Friday, September 01, 2006

Children in Shul

The topic of children (which I will loosely define as children of all ages below bar/bat mitzvah who do not or cannot sit still during the part of the service that they are present for) is always a hot topic and a sensitive one at that. I've seen the subject of children in shul covered on many blogs as well as on other Jewish forums and it always evokes a lot of emotions and opinions.
Rarely do I run into a person who does not have strong feelings on the subject, whether he/she is a supporter of children coming to the synagogue or part of the opposition.

Some attendees want their service to be quiet, or at least they don't want the noise and disruption that all too often accompanies children. (We all know that many adults can be quite disruptive themselves).

Some attendees feel strongly that the Beit Knesset should be awe inspriring and children, especially young children, will not learn to internalize the yirat shomayim that should accompany a visit to the Beit Knesset if they are brought from young ages. (Unfortunately, many of us adults do not internalize this either).

Other adults (usually those that sit on the board or the financial committee) just don't want to see children running around unsupervised, since it all too often, brings a host of property damage issues. There is nothing fun about being responsible for finding the money in the budget to fix these problems, some of which can be quite costly. Of course, even if you know whose children are responsible for the damage, some argue that if you send a bill to the parents who allowed their children to run free in the first place, you risk loosing their membership for good. Those who argue this are probably right, although I still am of the persuasion that the rest of the members shouldn't have to pay for that plumbing damage, drywall damage, etc. But, what can you do?

Those who support children coming to the synagogue have their reasons too. Some want their children to be comfortable in the synagogue. They want their children to see it as their second home: a place that belongs to them.

Many mothers want the opportunity to pray with a minyan and will bring their children along too. They don't want to be cut off from the benefits that come with regular attendance at the synagogue, religious or social.

Still other mothers are just exhausted by the end of the week and want their young children out of the house so that they can get some much needed rest. So, they send all their children with their husband to shul. Oftentimes these husbands can be spotted in the hallways or kid's room, siddur in hand, trying to make their way through the tefillot and shuffling the child(ren) in and out for the repetition of the Amidah. Of course, there also seems to be a number of daveners who have the hallway davening habit engrained in them and can be seen doing so all days of the weeks, kids or no kids.

What I believe is often overlooked in the debate on the issue is SOLUTIONS that can please many, if not most people. The solutions I have listed below, I believe, give whole families (fathers, mothers, and children) the opportunity to attend the synagogue and take advantage of the benefits of doing so, while mitigating the issues that accompany children being unsupervised during tefillah.

I'd love to hear more solutions on how your family handles these issues? How your shul deals with these issues? What I'd love to hear is possible solutions to merge the positive aspects of taking kids to shul, while mitigating the negative problems associated with doing so. I think that would add a new dimension to a touchy, but important topic.

1. Husband goes to hashkama minyan. He gets his obligatory tefillah taken care of and returns to either take care the young children, those who will not benefit from the tefillah, while his wife goes to shul. The wife can take the children who are capable of sitting and saying some tefillot. Since she is not obliged in tefilla b'tzibur, she can remove any disrputive child(ren) immeidately.

2. Husband goes to hashkama minyan. He takes older children back to shul himself and sits with them and guides them through the tefillah. He has completed his tefillot and is free to walk out when a chil(ren) is no longer capable of maintaining the respect necessary for being in the synagoguge. The wife can get her break.

3. Wife goes to hashkama minyan. Husband watches children in the morning and switches with wife when she comes home. He is a little late for the pesukei d'zimra, but can catch up. (Chances are plenty of men are latter than he). If the parents want children to attend the service, they can walk over with the mother for the end of the main service and join in at the end for Anim Zemirot and Adon Olam, parts of Nussach Ashkenaz service that don't seem to have the same formalities as the rest of the tefillot.


mother in israel said...

Great topic!! Here's my take on the possible solutions:

1. Won't work if you have boys older than 6 or so (too old to be willing to sit in the women's section) but still too young to go to hashkama, which is generally too fast for children.

2. We do that on Simchat Torah with the younger children. But he has to get up at 5:00 am. On a regular Shabbat, how does the wife get a break if there are younger children?

3. I enjoy davening in shul, but I would not get up that early knowing that I would have to spend the next couple of hours taking care of my kids alone. But I suppose many are more virtuous than I. For my husband it's different because the kids are not his responsibility the rest of the week.

Also, none of these work if you live in a community without a hashkama minyan. What about the possibility of a children's minyan and/or a playroom/babysitting?

I used to love going to shul, and even went daily in college. For many years my husband went to a hashkama minyan but as the boys got older it became a problem; not all boys are willing to get up that early. Now my husband goes to the main minyan and I usually come at the very end with my youngest. She sits quietly with my husband for a few minutes then comes over to me and starts to talk. Sometimes my daughter, who gets there earlier, takes her so I can daven a bit. My 5yo sits quietly with my husband or plays outside. We used to go to a shul that had very little tolerance for noisy children, but our current shul has a little too much (not to mention the adults).

Orthonomics said...

I can't say any "solution" is perfect to meet everyone's wants and needs, especially with separate seating issues, age issues, etc.

