Declining shul etiquette

By Miriam Shaviv
November 3, 2009

Following on from my colleague Simon Rocker's complaint about his congregation clapping after the barmitzvah boy finished leining, blogger 'Daddy Day' has added an entire list of complaints about the decline in etiquette in his own shul, Borehamwood and Elstree (by coincidence, my shul as well):

Perhaps the worst is the appearance of mobile phones in synagogue. Not content to merely be without their precious mobiles / blackberries / iphones for 2-3 hours of shul, people - 99.9% of time guests to simchas - keep them on, so that they ring during the service. On one occasion in our own shul, the grandfather of the Bar Mitzvah boy even took his phone out to capture his grandson's special moment on camera!

The problem is so horrendous in Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue that guests are now asked to deposit their phones into plastic pouches, and then given a raffle ticket to be able collect their phone once they leave the shul's premises! We've been known to collect more than 50 phones on particularly bad weeks!!

Equally appalling was the response of another shul-goer on Yom Kippur, who felt there was absolutely nothing wrong with his child playing on his games console in shul, during the service, and who responded by saying "well, at least he's not making any noise"! Not making any noise?!?!?! Hello!! This is a synagogue...we are here to pray, thank G-d, celebrate being Jewish (and have a bit of a natter with our friends)!

This, of course, reminds me of a true story told to me by the former president of a congregation that shall remain unnamed. He was standing at the entrance to his shul, asking guests as they came in whether they had a mobile phone in order to prevent precisely the kind of scenario described above. "No," answered one worried lady. "I didn't know I needed one."



Wed, 11/04/2009 - 22:33

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On a few occasions when I've done this, I've had people assume I needed a phone to make an emergency call. A lot of them are shocked that we have to do such checking!


Thu, 11/05/2009 - 12:12

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In the days before mobile phones we had the saga of Bar Mitzvah guests called to the Torah and taking out their wallets to pay for their Mishebarachs. In even older days the cloakroom attendant of an Anglicised synagoue described the Jewish holy days as follows: Once a week Jews smoke in the toilet. Several times a year they eat in the toilet and once a year they smoke and eat in the toilet ! Things have never been perfect.

Miriam Shaviv

Thu, 11/05/2009 - 12:19

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A friend who used to do security at a NW London shul added (via Facebook):

"I think the two most amazing things that I've ever encountered in a shul were 1) the sister of a barmitzvah boy asking to park in the shul car park on Shabbat (she was an hour and a half late); 2) one member giving her keys to a security guard under the impression he did valet car parking. Otherwise, we've had phones, bikes, cameras, laptops being brought in. Nothing surprises me!"


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