We are a newly married couple and my mother-in-law is already driving me nuts. She doesn’t understand why I won’t go to shul every Shabbos like she does and has done forever (or so she claims).
I work hard all week and don’t feel like getting all dressed up to go to shul on Shabbos, the day of my relaxation. And my husband is fine with it. Besides, I’ve always found that I can better concentrate on my tefillos at home than when I am among people, where I feel the need to suppress my emotions.
I have no issue with going to shul when it’s mandatory, such as to hear the megillah on Purim and shofar on Rosh Hashanah, etc. Yet my mother-in-law doesn’t hesitate to express her disapproval of my stay-at-home habit at every opportunity.
The reason I am writing to you is because I know she reads your column and thought maybe you could be my advocate. I can really use one. Thanks!
Frum but cherish my privacy
Some women have a longstanding tradition of attending shul every Shabbos, but that does not make it mandatory. There is no halacha for women to pray with a minyan, nor are women bound by time-restricted mitzvos.
While it is laudable for a woman to pray, she is not duty-bound to go to shul (with some exceptions, as you cite). This especially applies to young mothers whose first obligation is to their children. (Young boys should however be encouraged to accompany their father to shul as they get older. Toddlers who may disrupt their father’s time in shul should be kept at home until they mature some.)
It is very commendable of your mother-in-law to be in shul on a weekly basis, a habit she most likely picked up from her own mom. It is also worth noting that to hear and answer to the Kaddish prayer is a tremendous mitzvah. (The Gemara (Shabbos 110b) states that one who answers Yehei Shmay Rabbah with ardor annuls bad decrees and gets mechila for his sins.)
On the other hand, it is certainly not a mitzvah to be in shul to socialize. If you find you daven with more intense concentration and less distraction at home, by all means follow your heart. And since your husband sees it your way, perhaps he can speak up and state his opinion in a respectful manner when his mother is within hearing range.
In any case, try not to let your mother-in-law’s outspokenness get to you. By now she must surely know where you stand on the subject. Just let it ride and tactfully change the course of your conversation when she brings it up.
As the holidays approach, I am reminded of the mothers and their young children who have a way of annoyingly disrupting another’s concentration during one of the most crucial prayers of the year.
I can understand parents who bring little ones to shul in order not to miss hearing shofar. Though this segment lasts a relatively short while, some women stay on for the duration of the mussaf Shemonei Esrei.
Last year, just as we were immersed in the Shemonei Esrei, a 3-year old came running in with her panties wrapped around her ankles, yelling in a loud voice, “Mommy, I’m finished! Come and wipe me!”
One woman who brings her little girl along for tekias shofar and stays for mussaf totes a supermarket shopping bag, the contents of which are duly spilled onto the clean, white tablecloth next to our machzorim.
While her mother and the women around her try to concentrate on their tefillos, this little girl busies herself unwrapping, chewing, crunching and crumbling an array of licorice, taffies, cookies and chips, eating away as though she’s been deprived of a sweet treat since last Rosh Hashanah.
Not only is this enormously distracting, but the women in close proximity cringe as they try to avoid greasy little fingers soiling their Yom Tov finest.
Don’t get me wrong, Rachel, I too am a mother, but I can assure you that when my children were young and naturally rambunctious I spent Yomim Tovim davening at home. I’d have never dreamed of allowing my small children to disturb the adults in shul and to disrupt the concentration of their prayers.
I hope you will print this in time for the holidays so that the message gets out, but somehow I doubt this year will be different from last.
Craving quality spiritual connection
You are far from the only one with this opinion. To their credit, I’ve seen young mothers with children in tow come to shul and sit in a vestibule off the women’s section; the distance keeps their children from disturbing others, while the mothers are close enough to follow the davening.
Some shuls do arrange a babysitting setup that frees mothers who want uninterrupted praying time. Also, just about every Jewish community has volunteers who make themselves available specifically to blow shofar for the homebound and who will happily do so for stay-at-home moms with young children. (This should be looked into and arranged beforehand.)
Here’s hoping that you will be spared this type of frustration this year and that mothers with little ones take your message to heart.
May all our prayers be answered for a good, sweet, healthy and prosperous New Year! Shana Tova!
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