I have decided that going to the synagogue is not my priority. My husband goes to hashkama and is home by 9:30 AM at the latest, so I am free to go to minyan if I want, or to go do something else, or just rest.

A syngogue playroom is great for younger kids. But, they still need plenty of supervision. Often playrooms become a place for men to "supervise" while they daven, which really means bad kavannah and bad supervision.

Unfortunately, it is hard to find other mother's that are willing to tag team so that they can split time at a minyan if they desire.

Anonymous said...

you're assuming the community HAS a hashkama minyan . . . this is not always the case. We have a 8:20, 8:45, 9:00 and 10:00am in our town. Also, what do you do when kids WANT to go to shul, will sit inside for 1 hour or so and daven, and see it as a punishment when you don't let them go?

Orthonomics said...

Anon-I'm looking for some ideas and would be happy to post them. I live in a community with more than one hashkama minyan, so these solutions are very workable here. Our latest tefillah here begins at 9:15AM, I believe.

If a kid can go and sit for 1 hour (a good amount of time), I see no reason why they shouldn't go, so long as after the hour is up they have proper supervision. If that was the case with one of mine, I'd time that one hour to start an hour before the approximate end of shachrit. This way, the child can daven (important for their chinuch) and doesn't end up unsupervised and disturbing others.

I'm looking for solutions to merge the positive of taking kids to shul, while avoiding the negative.

Esther said...

At least one synagogue here has an excellent children's program, run by a former kindergarten teacher, that is basically junior congregation for little children. They do holiday memory card, basic davening (Shema, Adon Olam), stories from the Torah, Shabbat songs, and kiddush/snack. It takes a very dedicated person to put such a program together but it provides a way for the younger children to get something out of coming to shul. Many parents stay, but others leave the kids and go daven in shul.

Neil Harris said...

"Some want their children to be comfortable in the synagogue. They want their children to see it as their second home: a place that belongs to them."
The problem is when the kids actually behave like it's their home.
My kids learned at an early age that shul is a treat. We've got rules: No running, no screaming, no jumping. There have been times when one of our kids has chosen to behave like the other kids, and when the "we don't run around shul in our family" line doesn't work, then I've taken the child home.
B"H I currently 8 out of 10 times attend a hashkama minyan. At times my oldest will come with me (the chance to have soda at 9:30 am is a good incentive) and then we go home. Other times I'll go to a later minyan so my youngest can attend groups.

Regardless of where you live, you kids need to understand that shul is a privilege, not a given. Great posting.

Orthonomics said...

The problem is when the kids actually behave like it's their home.

Hey Neil. Thanks for adding your comments. I'd say that some kids would NOT treat their homes like this, or the parents would (hopefully) hang them out to dry.

Anonymous said...

How about this idea, adapted from what some family does during the yomin norayim:

Arrange with some family or neighbors that you guys will switch off. So lets say I arrange with my next door neighbor that I will watch my kids, as well as my neighbors kids while the neighbors parents can both go to shul. The next week, you do a switch, the neighbor watches both family's kids and you and your spouse can go to shul. This doesn't necessarily have to be done this way. It may be easier for one family to go to shul for just shacharis and half of laining, and then do the switch so the other family can go to shul for the second half of laining, the drasha, and mussaf. This way, for at least one week, or even a few hours, each side gets a break from the kids and can actually daven.

(I hope that made sense)

Orthonomics said...

Aishel-Makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, probably easier said than done. I'd love to have a babysitting co-op with other homemaking mothers so that we could each get out for an hour or two in bad weather or when we need a break. But, today's world is so scheduled that it makes it hard to do.

Pragmatician said...

Space permitting a small room with a babysitter, lots of toys and candy.
Just like they have in Shopping centres and by Ikea.

mother in israel said...

Please!! No candy!!

Anonymous said...

If you have kids, I don't understand how you daven in a shul without proper kids groups. At the very least, you should be instrumental in organizing such groups.

In my shul here in baltimore, they have great kids groups that daven with the kids and then keep them entertained. my kids know that they are expected to be in the group or sitting quietly next to me in shul. They have groups for kids as young as 2.

there is NO reason to bring children if they are not in a supervised group or in shul. part of chinuch is not letting the kids go somewhere if they are going to disturb others from their davening.

Just to give the mother a break is an extremely poor excuse. if the mother needs a break during the week, then take time off of work or get a babysitter!

Orthonomics said...

Welcome SR. I agree with you that giving a break just isn't a good reason to let your kids cause others aggrevation and disturbe their tefillah.

I think that many of the disturbing parties do go to groups, but groups start later than the minyanim. And, let's not forget that there are those that find the need to let their kids run around Friday night. (Ugh!)

As far as I am concerned, groups are meant to enhance the experience for children, not replace chinuch.

Anyways, our groups start anew in this Shabbat and we are going to give it a try and see how the leaders are. Chances are I won't make it into the tefillah since I will be listening from outside the door. But, if all is good, I will schedule my time off around the schedule of the group.

Anonymous said...

