When I first started going to shul I was originally annoyed that people talked during davening, because it disturbed my concentration and seemed to go against what being in shul was all about. I would often give a cold stare or a loud shhhhhh.

A friend pointed out that talking is permissible in certain parts of the service for mitzvah related reason. He also said I should realize that many people grew up in shuls where talking was the norm and it is hard to break these life long habits, so some benefit of the doubt might be in order. Lastly embarrassing somebody in public by shhhh’ing them could be worse than the talking itself.

The shul I daven at is generally quiet but the little talking that goes on still bothers me but I feel that I have no effective way to deal with the situation.

Has anybody discovered any effective ways to keep talking to an absolute minimum without offending or embarrassing those who talk? Or should I just get over the little talking that takes place?

– Steve

28 comments on “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

  1. A related post inspired me to look for one on this topic. On that post, we have addressed the issue of bringing children to shul only when they have developed awe and reverence for the synagogue, and are ready to participate in the service.

    We should also leave our inner child at home. I don’t claim perfection, but I really do try. Joking or casual conversation before, during and after davening should be limited or eliminated.

    As far as playing in shul goes, to me that includes the use of electronic gadgets of any type by people of any age for any reason. I remember to turn mine off most of the time before davening starts. However, it bothers me to see people whose kavanah (concentration) and midot (manners) that I admire not turning the gadgets off. People who five years ago would not look up from their siddur if the roof flew off of the shul now routinely begin scrolling through text messages and e-mails when the chazan has barely finished kedushah!

    Do you have young kids at home? Did you chain yourself to a phone before cell phones came around? No! Make proper arrangements for their care, and make your phone calls to check on them outside of the shul after davening.

  2. There is no question that talking in shuls is a big problem and one only need look at the Misheberach from the Tosfos Yomtov in the Siddur (Tefilos Col Peh )to be said aftering Shabbos Leining that the probelm is an old one and a very serious one. On the other hand the only real change comes when the kehilla accepts as a whole ( or at least significant majority ) to make a committment to change. A wonderful example of this is the Sha’arei Tefillah Shul in Manchester who were told by the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Z’tzl when they were forming their minyan that they would find Hatzlacha for the Shul if they made a committment to follwing Hilchos Beis HaKenesis properly with respect to talking in Shul.

    To that end they have a short shiur in sefer Mikdash Me’at every Mevarechin HaChodesh.

    On the other hand, I must say sometimes I appreciate the varmkeit and relaxed atmosphere of the Shtieblach that are not so makpied !!

  3. I stopped attending a Sephardic shul near us because the talking was out of control and the rabbi, as hard as he tried, couldn’t get a grip on the congregants. So I’m not sure a Sephardic shul would be a solution.

    At a local Ashken. shul it is much better because there are signs all over and the peer pressure is to NOT talk.

    I think it needs to be a cooperative venture between the rabbi(s) and the congregants, clearly.

  4. Earplugs don’t help if you’re trying to hear *leining*. That’s the problem where we daven. B”H the baal koreh is loud and clear, but the number of fathers who bring daughters to shul and then leave them to chat with peers in the sanctuary without explicit supervision drives me bonkers.

    Recently, speaking to one of the fathers got a positive result, but the Rabbi’s comeback has been how we need one of the women to organize a kids davening downstairs for the girls – with a direct look. . . *MY* daughter knows that shul is for davening, following, or sitting quietly. My daughter knows Mommy will take her (and/or siblings) HOME in the middle if they can’t be respectful and quiet. My daughter doesn’t chit-chat during davening, inside the sanctuary.

    I’m not missing leining/davening myself to watch (several) someone else’s kids who can’t behave.

    My daughter is within a year in age of these other girls, and probably only sits quietly because it’s my pet peeve and I enforce; we HAVE left in the middle.

    So, my sympathy and empathy. Only idea that might be relevant is approaching someone after davening to ask for their assistance, and couching the request as your problem, not theirs. Good luck!

  5. Ain’t it hard to daven
    When everybody’s talking in shul
    Ain’t it hard to daven
    When everybody’s talking in shul
    Especially when they’re talking about something
    You want to talk about too.

  6. How about earplugs? I’m not kidding – I know someone who uses them and says they work great.

    As a lady I too have a bone to pick – what about the men who very considerately do not talk in the middle of the men’s section – but move to the back near the mechitzah and talk pretty loudly (as if there’s no one on the other side that could hear them). How does one alert them without “shushkening” – they can’t see the stares…

  7. Thanx Yaakov – I rest my case. Tfillah = Korbonos, not meditation. Still that does not mean cacophony and gyration! In fact I’ve heard that some tsaddikim have said that if your tfillah style bothers others, EVEN if it genuinely helps you reach Dveikus, you should tone it down. NOT to the extent of self conscious restriction; just milder expressions of enthusiasm.

    Call it D.Eretz amongst our tfillah neighbors neighbors. Each has his own derech, but it must not get too far off the aretz!

    In the meantime, since most of us aren’t into positions of educating our neighbbors, may I suggest you make a pt of arriving early and scout out a good corner. A key to sanity for serious BT ovdei H’ is to take responsibility in avoiding the riffraff.

