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Q&A: Priorities in Prayer, Part 3

November 30, 2014

Question: May I bring my children to shul?

Answer: This is from the Chicago Rabbinical Council:

The Mishna Brura 98:3, cites the Shaloh HaKadosh who strongly criticized parents for bringing children to the shul at an age where they cannot be educated and controlled not to run around (sic) and disturb the congregation.  

Not only does this affect the decorum and intensity of worship, but it affects the entire attitude and behavior of the children as they grow up to develop an attitude of disrespect and almost contempt for the sanctity of the synagogue. Only when children have reached some age of being able to behave in a proper manner during davening should they be brought to shul.

In that same section of the Shulchan Aruch, R’ma rules that “it is forbidden for a person to kiss his small children in the synagogue in order to establish that there is no love as great as love of Hashem” (Cited from Sheilos UTesheuvos Benyamin Zev from Sefer Agudah).  

This first point seems very appropriate to me. The synagogue is specifically for quorums of men, who are obligated to pray in communal groups, as opposed to women, who although they may elect to join quorums for the prayers, are not specifically obligated to do so. Children are also not obligated.

I will also add that if someone brought a child to the synagogue, and even though that child was able to behave for a significant amount of time, the moment the child begins to become disruptive, it is his father’s obligation to remove the child from earshot. He is to do this even if he himself is in the middle of his own silent amida, and even if it means that he will miss out on the service. I have seen many foolishly pious individuals who exerted themselves to complete their prayers while ignoring their disruptive children, thus ruining the prayers of others. Men who are blessed with healthy wives have no excuse for bringing their children to the synagogue, as they could be left at home with their mothers who do not need to attend the synagogue, ever.

The above article does not mention that the Chofetz Chayim recommended that at a certain age it is desirable to bring children to the synagogue, in order to educate them about proper habits in prayer. This is usually about the age when the child learns how to remain quiet for extended periods of time.

Concerning that last paragraph about not kissing one’s children in the synagogue, we have written before about medieval prohibitions such as these, that are by by definition not binding, as they were not enacted by our sages, and despite the fact that they are quoted in later books, and sometimes even expanded. During mediaeval times, many stringencies that Hazal never dreamed of and that thankfully we no longer hear of were adopted. Whole books have been written about this phenomenon. As for this particular issue, we see that Aaron kissed Moses on Mount Sinai, the same place where God first appeared to Moses and later to the entire people, that Jacob kissed Isaac while Isaac was preparing himself to receive prophecy and bless Jacob, the level of meditation we only hope to achieve when we pray, and that Jacob kissed his grandchildren as he prepared to pray that God bless them. Samuel likewise kissed Saul after anointing him, and then also delivered God’s word. There are other examples of this, all indicating that our ancestors did not consider showing love for children and brothers to be out of place, even when they were “standing before God.” I believe that this takes the analogy of God as a jealous husband too far, as God’s jealousy is not aroused by his beloved actually loving another person, but rather by his beloved, the Children Of Israel, straying after other Gods. That, is the “Love of God” our prophets discussed refers to exclusivity of religious devotion, to the exclusion of idolatry, but love for other people is another issue altogether. But I digress.

Question: But what if my wife wants to go to shul? And what about parshas zachor and Megillas Esther on Purim?

Answer: As long as it is feasible, she may opt to attend. If it means that the children will go unsupervised or that you will have to take them to the synagogue with you, or that you will have to stay home with them, then your obligation beats out your wife’s desire to attend.

As for Parashath Zachor, we already wrote about how the modern practice of reading that particular parasha with better diqduq than other readings and how every woman needs to hear it are just that: modern stringencies that have veered from our sages’ enactments. (The point of the reading possibly being a Torah obligation is so that we remember the existential threat we face from our enemies, and not that those three verses be read more carefully than others.)

As for the reading of the m’gilla, they now have special readings just for the women who have to miss the first readings at the evening and morning services. It is true that many children can attend the m’gilla, but there are always those who can not. It has even happened to me once that I had to leave the first reading because halfway through, my three year old daughter lost her patience, and two hours later I read the complete m’gilla for a synagogue full of women, including my wife. But that’s why God created babysitters.

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3 Comments
  1. Yigal permalink

    I know of plenty of women for whom it means a lot for them to go to prayer with their children. The children may or may not sit for a short while with a prayer book, and eventually start making noise and need to be brought outside by their mother, however a temporary disruption is inevitable when bringing a child to synagogue.

    1. what quantifiable level of inevitable disturbance would ‘forbid’ a parent from bringing a child to synagogue?

    2. is this threshold higher if it means a lot to the woman to go to prayer and bring her children?

    3. when does this come before potential peace between man and wife issues- I.E. where the husband would have to tell his wife- stay home and she’d get upset.
    Or perhaps should the man stay home with the kids and let his wife go to synagogue.

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