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My roommate plays loud music during Shabbat dinner. Can I ask them to stop?

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to bintel@forward.com.


Dear Bintel,

I have a pretty low stakes question, but it is something that has been on my mind and I want your advice. I’ve always been very centered in my Jewish life, and Jewish community is very important to me. Jewish practice is more flexible. Over the past decade, I’ve lived pretty wildly different Jewish lives. Sometimes I go to minyan every morning and keep kosher, and sometimes I eat anything and forget when it is Passover. But I try to do right by my soul and by God.

During the pandemic, I’ve found myself back in a pretty observant place, where I find so much richness and meaning in the traditional Orthodox way of life. I’ve now been vaccinated, and many of my friends have been vaccinated. I feel like we are a stone’s throw away from hosting Shabbat dinner and I could not be more thrilled. People! Community! Shabbos!

The one thing I keep considering is that my roommate, who is the friend of a dear friend and someone who I have gotten to know very well, is not interested in Friday night dinners. In fact, they spend Friday night in their room watching old movies or listening to music. This is all fine, except that we live in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and it is very audible throughout the house. I can’t imagine hosting a Friday night dinner with Orthodox friends and having them…hear movies playing, or music. It really, really takes away from the vibe of Shabbat.

But can I ask that? This roommate is Jewish, and pretty knowledgeable — they sometimes lead services at the local minyan — but not interested in traditional Shabbat.

Signed,
The Hopeful Sound of Silence

Dear Silence,

I think this really depends on your relationship with your roommate. If you were to invite friends over for Shabbat dinner and say: “Hey, so excited for you to come. My roommate is watching some movies that night in their room, so apologies in advance for the non-shabbos-y sounds!” that would be fine. People know that people live with other people, and that is just the stakes built into the arrangement.

But it sounds like your roommate is not a total rando, and someone who is potentially in community with your own guests. This roommate, it seems, might also understand why music on a Friday night would be jarring to those who observe Shabbat more traditionally. In this scenario, I think you can ask — but not demand — they not play audible movies or music during dinner. It’s a request one Jew can make of another. They can put in headphones if they really want to watch a film!

The kicker is that, if, for some reason, they really push back on the request, you do have to honor it. This is their apartment too, and it sounds like they didn’t sign up for religious restrictions. You can send a semi-snarky email to your friends about the sounds, but you can’t be mad at your roommate. The ask is within your right; the answer is within theirs. Say something like, “Hey! Now that we are back to hosting guests for Friday night, I realized we hadn’t discussed Shabbat norms since I’ve become more religious. I know this is annoying, but how would you feel about keeping music and movies sound off the table while we have Friday night Shabbat guests?”

Especially if this is something you only ask once a month or less, I think it is fine. Also, and I hope this goes without saying, but if you are hosting Shabbat dinner in your tiny Brooklyn apartment, you should make sure your roommate knows they are included. Nothing worse than sitting alone in your room while other people celebrate Shabbat! Good luck on the hosting, and soon we can all join you.

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to bintel@forward.com.

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