The following post was written by Rabbi Michael Green who is Overseas Director at Bnot Torah Institute and teaches Bible, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish Mysticism, Jewish Holidays, and Contemporary Halacha.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS). His congregation is rapidly-growing with over 650 families. It follows that he is someone who cares for the needs of all of his congregants. Indeed, the other day, he asked (here) on his Twitter account the following question, “how would u shorten shabbos morning davening within halachik boundaries in an effort to make it more enjoyable and meaningful?”
This question elicited several responses. Rabbi Eli Storch of DRS answered (here), ”take away the hosafos in leining. no misheberachs after the aliya. Don’t sing while taking out the Torah,” while Mordechai Holtz, the COO of Meor, replied (here) that he should consider what I believe to be an even more drastic method. Namely, Mordechai suggested modifying the services to be more akin to, “Israeli style [in which there's] no speech during davening (do it post-prayer where those w/ kids dont feel pressured).” Rabbi Gil Student of TorahMusings.com replied with an answer that I see to be a healthy medium. He wrote (here), that the service should simply offer a “quick dvar Torah rather than sermon and no extra mishebeirachs. Minimize time people are just standing around.”
Rabbi Goldberg countered to Student’s tweet by writing (here), “many, ba’alei teshuva in particular, find more meaning in sermons than tefila.” As an aside, it is worth noting that BRS is very active in all things Kiruv and was recognized as such by NJOP at their seventeenth annual dinner. It follows that Rabbi Goldberg, who also attended Ner Le’Elef, is sensitive to the needs of Baalie Teshuva as he has congregants and their families who are not your typical FFB.
Frankly, I believe that something should be done to allow for more “family time” on Shabbos. After all, when the “Main Minyan” begins at 9:00am it may not end (1) until 12:00pm. Accordingly, there are people who may not get home from synagogue until as late as 12:30pm.
As such, ones Shabbos lunch may not start until as early as 12:30pm and as late as 1:30pm.(2) In an informal poll of my students every girl told me that the average Shabbos lunch takes approximately two hours. It follows that certainly in the winter months when Shabbos ends earlier, there is very little time before one must return to Shul for Mincha, Shalosh Seudos (3) and Maariv. This leaves little time to learn some Torah on your own, let alone go over your child(rens) Parsha Sheet, (4) or learn some Mishnayos or what not (let alone) individually with each one of your children…and this is assuming that the Chulent didn’t get to you and compel you to take the ever so important Shabbos afternoon shluf!
Rabbi Fink of Pacific Jewish Center contends here and here with my position that Shabbos is a family oriented day. In fact, he believes that, “Shabbos is for community/connection,” and that “much of the day is spent in Shul. As it should be.”
This is in stark contrast with the fact that we incorporate our children into the Shabbos experience beginning Friday night. Indeed, one of the first blessings one recites after walking home from Shul is the blessing one bestows upon each and every child in their family! See also Sefer Emek HaMelech (Hakdama 3 Ch. 4) who records that even the saintly Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi valued the importance of “family time” that he returned to his family on Shabbos and then promptly left once again to continue his Torah learning in seclusion.
I have a Mesorah from my Rebbeim on down, that Shabbos is a day to bond with ones family. It is a day to show ones children the true beauty and essence of Shabbos. If not now then when? I believe that one espouses genuine sentiments of Kedusha directly upon their impressionably young children in their home and at their Shabbos table—and not at Youth Groups or a Teen Minyan. Certainly in an era that is plagued with concepts such as, “Half-Shabbos,” if we are able to simply be home and demonstrate our love for the beauty of Shabbos, we can do our part to impart upon our children that this day is filled not with socializing in Shul but with sanctity. Sanctity begins in our home, our mikdash me’at and moves on from there…
In short, Shabbos is a time of “Ish al machanayhu.” Moreover, certainly in today’s world when kids have hours on end of homework and a father and/or mother may return home as late as 8pm tired after a long day at work, Shabbos becomes an even more essential day. It is the one day that a parent is assured that he or she will be able to spend time with his family, let alone transmit the Torah ideals of Shabbos and the beauty of Judaism.
Shabbos is not a day to network. It is not a day to connect with ones community. It is a day, if not the only day of the week, that one can use to strengthen ones home.
Granted, I agree with Rabbi Fink that it’s important to work on communal connections. This can be done on any other day of the week. It can even be done on Sunday. After all, ones kids may be in school or playing little league baseball on Sunday. For instance, Sunday morning is a perfect time to learn with fellow congregants over a brunch or pack Mishloach Manos with other community friends, and so on and so forth.
In 2012, there is only one day that we are guaranteed to have all of our family together without any digital distractions…that day is Shabbos.
Yes, there is time Friday night when Shabbos starts early to learn and spend times with ones children. However, with certainly young children, there are many years in which they are only up for Kiddush and HaMotzei before they fall asleep under the table, on the couch, etc. etc. Likewise, in the summer months there still isn’t that much of a long afternoon that one has available to them. Certainly, if ones son or daughter is going to a friends house, attending a Pirchei, Bnos, or a Bnei Akiva group, that longer Shabbos afternoon isn’t really that long.
In a follow up to this post I will share with you a novel approach that I have seen work towards solving the fact that Shabbos morning services can easily lag on for hours on end. As such, I believe that it could help, if not be a Halachic answer to Rabbi Goldberg’s question.
Until then I turn to you dear reader and ask, how do you view Shabbos? Do you view it as a family oriented day or a shul/community oriented day? I look forward to hearing your comments.
For more on this topic see Rabbi Reuven Spolter’s post here: http://j.mp/wfaH5G
(1) When I use the word end, I am including the holy grail that no one would ever cut out, namely the Kiddush that typically follows Shabbos morning services.
(2) After all, sometimes you need to stop by another Shul to wish a Mazel Tov at someone elses Kiddush, Bar Mitzvah, etc. etc.
(3) For many reasons from convenience on down, I have seen that people do not return home for this meal and instead remain in Shul, shmooze with their friends at the table, sing some nice songs, and hear some closing remarks on the Parsha from the Rabbi.
(4) Children as young as two years old receive this review of the week from his/her Rebbe or Morah. As ones children get older the Parsha Sheet is not only a helpful review for the child, but it may allow one to know what is and isn’t being covered in the classroom. To simply skip this Parsha Sheet would be a mistake. And yet, even if you assume that Mr. Ploni Almonistein has four children and will spend ten minutes on this sheet per child, that means that simply reading it and giving each child the time that they deserve takes a good forty minutes. I know that some parents like to “kill two birds with one stone” and go over the Parsha Sheet at the Shabbos table. In reality though, the Shabbos table is not an ideal time to blow through the questions that each and every child has within their Parsha Sheet. After all, there’s a lot going on at a family oriented Shabbos table. Likewise, one may have children who are at the young age that they can’t be compelled to sit at the table for a long stretch of time. And so, doing this privately on a couch in the morning or after lunch with your arm lovingly wrapped around your child, can impart genuine sentiments of warmth as well as show your child that they have your undivided attention!