"Talking" Points

The <I>Shulchan Aruch</I> (O.C. 151:1) rules: "It is forbidden to conduct oneself in a frivolous manner while in <I>shul</I>. This includes joking and idle conversations."

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
When one of my chaverim showed me the article, "Talking in Shul" (Arutz Sheva, December 19th), my initial understanding was that it must be some silly and premature "Purim Torah". It became clear, however, that, sadly enough, the author's intentions were quite serious. I suspect that this misguided nonsense was itself zocheh to become the subject of many delightful discussions ("in moderation") between and even during the "amens" of some neighborhood shuls. The disclaimer ("I do not want to condone what goes on in many shuls") and the convoluted distortion of the Chassidic approach to holiness do not succeed in concealing the shocking falsehood of the author's premise, nor do they justify the printing of this latest attempt at "feel good, sounds right" Jewish spirituality that has gained many adherents even in the Orthodox world.

The author is described as a teacher of "Kabbalah, Talmud and practical Judaism". Perhaps if the order were reversed, then this travesty wouldn't have occurred in the first place. Allow me to follow the correct order.

Practical Judaism - Halachah

The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 151:1) rules: "It is forbidden to conduct oneself in a frivolous manner while in shul. This includes joking and idle conversations." Note that according to the Shulchan Aruch, this prohibition is in effect not only during davening, but rather is a component of the general reality of "kedushas beis ha'keneses" (which is an extension of the kedushas bais hamikdash). Furthermore, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 146:3) includes the time between aliyahs as being part of this prohibition.

What is classified as "idle conversation"? The Rambam (Peirush Ha'Mishnayos, Avos 1:17) defines "sicha betailah" as the common conversation of the masses, which usually revolve around personal, community and political current events. The Mishna Berura (151:2) includes financial matters as one of the more popular forbidden topics. The Shulchan Aruch adds that one may not discuss even the parsha or other Torah subjects (even between aliyahs).

In the original article under discussion here, R. Moss writes: "And I respect the non-Jewish decorum, but that too is not our way." Listen carefully to the words of one of our Rishonim, the SMAK (Mitzvah 11): "Woe to those who engage in conversation during davening and in doing so, prevent their own children from attaining life in the World to Come. We must adduce a kal v'chomer from the behavior of the idolaters in their places of worship, who stand in silence throughout their prayers. How much more so we, who stand in the presence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu." What is "not our way"? It is our way, but we have lost our way. It is shameful for an Orthodox rabbi to condone a disrespect for holiness, which is a perversion that has crept into our communities, under the guise of some home-grown concoction of spirituality.

R. Moss continues: "The Jewish ideal is to feel at home in G-d's Sanctuary." I'm sorry, but the Jewish ideal is "And My Sanctuary you shall revere," (Vayikrah 19:30) which is itself the Torah source for the laws regarding decorum in our shuls (see Chayei Adam 16:6).

As far as R. Moss's distinction between the sterile decorum of the church and the more "inviting" atmosphere of the shul is concerned, our poskim did in fact see a correlation. The Chasam Sofer, in his Derashos (Vol. II, p. 309), writes of R. Moss's 'ideal sanctuary': "If G-d forbid there is idle conversation taking place in shul, the 'breath' invested in the chatter is defiled and becomes enclothed in the sar (angelic force) of chutz l'aretz, who becomes the ba'al habayis of the shul and by whom the prayers are then accepted. Thus, G-d forbid, instead of praying to G-d, the worship has become a form of idolatry."

Rabbeinu Yehudah HaChassid writes that we often see how our shuls are desecrated by our enemies and are transformed into places of idolatry as a result of our disrespect and the lack of decorum, which is not found in their places of worship (Sefer Chassidim 1189; the Magen Avraham cites an identical evaluation in the name of the SMAK). It is, therefore, understandable that the TAZ paskined that it is forbidden to include such "fools" and "sinners" in a minyan (O.C. 55:4).

