The State of the Nation in Shul on Yom Kippur

People expect to pray peacefully on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But the shul is overfull and there are distractions. Especially children.

The acceptable level of noise and activity varies according to the community and physical facilities. But one person’s kavanah (concentration during prayer) should not come at the expense of others’. Just because a mother can tune out her children during davening doesn’t mean everyone can.

On Yom Kippur, I mentioned to a friend that her two-year-old had pushed down a child in the aisle. The other child went to his mother to be picked up, without crying, so my friend hadn’t noticed. This happens. But if parents can’t keep an eye on children who wander, the children may be better off at home.

Reports from other communities:

  • A dispute over noisy children in Raanana Rambling’s shul led to hurt feelings.
  • I heard about mothers in Beit Shemesh (not Ramat Beit Shemesh) who fail to reprimand their children in shul because they are observing a “taanit dibbur” on Yom Kippur. During a taanit dibbur one may not speak except to pray.
  • One community’s email discussion on the subject of children in shul pitted old-timers against newcomers. The community hopes to attract young couples, but rigidity about this issue could deter them.

And grant me a moment to kvetch about other annoying things that people do in shul:

My son noticed a family who gave the 5-year-old son snacks to keep him in shul for the davening. After finishing the snack, the child was allowed to go out to play. I don’t believe that kids should eat in shul, especially on Yom Kippur, but I’d be happy for that to be the worst thing to happen.

I don’t understand why a child who just finished seudah hamafseket (the final meal before the fast) needs a bag of Bamba the minute she gets to Kol Nidrei. In this case the child went outside to eat. Was junk food invented as a way to keep kids quiet? (Don’t answer that.)

And one last, cranky complaint: The shul was freezing, so people opened the windows. This wastes electricity and makes the shul even colder, because the air-conditioner must work harder to maintain the pre-set temperature of the thermostat.

So how were things in your shul this year?


  1. I was in the parallel (read overflow) minyan held in a dining room across from the regular shul. Although it was cold we were warned beforehand that there were new air-conditioners installed so it was not known how ‘well’ they would be working and everyone was asked to take that into account and bring (or wear) appropriate clothing.
    There have been announcements that children are welcome but if they disturb they MUST be taken out immediately. This was well observed by all.
    When my kids were younger we lived in a moshav shitufi (sorta like a kibbutz but without the communal dining room) and we kept the kidnergartens open on the holidays and arranged a roster that included all the mothers who took turns in pairs for half an hour or 45 minutes each. It worked really well and ensured that the kids didn’t spend time in shul. (We did allow them in to hear shofar but they had to go right out again after.)

  2. What is it with shuls and air conditioning? Ours was also freezing, and so someone opened the door and left it open. What a waste of electricity! I’ve noticed a lot of people do that here- including our pediatrician. And where we used to live, our neighbor worked for the electric co. and got free electricity- often during the winter he’d have the heat on and the windows open. Maddening!

  3. Our shul was freezing, too. It was so on Rosh Hashana, too, so we had thought the temperature would have been adjusted. no windows to open, though, it’s in a basement. Regarding behavior in shul, I thought of you when I read one of the letters to the editor complaining about how some people behaved on Rosh Hashana — from a woman who took a bite out of the apple her child was munching in shul to the woman who was nursing in this:

  4. Garnel Ironheart says

    I’ll trade you!
    I davened in an old age home and the temperature in the chapel was set to 25 degrees Celsius which is very sweat inducing under a wool tallis, kittel, shirt, tallis koton, etc.
    Also, no kids in old age homes. Instead, we had a pleasantly demented gentlemen who kept singing Adon Olam at the top of his voice until he finally announced “Nap time” and promptly fell asleep.

  5. mother in israel says

    Risa–the gan next to our shul was open for a time, but there was little supervision.
    RR: Stores keep the doors open so they will get more customers. Also, builder don’t pay much attention to insulation in the first place.
    Ariella, this nursing in shul is shocking, I tell you.
    Garnel: What, no suit and tie?