My two year old goes to groups and they bring him up to the sanctuary if they need a diaper change or have a tantrum. This results in me doing all my davening with one eye on the door.

Orthonomics said...

MaryKayGal-Why not ask if your friend is willing? This is a one time thing.

jewchick said...

I'm completely in shock that so many shuls don't have youth groups. Our shul has groups from 2-11 yrs old, 2 for each grade - a boys group and a girls group, that starts and ends with one of the minyanim, so that people with kids in groups have a minyan they can go to. Teenagers from the community run the groups, and are expected to go to an earlier minyan so that they can help the kids daven. On Yamim Noraim they get some non-Jewish teachers to run groups for little kids, so that women get to shul.

Charlie Hall said...

I don't have a "solution" to offer, but I will say that I will start to pay attention to the complaints about kids in shul when the adults stop talking during davening.

mother in israel said...

I agree MKG, and after trying a babysitter once, I decided my kids shouldn't spend one of the most important days of the year with someone who doesn't appreciate the holiday.

Orthonomics said...

If happily been taking a break from shul for a number of years now. I already have a chazakah, so I see no reason to make any major life change now. I try to do more at home, but I never really get a full arvit in (the time I try to crack open a siddur). But, my toddler can sing the refrain of lecha dodi, so I have something to be proud of. :)

JewChick-Our shul has groups. They are only for a portion of the tefillah. I don't know why they don't run for longer, but I probably wouldn't want them any longer for our children anyways, so I can't complain.

Charlie Hall--Good point!!!

Glad to see everyone. Shavua Tov.

Anonymous said...

Efficient Minyanim help too. Many more children can sit through a 105 minute Shabbat morning Davening than one that lasts 175 minutes because the service is extended by, among other things, having every Oleh (including up to 7 hosaphot) request a Mishebeirach for his whole family out to 3rd cousins. Indeed, many more adults can sit properly through the former than the latter, doubly improving decorum.

Orthonomics said...

Anon-My husband agrees with your sentiments. He is always saying the same thing. Great suggestion. Too bad some minyanim have lost so much decorum due to wasting time.

Anonymous said...

The Rav of the shul I grew up in used to say from the amud that it is asur to talk during tefilah, and therefor he expected silence, except for the sound of children.

Anonymous said...

WADR, are there not major Poskim who are very critical of parents who bring kids who don't, can't or won't appreciate davening due to their age to shul?

Orthonomics said...

Steve, I believe there are plenty of Poskim, major and minor, who oppose the practice of bringing young children to the Beit Knesset. Certainly, Sephardim don't look kindly on the practice, and it really is not done at our minyan.

But, it seems that in todays day and age, people insist on brining young children. So, I was just bringing some suggestion on how to do so with some decorum.

Hila said...

L'Shana Tovah to everyone!

While I cannot offer suggestions from the perspective of a parent, as I am a single woman in her early 20's with no children, I can tell you what I do in my shul. While my situation is a bit different because I live in what one might call a "university town", and therefore there aren't as many families who come to our shul, there still is the issue of children in shul. Our rebbetzin is one such person with several children, and there are a few other families with young kids that come on a regular basis. After seeing these mothers have to run after their children week after week while I got to daven with everyone else, I decided to do something about it. Actually, this happened on Rosh Hashannah last year, now that I think about it. :-)

Anyway, I decided to politely leave services and go to the lobby of our shul, where the children were being quite a handful and the mothers were trying to talk to other people who were coming in and out of shul, and I got the children's attention (my father always said kids were "drawn" to me) and began to play with them quietly so as not to disturb other people. As the mothers finished talking/greeting people, they realized that their children had quieted down and were surprised to see me reading to them quietly on the couch. One mother told me that she was so grateful to me, and that I didn't have to do that, etc, but I told her that I was more than happy to entertain the children, and that if she wanted to go daven I would be delighted to mind the children if she was comfortable with that.

Ok, so that was a really long-winded way to say that I noticed a "problem" (I use the term loosely because I do not think children are a problem, they are a blessing, but undisciplined kids and little ones who don't know any better can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance) and I decided to take action to resolve it. While I know that not every single gal out there would feel comfortable doing this, nor would every mother feel comfortable with someone else watching their "babies", it certainly is worth a shot. My suggestion would be to ask for a volunteer to watch the younger ones during services, that way the mothers (and fathers) who bring their kids to shul can pray in peace. This could be done on a rotating basis, or in my case, every week---sometimes another one of my girl friends helps out when there are LOTS of kids, but for the most part I do it myself. I don't know if I'm right or not, but I feel as if Hashem would rather have me helping take care of these children than davening during minyan, when I can daven at home anyway and I get to have all the peace and quiet I want.

Good luck to all of you wonderful parents out there! I hope that someday, G-d willing, I will be able to share in the joys (and trials) of motherhood!

Orthonomics said...

Hila-Welcome. You are a tzadekes. Hope you find the right one in the right time. :)

Shana Tovah.

Hila said...

SL--Thank you! And sorry for not actually introducing myself! I've been reading your blog for a while now but haven't commented thus far! Shana Tovah!