Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5763 - October 9, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

Playing vs. Praying

Perhaps NOW is the time to think about this problem with detachment and objectivity -- and make your resolutions for next year, taking into account the babies that may be born in the interim. Also relevant for now.

Children in Shul
by A. Ross, M.Ed.

"What can I do? I have five small children and I can never get to shul at all. It makes me really unhappy to hear my friends arranging the davening schedule of the Yomim Noroim round their children."

"My Yankele can sit for two hours without talking above a whisper, and he says Omein in all the right places, although he is not yet three."

"My Sorele is over twelve but she doesn't like davening, so I go, and she does the babysitting."

"My son will soon be eight and he won't daven. We've bribed him to go to shul and after five minutes he's out playing in the street. And he won't daven at all at home. The Rebbe says he's fine in cheder."

Does any of this sound familiar?

First of all, as I write this, I know that there will be readers who have different opinions on the subject. There always are, and one cannot generalize. Nevertheless, I have had plenty of experience in the subject. It is axiomatic that I have been a child, and I've also been a teenager, a young mother and an older mother.

When you take your cute little Yankele who is not yet three to shul, you swell with pride as he shouts omein, often a second or two after everyone else. You are equally proud of the fact that he does not talk above a whisper.

"Right, Mommy, everyone is davening now?" "I can see my teacher sitting over there. Can you see her, Mommy?" "Can I eat my Bamba now?" The sibiliant whisper is replaced by crunch, crunch. For you, and for him, he is being a very good boy and you can ignore the whispers. What about the other members of the congregation? Especially ones who have not been blessed with children yet?

There is no doubt that a person can concentrate on prayers more when saying them in shul rather than at home with one or maybe more toddlers around. But at the same time, there is just as little doubt that at this time in her life, it is more important for a woman to look after her children than for her to daven. It is up to each woman to make her own arrangements as she sees fit.

Some people share children. One mother takes them all during the hours of shacharis and the other mother gives them a change of scenery and takes them all to her house for mussaf. This does not always work, as many women feel their own are much better- behaved than others! Some women leave their older daughters in charge. Some employ non-Jewish babysitters or perhaps, have living-in babysitters. (This is a very controversial solution to the problem.)

One thing is certain. The children are the woman's responsibility and taking them to shul is not the answer. There was a baby crying just before tekiyos in my shul last year and the poor mother was trying franctically to pacify him. Before the brochos, a man banged on his desk and called out, "Anyone who has a crying child -- take him outside. Right outside. NOW!" The woman who happened to be a friend of mind told me later that she didn't know what had come over her boy. He was always so pleasant and docile. He is, but children are unpredictable.

An additional point which has nothing to do with Yomim Noroim. Many fathers enjoy taking their small sons or even daughers to shul, especially for Shabbos mincha, long before their children can read. The children associate shul as a place to eat or to look around. To them, it is not a place of worship. They should be taken when they are old enough to know how to accord a shul/beis midrash the reverence and deference due to it.

Which brings me to the slightly older child who refuses to daven, and refuses to go to shul. My advice is to leave him alone. I have discussed this with heads of chadorim and with other educators, so this is not only a personal opinion. Do not bribe him nor make an issue out of it. He will go when he is ready. Naturally, if he is not yet reading, that will have to be sorted out, but otherwise, just keep him at home for another year or two or even more. Many boys of that age do go to shul but spend the time playing outside. Where are the fathers of these children? If they are too young to daven, we come back to the first point: let them stay at home. If they are allowed to play outside at the age of eight, the chances are that they will still be playing when they are twelve!

A kohen once told me that Rabbi Dov Sternbuch of Gateshead asked him why he did not let his young sons duchen on Yom Tov. He replied that it was not done. "Why? Why is it not done?" he asked. "We train the children in all other mitzvos, so why don't we train small kohanim in this particular one?" Rabbi Sternbuch then proceeded to answer his own question. "Because we don't want to train them at the expense of other people. It would not be respectful for the child to practice on adults." Which is a reason why in many shuls in Israel they will not let a Bar Mitzva boy read the whole parsha. Some boys sail through it, but others make mistakes, and why make adults suffer?

Nobody claims that it is easy to be parents, yet we all want to be parents. So take the responsibilities together with the pleasures and take comfort from the fact that the years slip by all too quickly and then you will be able to daven to your heart's content without worrying about Junior.


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