Talmud

The Talmud in Megillah (28-29) is the main source of the restrictions regarding the mistreatment of a shul or bais medrash. The comparatively minor infraction of silently tending to one's business accounts during davening suffices as a cause for unaccountable deaths in Jewish communities (see Rashi and Tosafos). For a full discussion of all Talmudic sources, see Mikdash M'at by Rabbi Nosson Gestetner, shlit'a, chapters 4-5.

I fail to understand R. Moss's "opinion": "However, I think that talking in shul is an offshoot of a very good thing and that in moderation is actually not bad at all." Not bad at all!? It is bad enough to be included in the Cherem d'Rabbeinu Gershom (Be'er Hagolah Y.D. 334) and to be blamed as the major cause of death of thousands of Jews in years of Tach V'Tat, as revealed to the Tosfos Yom Tov in a dream (Mivtzar, Vol 1. p.32).

Kabbalah

The Zohar (Terumah 131:B) really needs to be quoted in its entirety, but a few lines will have to suffice for now: "Whoever speaks in shul, woe to him, who separates all worlds... he has no portion in the G-d of Israel... even though he claims to believe in G-d, he does not believe that He is in shul and he interrupts the praises of G-d to carry on with his own conversations."

Thus, we can fully understand how the foremost Kabbalist, the Ari'zal, was careful to never speak in shul; not just during the times of davening. His greatest disciple records that the Rebbe even refrained from giving shiurim and mussar in the sanctuary of the shul (see Shaar Hakavanos, p.4 cited in Magen Avraham 151:3).

Though I am not certain of this, I have been informed that R. Moss is a Lubavitcher Chassid. Surely, he must be familiar with the words of the Tanya (Iggeres Hakodesh, ch. 24): "Now whoever will stand before him (a human king) not caring to see him and busies himself with his personal needs, how inferior, foolish and simple is he; 'he is like the beasts who speak not' (Tehillim 49:13) in the eyes of all creatures. Moreover, it is a dishonor to the king, by demonstrating before him that to have pleasure and delight from looking at his glory is of no more esteem in his eyes than busying himself with his own needs. Also, he forfeits his life by insulting the king. Our sages therefore ordained that with prayer one should be as 'standing before the king'. At least he should make himself appear as such, even though the fool is not thinking at all. But whoever does not appear accordingly makes himself guilty at the risk of his life. Therefore, I come to act as an agent of the sages, to enact a decree to apply equally to everyone: No idle talk is to be spoken from the moment the Ba'al Tefilah begins until the end of the last Kaddish, at Shachris, Mincha and Arvis."

The Ba'al Ha'Tanya's halachic ruling is equally clear (Shulchan Aruch Harav 124:10). Surely, the Alter Rebbe did not overlook the possible benefits of a 'heimeshe davening'.

As far as R. Moss's suggestion "I believe you have to earn the right to talk in shul. When you make G-d comfortable in your home, you can make yourself comfortable in His," let it suffice to say that according to our poskim, if it's a cozy home-like atmosphere you're looking for, stay home. The Chida, Shalmai Tzibbur and many other authorities strongly urge the kibitzer to do just that: stay home. Far from being a mitzvah, the habitual talker disrupts others while sinning himself. "Feeling at home" in shul has to do with other factors, not the comfort one feels as a result of violating Shulchan Aruch and creating a chilul Hashem. Davening must be warm and passionate and so should the relationships forged by the members' common goal to serve the Master of the Universe.

If it was R. Moss's intention to find a spark of holiness in the mess we're in, then I believe that he has only added fuel to a destructive fire that has brought and brings much tzaros to Klal Yisrael. Many wonderful organizations and shuls are conducting campaigns to extinguish that fire. It is a shame that an Orthodox publication would be irresponsible enough to publish such an article. Let's work together in preparing the way for the ultimate bais tefilah, the Bais Hamikdash.


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