Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Talmud narrates that in preparation for entering the Holy Temple that once stood in Jerusalem, one would have to immerse in a mikvah. Additionally, one would have to understand the seriousness of entering this holy place. Once this preparation was completed, one could then, with great trepidation, enter the Holy Temple area.

Since the destruction of the Second Temple, the synagogue was substituted in its place. The reverence that once belonged only to the Temple was transferred to the synagogue, so that it is referred to as a “Mikdash Me’at,” a miniature Temple. Before one prays, one must prepare for the experience. There must be a meditative time in which the individual focuses on the significance of the act that he is about to perform. As in the Temple of old, there must always be a genuineness of intent before entering the synagogue to pray. Indeed, one cannot use a synagogue to shorten the distance between two areas.


In modern times, however, this respect for the sanctity of the synagogue has been compromised. Jews have the distinct impression that there are moments in time that we can forgo the holiness of the beit knesset and allow frivolous, if not rowdy, behavior.

For example, it amazes me that on Simchat Torah, some synagogues allow certain liberties to be taken by religious Jews which defy the very essence of the sanctity of the synagogue. People leading the services are tied up and carried from the synagogue or moved to a different area, all in the interest of fun. Besides the apparent break in the dignity of the shul, the message that we are imparting to our children is loud and clear: There are times that it is okay to desecrate the sanctity of the synagogue for the sake of our own immature whims and desires, despite the fact that it negates the very essence of the holiness of the place.

There is another practice which infuriates me and, in my mind, leaves the indelible impression on children that improper behavior in the synagogue is accepted in certain situations. There was a time that when a bar mitzvah completed reciting his haftara, the women would lob raisins from the women’s gallery. The basis of this tradition was to demonstrate a wish that the child’s life should be sweet. This was also the custom at a man’s aufruf, on the Shabbat before he was to be married. We have retained this tradition today; however, we have greatly changed its purpose.

Today, candy is distributed to all the guests and upon the chatan or bar mitzvah boy’s completion of their haftara, a barrage of candy is hurled at top speed at them. The entire synagogue is instantly transformed into a brawl scene. People are taking aim at the bar mitzvah boy or the chatan, rationalizing that such behavior is in consonance with Jewish law when in essence it is a severe bizayon – an embarrassment to the inviolability of the synagogue.

And what kind of message are we sending our children? Are we telling them that there are times when we can put the sanctity of the synagogue aside and act inappropriately?

Synagogues instead should require that the parents of the bar mitzvah or the chatan prepare bags of candy and distribute them outside the synagogue at the appropriate time. Besides solving the inappropriateness of throwing candy in the synagogue, it also allows all the children to receive something and avoids the chaos and confusion of some children hoarding most of the candy and some not receiving any.

And then there are the “holier than thou” people who, during the davening, are reading a periodical or are on their cell phone or even learning Torah, something which is forbidden and which also undermines the holiness of the beit knesset. There are only specific and limited times during the davening that one is permitted to stray from concentrating on prayer, even to learn Torah. Unfortunately, I have seen even rabbis do this, on the assumption that learning Torah during davening is permitted. It is not!

Parents and leaders must understand that their deeds have a profound impact on their children and their communities. Otherwise, they are teaching them that there are times that improper behavior is condoned. Something that no one should want to teach their children!

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Rabbi Mordechai Weiss has been involved in Jewish education for the past forty-six years, serving as principal of various Hebrew day schools. He has received awards for his innovative programs and was chosen to receive the coveted Outstanding Principal award from the National Association of Private Schools. He now resides in Israel and is available for speaking engagements. Contact him at [email protected] or 914-368-5149.