  6. Garnel Ironheart says

    No, I had a tie on. But no, I don’t wear a suit jacket underneath the kittle. I mean, what’s the point?

  7. In our shul, we have children’s programmes which run from about 2/3 way through the davenning till the end on Shabbos and Yom tov. The programming is from toddler to about 13. On Yom Kippur the shul provides a sandwich lunch for children, so that the parents can stay a bit longer than they might otherwise do. Most people are pretty sensitive about not allowing their children to cause a disturbance, although our shul email list had a riot with this a few weeks before the yomim norayim as a request for volunteers to help with the programmes was perceived as a desire to remove the children from the shul!

  8. I disagree with you on this point. Being angry at parents for noise their children make is blaming the victim and sexist. A congregation should provide day-care for young children so that their parents can participate in the community service. Community implies that everyone is welcome. When you exclude parents of young children it sends a bad message to them and frankly is not what a synagogue is all about. The term in Hebrew is Beit Kenneset (BK) ? a house of gathering where the community prays together. Why do I say sexist? In your post and in RR’s post, the mother was mentioned, not the father. If men were considered “responsible” for their children there would certainly be child care for yom-kippur at the BK. In our Yishuv we had child care set up in the social hall and different members of the community volunteered to take turns watching the children. That is a solution that provides parents with an opportunity to pray and keeps crying toddlers from disturbing people in the BK.
    I totally agree about the AC issue.

  9. Ariela, although childcare is ideal, unfortunately, not all communities get it together. And since it’s really the man’s mitzvah to daven b’tzibbur, unfortunately, it’s left to the mom to find solutions or stay home.
    Though not always. My husband and I solved the childcare problem for RH but doing a hashmaka/late minyan combo. The first day I davened at a 6 am minyan and left after kedusha of mussaf to be home at nine, mostly in case the baby didn’t take a bottle and my husband went to a minyan that started at 9, a bit late. The second day my husband went to hashkama and I went to musaf at the late minyan, in time for shofar blowing of course.
    YK I was nursing anyway so I really couldn’t stray far from home due to feeling pretty weak and sick as it is (the standard psak I’ve gotten is that it’s better to stay in bed all day if need be then start with shiurim). With three kids to take care of, i could pretty much manage to stay on the couch, though, again, my husband went to an early minyan and was home by eleven to help me out.
    While it’s true that a shul is a house of gathering, parents of young children cannot simply let their kids run wild because they need to pray. When communal childcare is not organized, then parents must organize themselves and not rely on bamba and a prayer đŸ˜‰ to get them through davening. Most mothers I know do organize something or they know they just have to stay home.
    Now, my shul growing up in the states was very luxurious- they hired non Jewish day care workers for babysitting services pretty much for the entire davening. I could do with something like that right about now in my life.

  10. I personally would rather have a freezing room than a sweaty one–it’s easier to prepare for the cold by bringing a wrap or sweater (which I didn’t bring the first day of Rosh Hashanna and froze, but was very comfortable the second day).
    As far as the noise level goes. Kol Nidre was terrible in the shul we daven in and I will not go there next year (it was the same last year). Of course the shul is open to everyone, but you also need to have some common sense about this. Just because it’s early and your two year old is awake at that time doesn’t mean you need to bring him to shul. It’s not like a mother of young children is getting much davening time in anyway. I saw mothers trying to daven the Amidah while at the same trying to shush their little ones. Of course they didn’t want to talk so they gestured, which wasn’t so effective.
    Time goes quickly. I can’t believe that several years ago I was home on Kol Nidre Night and for most of Yom Kippur and now here I am sitting with my three daughters in shul. Enjoy the little ones at home, say what you can there, knowing that in the blink of an eye you’ll be sitting in shul with your children wishing it was quieter.

  11. And I felt like a very cranky old lady in shul on Yom Kippur.

  12. Wish I didn’t, but I always have a YK story. I will have to email this one to you offline. I’m not sure if i’m ready to post it.
    Our shul was also freezing. And, personally, when every school and shul is hard up for bucks, it is offensive to have the air conditioning set below 68 degrees.