  8. Though inappropriate talking is very irritating, it isn’t nearly as annoying as spastic and vociferous shuckeling. When the guy on one side of me is rocking side to side, from foot to foot, and the guy in front of me is rocking up and down like a seesaw, and on my other side an obese man is thrusting his pelvis back and forth…, how the heck am I supposed to focus on the page, let alone with kavanah? Peripheral vision makes davening a hell. And I’m not married, so a tallis isn’t an option. (I’ve been wanting to get side-blinders -do they make them?) And I don’t know many of the prayers by heart, so my eyes have to be open. Shuckeling ought to be assur, for it is inconsiderate and self-involved. And don’t get me started about the awful cacophony of fifty guys saying prayers aloud a-synchronously -I have no idea how people focus through that; or about people who say the amidah too audibly.


  9. Good point David,

    Especially for a BT website.

    1) If you are new and really don’t know, you may follow the lead of others (e.g., it seems that in some Shuls that after Kedusha, all bets are off)

    2) Too strong an admonition for a BT could be disasterous, I’ve seem it.

  10. Charles Hall: You must be kidding, right?

    Maintaining kashrus, especially for public functions, is a concrete reality that doesn’t involve subjective, emotional needs like talking does. Furthermore, Tfilla is by definition a Mitzvah that can be performed EVEN in an atmosphere of talking.

    As much as I’m with everyone for the ideal of having Shuls with the l’chatchilla atmosphere conducive to the most uplifting tfilla, we might as well admit that many BT’s are bothered by this b/c of their all too easy distractability in tfilla.

    And for those of us who get bothered so deeply that we begin feeling heavily critical of the public tfilla experience altogether, it might be helpful to return to the sources and learn about the difference between genuine JEWISH and Xn prayer. The later, at its best, must have that sense of lofty quietude in order to achieve the “salvation” they expect. Our tfilla, which involving elements of that, is much more about emulating the korbonos – which in their original forms were quite vivacious.

  11. As Mark mentioned, our shul is very quiet. Yet, many of us who would never think of talking during any part of Tefilah proper ( i.e. from Brachos thru Hotzaas Sefer Torah) will discuss a “good vort” or the equivalent while a Gabbai is making a Mi Sheberach for an aliyah.

  12. A few ideas come to mind:

    1. Most talkers sit together, so maybe you can move to another seat in shul
    2. Speak to the rav of your shul about either a shiur being given about the proper kavod/behavior in shul or maybe a publication (the OU has one) about respect for a shul can be handed out
    3. Keep a copy of PRAYING W/ FIRE or another sefer on Tefillah near you during davening. If people see a visual reminder about the importance of Tefillah they are more likely to be quiet.

  13. As with quality initiatives in companies, the only way to make it happen is the management’s total commitment. This is shown best by example. Machers going on about their exploits (even good ones) are part of the problem.

  14. Depending when you talk the halachic issur is at most D’Rabbonin and in many cases less than that.

    Embarrassing somebody in public is probably an issur D’Oraisa.

    As usual, there are counter forces in halacha that need to be weighed.

    The best solution is to try to reduce the talking without embarrassing or offending the person. This takes seichel and a velvet glove.

    An iron fist in the guise of a shhhhhhhh or worse may seem like the obvious solution, but in my experience it’s a short term, sometimes ineffective fix.

    Disclosure: I have definitely be guilty of shhhhhhing in my years in my minimal talking shul.

  15. Bas Yisroel, you make an interesting point about tolerance. But, sometimes its about your own ability to daven while others are talking and about the sanctity (for lack of a better word) of the beis keneses.

  16. “it is hard to break these life long habits”

    There are a lot of “life long habits” that are halachically asur. Why whould I tolerate a congregation that talks during davening? I wouldn’t tolerate a shul that hires a non-kosher caterer!

  17. I used to be just like you. I was very annoyed if anyone spoke in shul during davening. In Israel, I was used to shuls that were very quiet, no talking, so it was very hard to get used to the talking. Now that my daughter went OTD, for some reason I am more understanding and I guess you could say more tolerant of others. If you ignore and look past other people talking in shul, perhaps Hashem will look past and ignore your own shortcomings. hatzlocha

  18. That’s one of the advantages of worshipping in a Sephardi Bait Knesset. Since the entire Tefilla is read out loud , it is more difficult for congregants to talk during the service. Ashkenazim who visit my Sephardi congregation in Chicago are always amazed at how quiet it is during Shabbat morning worship.

  19. My shul is generally very quiet but there are a few people who will talk on occasion at halachically inappropriate times.

    Is there anything that can or should be said without offending them, or should it just be ignored and hope that it doesn’t become worse?

  20. A highly successful program that was instituted at the Young ISrael of Woodmere and succesfully replicated (in somewhat modified manner) at the White Shul in Far Rockaway involves a commitment from the mispallilim, from the Shul’s leadership down to rank and file members to refrain from talking. A clear and concise notice should be posted on the door stating the importance of kovod hatfila, etc. Also, people are asked to sign a “Commitment letter” whereby mispallilim commit (bli neder) to refrain from all manners of communication. The signatories to the letter are posted prominently on a large, professionally printed poster board displayed in the lobby. Rather than large-scale shhshhing during davening, a few people of stature politely approach the remaining talkers and point to the siddur. It is also suggested that, prior to commencing this campaign, the biggest talkers be approached privately by the commitee/rav to ask/plead for their cooperation, explaining the extreme importance of this program to the future of the Shul, etc etc.

  21. “Mitzvah-related reasons” as a concept allowing talk in shul is often stretched way too far. Even the rabbonim and gabboim have limits to their speech.

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