Friday, September 10, 2004

Today, I'm again inspired by a post that appeared at the daily diatribe.

I've been to many shteebles and many agudah-style shuls, and though many of them are wonderful places to daven, not one was a good place for children.

My own RNs love their children, of course, but insist that children don't belong in shul. Though the shul tolerates not one, but two candymen, "a shul is not a baby sitting service" is their refrain.

As a result, perhaps, our kids are given nothing to do, and nowhere to sit. They're often in the corridors, or in the yards playing. Rarely, if ever, are they davening. Usually their behavior is disruptive.

I grew up in a shul that took a different approach. It provided activities that tought us how to daven and how to respect a shul. We learned how to daven for the amud, how to lain, and how to read a haftarah. Some might call it babysitting. I call it chinuch. Whatever you call it though, isn't it better than leaving the kids at home (where they learn nothing) or to their own devices in the yards and corridors (where they learn nothing and disturb?)

Why do the shteebles abdicate their responsibility to their kids? Why do we permit our kids to run wild? Why isn't chinuch a priority?

I've never been able to wrap my head around this dereliction. I've never understood why, for example, children are permitted at school to pray with a minyan geared specifically for them, but in shul they are expected to join the adult minyan or stay home. Why is a boy's minyan verboten in the shteeble?

If a board is ever installed, perhaps I'll ask them. If you know the answer, please tell me, and help me to anticipate the board's reply.

Note to Cookie: (added Monday 13 September)

I think your reply simplifies things.

Sure, it's fine (maybe, see below) for Mothers and Daughters to stay home together and snuggle on the couch, but what about the boys? Should they be home snuggling, too? When should boys begin coming to shul? And when they begin attending shul, what should they do there? Wouldn't it be best for them to daven together the way they daven in school, in a minyan geared specifically for them? Why are boys who are too old to stay home forced to choose among (a) sitting uncomfortably in the main minyan (b) staying home, which, at a certain age, is not approriate for boys or (c) hanging out in the hallways? Why won't a shteeble offer (d) a boys minyan, where the davaning and the drasha have been designed specifically for boys ages 7-11?

Also, woman (even women with small children) have an obligation to daven. They do not have an obligation to daven on time, or to daven with a minyan (of men), but if they can daven on time or with a minyan (of men) it's a kiyum ie: something desirable, but extra. Boys are encouraged and taught to perform kiyumin. Why not girls?


When I was becoming frum, I attended a Young Israel in Queens, which was very unfriendly to new Baale Tshuva, and I got shoved into a Junior Congregation. I hated it at first and spent my time running in the halls instead. But a friend eventually brought me in and showed me how to daven, and after a while I did appreciate the attention that kids get through this system. We learned how to daven and layn and it wasn't too long for our limited attention span.
I'm in a Chassidishe Shul now, and there are no formal groups for kids, so they either stay with their parents (who ignore them), run in the halls, or just stay home (the last was the norm before the eruv). I don't think they get much out of being in shul.
Recently we spent a weekend in NY with my folks and tried to attend the YI there again. The kids were forced into groups and couldn't stay with my wife. They hated it there and as a result my wife had to leave.
Personally, I think a shul without kids is a dead shul (or soon will be), but there has to be some mechanism to keep them engaged and teach respect for the davening.

there, now you have a comment  

I get many comments, but I'm happy to have one from you.

I agree with your perspective, but I'd like to hear from the other side. What's the argument for banning kids from shul - and providing no alternative?  

I'll tell you how I've dealt with it in our current shul. My kids stay with me. If they're too young, they stay home, or with my wife when she comes. My boys sit next to me in shul from the time they're old enough to read from a siddur. They don't run around and they don't talk. Of course this means that I have to have room around me for them, so I've given up some of the choicer spots (by a shtender, or by the bima, or near my friends) which would have made shul more comfortable for me personally, but it's more important for my boys to be with me. When they were younger, I had to position myself between them so they wouldn't fool around, but they grow out of that. (It was a real problem when there were 3 of them).
Frummer people than me have come up to me over the years to ask, "How do you get your kids to sit so nicely in shul?" Practice.  
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