  13. rachel in israel says

    In our Yishuv they set seats outside shul so women can sit there with noisy kids and don’t disturb davening. When I first heard it I was so mad that the shul was so discriminating. When I davened there I saw the good side. I can supervise my daughter run wild and play and daven with the tzibbur. Since the yishuv put a park very close to the shul it makes it even easier.
    For yom kippur we were in a “normal” city shul. I partly disagree with your bamba comment. If done correctly, junk food can be a very powerful tool. I don’t have at home junk food (no bamba, bisli, pretzels, cookies, crackers, etc) only home made desserts on shabbos. My daughter eats fruit for a snack and if it is not enough it means she needs a real meal. She gets a bag of pretzels at maon on fridays. The only thing I buy are whole wheat crackers, and a one kilo box lasts for months since it’s a treat. I never go to shul because my daughter doesn’t know how to shut up. So for the only time in the year that I want to go to shul, I brought a whole back of the crackers and gave them to her freely.
    Yeah, I know here parents buy hundreds of bags of bamba for everyday babysitting, but maybe that should be an orthonimic and orthodentist post…

  14. Rachel in Israel says: “I never go to shul because my l daughter doesn’t know how to shut up.”
    Wow, Rachel, that’s refreshing.

  15. Rachel in Israel says: “I never go to shul because my l daughter doesn’t know how to shut up.”
    I have a daughter like that. You tell her “shhh”, and she talks louder, gets more insistent.
    A congregation should provide day-care
    Who pays? The parents (rarely have the money)? The shul? (then you have to go to a shul with rich/disposable income people)
    In my experience, at least for my daughter, a “bad” babysitter is worse than none at all. My daughter mostly just needs a good play date. Luckily, there are rooms for the kids to play in at our shul.

  16. mother in israel says

    Daycare might be nice, but it doesn’t work for all kids and age groups. Space is a problem too–a huge problem in the city.
    I don’t feel the necessity to be in shul even for the yamim noraim. I used to love to be in shul for every moment, even on weekdays. But my attention span has lowered and my kids are in my consciousness.
    I think that Judaism recognizes that there are private family needs that take precedence over the public role. I can be part of the community in other ways. I don’t have to be in shul all day like the men. If that makes me sexist, so be it. Being in shul is much more important for my husband–and I’m not just talking about the halacha.
    Ariela, I agree that young families should feel welcome in shul. But the shul is not always equipped to meet the needs of small children who need close supervision and room to run and play. Toddlers in particular are noisy and demanding little people.
    Women who feel something is missing from their holiday if they don’t spend a significant part of the day in shul, can usually find an arrangement that meets the needs of the children and does not disturb others. And yes, fathers need to be equally involved in finding solutions. If you are lucky, the community will help, but that is a luxury we don’t all have.

  17. If your kids can sit still, that’s great, but if they can’t, you’re simply setting yourself & them up for a failure.
    I brought my daughter into shul for about 10 minutes, realized she was impossible to control, and then spent some time outside next to the window so I could hear the shaliach tzibur. When she started running wild, that was the end of that. It’s frustrating, but that’s the way it goes.

  18. “Being angry at parents for noise their children make is blaming the victim and sexist.”
    Ariela, I disagree completely. Kids don’t know how to behave. They’re…KIDS! It’s up to the parents to teach them how to behave, even in a place that’s supposed to be inclusive, like a shul. Don’t you think a shul demands a bit more decorum, and that if children can’t behave, their parents (right, it IS usually the mother, that’s true) should keep them outside…or at home? Why should the right of parents of noisy kids to stay in shul trump MY right to daven in peace? (and when I say peace I don’t mean absolute silence, I’m not that unrealistic)
    Your idea of the shul providing childcare is a nice one, but I don’t know how well that would actually work, logistically.

