"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
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.