Crosstalk?

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By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published September 03, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
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Certain Orthodox synagogues are worse than others. Large congregations can be noisier, though small congregations aren’t exempt.

And the problem isn’t limited to the Modern Orthodox. “It’s definitely an area where we have to improve,” said Ezra Friedlander, a New York-based political consultant who belongs to a Hasidic community in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. Friedlander takes it upon himself to shush the loudest talkers in the synagogue of the small Hasidic sect his father leads.

“It bothers me,” Friedander said. “God really does not appreciate when they talk.”

Some suggest that the problem stems from the length of the Orthodox service and the slack periods between important prayers. Others blame the comfort of Orthodox Jews in the sanctuary.

“Our congregations feel so at home in the synagogue that they lose some of the fear, reverence, that makes you not talk,” Lopatin said.

A search on the website of the Orthodox Union returns pages of articles about the problem. One goes so far as to effectively blame fathers who talk in synagogue for driving their kids away from Orthodoxy.

The talking problem has inspired jokes often told by rabbis. In one classic of the genre, told to the Forward by Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, a rabbi asks a pious Jew and an atheist why they attend synagogue. The pious Jew says that he comes to talk to God; the atheist responds that he comes to talk to the pious Jew.

For one anonymous advertiser, it’s all gone too far. Since early summer, someone has taken full-page anti-talking ads in successive issues of Flatbush Jewish Journal, a weekly paper circulated in Orthodox neighborhoods in the broader New York area. “Stop the Talking in Shul!” the ads warn.

One week, an ad in the series alleged that only “a fool” would talk during services. “It’s wrong! And we all know it,” another ad in the campaign read.


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