  19. Nobody mentioned the taanit dibbur that some mothers are observing on RH and YK?
    Things like this drive me crazy – Misplaced piety in my opinion. How can you not speak a word besides davening for 3 entire days as the mother of presumably young (if they needed reprimanding I assume they are on the younger side) children? Unless one’s kids are much older, why is it that these mothers latched on to this chumrah as something that is shayach to them at all?
    I’d rather see a focus on teaching your children better ‘bein adam lechavero’ skills than something like a taanit dibbur for a young mother that is at best inappropriate and at worst, negligent.
    YK for me is holy, surely. But the holiness these years is in finding the time and the frame of mind to pray at home with my kids, where we do our best overall. Especially nursing, which is still draining on a fast day.
    I prepared food in advance for the kids, their ‘nosh’ was fruit salad, and they tried to keep busy together while Mommmy tried to daven. Diaper changing and reading children’s books is worthwhile avodat kodesh too.

  20. very interesting comments…..

  21. ok i will add…i’m not jewish but it’s interesting to read about all these problems with worship…at church I also can’t bear seeing children eating bamba and even chocolate sandwiches if you please!!!children stay for the worship songs at the beginning but then they all go to sunday school while the parents can enjoy the sermon.Care is provided for toddlers and babieswith people taking turns each week…I must say I don’t have a very high threshold for tolerating children who are noisy and badly behaved…..

  22. mother in israel says

    Raggedy–I also thought that was the most interesting part of the post.
    Melissa, I see this is a universal problem.

  23. Just a little correction: the ta’anit dibur is a custom on Yom Kipur and not on Rosh Hashanah, men and women alike.
    I’m having another problem with the females coming to shul. It’s their way of dressing that’s lacking the proper modesty acquiered by halachah. A person coming to shul should respect the holiness of the place and dress accordingly. Just as we know how to respect the wishes of ba’al hasimchah who stated on the invitation to dress in modest attire, so can we when coming to shul.

  24. mother in israel says

    Leah, thank you,I’ll make the correction.
    Your second point is a good topic for a blog post.

  25. Oh, yes… we always have several nonreligious women at shul who are dressed like they’re going to happy hour- or in jeans and a t-shirt. I mean, come on! People aren’t really that clueless, are they? Doesn’t it occur to these women to dress appropriately in a place of worship?

  26. Hmm, the dressing actually doesn’t bother me that much. I look at it as at least they’re in shul, they had some kind of feeling that they wanted to be in shul, that it’s important to them. It’s a small step and maybe it will grow into something more (and maybe they’ll become more aware of appropriate dress.)
    I always noticed how it’s usually these sephardi guys who show up in jeans, a white shirt and a funny white kippa.
    Basically, you have to start somewhere and I wouldn’t turn away people because of dress (unless it was severely offensive).

  27. Moadim L’Simchah.
    Being in shul is much more important for my husband–and I’m not just talking about the halacha.
    I feel the same way. I’m a big advocate of not bringing kids who can’t sit to shul – which this year meant that I was only in shul for the first thirty kolot on both days of R”H and then not at all on Y”K.
    My husband always feels very sorry for me, because he can’t imagine davening at home. However, I really don’t mind at all. In fact, sometimes I find that when I’m at home, I can daven shmoneh esreh with more kavanah…

  28. I really don’t mind people who are dressed outside of the norms of shul dress – be it clothes that are too informal, or a certain degree of immodesty (although not if it’s a major spectacle). My tolerance for that is pretty high. Like Abbi said, it’s nice that they are in shul altogether. Doesn’t the chazzan specifically mention that the community leaders permit praying together with the “avaryanim” (sinners)? Who among us is without fault? A jeans-white t-shirt-wearer is not the worst among us, surely.

  29. Balabusta in Blue Jeans says

    I know I am almost alone in this in the world, but there is really very little that small kids (under ten or so) can do in shul that upsets me. Clobbering each other. That’s about it.
    Most of the moms at the shuls I attend will swoop them out of the room if they absolutely go on a screaming jag, but they seldom do.
    For Yom Kippur, most of the small ones wander around with little bags of grapes and Cheerios and such, and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
    That said, I think that a fast of silence is not an ideal commitment for a parent of small children to make. This seems like a spiritual exercise for once the kids are grown.