Shortening Shabbos Davening

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 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:

(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!

21 thoughts on “Shortening Shabbos Davening”

  1. I think that Shabbos is a combination of family/shul oriented…there’s no way around it. That being said, there’s no reason to stay at a kiddush for hours to avoid going home to help set the table for lunch.

    I know many people who do not learn during the week and LIVE for their Rabbi’s drasha since it allows them to learn something.

    1. I agree with you Neil in regards to combination. I was somewhat surprised that the author and some of the Rabbis framed this as an either/or proposition. But even in the family and community perspective, the issue of length of Shabbos davening is still very relevant.

  2. Thank you for this post. It is deeply reassuring to know that others share my concern about the length of services, especially on Shabbos. This is only one of the ways in which we are putting the good of the family second.

    What many fail to understand is that there is no community without the family. It is through the family that we most intimately learn and practice, from day to day, Torah principles. Shul services supplement, but can never stand in place of, the essential spiritual, emotional, and intellectual life of the family.

    And, indeed, in Scripture, the tradition is passed down mainly by parents to their children, directly by teaching and indirectly by example. (Nor does Scripture require long daily services, much less long Shabbos services. Certain prayers are critical, but many are simply not obligatory and should not be required as part of the normal service.)

    In the last century or so, we have come to prefer institutions to family and true community. Certain institutions are very important; but they must be understood as secondary to the life of the family.

  3. Rabbi Green responded to Neil and my comments on Twitter. I’ll try to capture what he said here, although Twitter is a very weak form to communicate ideas.

    He agreed that Shabbos is also a community day, but he feels that we should to try to eliminate the “drag” of davening.

    I responded that nobody wants “drag”, but one man’s drag is another man’s essentials.

    And that is what I think is at the essence of this issue and Shul Politics in general: balancing the needs of a group of individuals. That’s what leads to growth and deeper more lasting communal ties.

    1. Using Twitter is like speaking in shul, if you do it, it must be brief.

      I think the creation of more and more minyanim in large communities is because of this balance between the group and the individual. Many people daven at an early morning Shabbos minyan simply to have more time with family (like myself).

  4. 1) I agree w/Neil’s point.

    2) I’ve been in Shul’s where the President / Shul Announcer simply reads the announcements off of the Shul Bulletin that is lying around. Let’s face it..this has already been sent to everyone via email and/or been read by the congregants in Shul. Is it necessary to read/read every announcement. I’m not suggesting cutting the Dvar Torah..but again dragging announcements are a nationwide epidemic in my opinion…

    1. I’m with you on this issue of shortening announcements, and it’s a constant topic of discussion even when they take less that 5 minutes.

      The problem is that in our distracted world (and even before it became so distracted) people need to hear things more than once for it to make an impact. In marketing they say you need 5-6 impressions before a person will take an action.

      And for the rare times when somebody is fortunate to be a Baal Simcha, I don’t think it’s such a crime to shower them with more than one Mazal Tov.

      The assumption in a Shul is that the Shul’s activities are important to the members. For people who care less about the Shul community there are vehicles like Hashkama and Beis Medrash minyans with their laser-like focus on efficient (but not necessarily effective) davening. For those strongly committed to family and community, longer announcements, within reason, are a small price to pay.

      1. I would recommend reconsidering the idea that bigger is better (or, more precisely, longer is better). Yes, Hashkama is briefer (“efficient,” as you say) – usually about 90-120 minutes. That this amount of time could be considered insufficient for “effective” davening strikes me as unreasonable.

        If the objection to briefer – although still long – davening periods is that the pace is too fast, I’d say the pace is too fast at almost every normal Shachris service, too. The solution there is to reduce the number of obligatory prayers. (E.g., isn’t it better to say one psalm with concentration than five psalms together in a rush? Are all five psalms truly required?)

        1. I don’t think bigger/longer is inherently better in terms of the length of service. The issue here is whether we go with no-frills or we add things like misheberachs, singing, Rabbi’s speech, announcements, children centered davening at the end of Mussaf. Each has a benefit and a cost in terms of time.

          As far as davening itself, my experience has shown that people who take davening more seriously daven longer. But a Shul is a place where we have to meet the collective needs of its members and there are variations among Shuls as to the length of the actual davening component.

          I don’t think many normative Shuls will reduce the number of obligatory prayers. Although I agree that less psalms with more concentration is the right approach. On my good davening days, I personally try to say less psalms with more concentration.

          1. Mark,

            Thanks for the comments. Do you think it is common to leave out many psalms and other prayers that do not appear obligatory? Obviously, certain prayers are required – Shema and Amidah – and others are very important – such as the ones leading to the Shema and Amidah – but do you think that many of those who are more serious about davening quietly leave out a significant portion of the less critical prayers in order to pray more slowly and carefully?

            The rushing bothers me a lot, especially since it seems commonly to be done by rote and without kavanah. On the other hand, the rushing is required if one intends to say all the prayers and still make it home for kiddush before 3 p.m.


          2. Josh, I’ve been davening at a very serious minyan on weekdays. I’ll ask a few people there what they do on Shabbos.

          3. Josh, I spoke to a few people in my minyan and to my Rav this morning. If you can, you should come early to say all of the Pesukei D’Zimra. If that doesn’t work out, you can cut out parts of Pesukei D’Zimra to make it manageable. The people I talk to this morning, regularly cut parts out.

            See the back of an English Artscroll siddur for what parts take precedence.

  5. Many things could be subtracted from the Shabbat prayers, but our righteous and distinguished Orthodox Rabbis will NEVER agree to do that, at least in my lifetime.

    We live in the age of chumrot, and reducing the length of the Shabbat prayers, no matter how justified or beneficial, is the opposite direction and has no chance of Rabbinical acceptance and no chance of even being seriously considered.

    1. Not until more of us have the courage to speak openly about it – with full respect for halachic requirements.

      Reducing davening requirements is not an attack on Judaism, but a sincere effort to save Judaism. When one feels overwhelmed by the huge volume of required prayers, and left aside by others who are rushing, rushing, rushing to get through the prayers, davening feels more like a chore than a joy.

      Most are not willing to voice discontent, however, for fear of being harshly judged.

      1. Indeed, because it is more ideal to say less with more intention (kavana) than to say more with less. Or perhaps not only more ideal, but even an explicit mitzvah to do so!

  6. Misheberachs and additional aliyot are good candidates for shortening. Most orthodox shuls that I have attended have little if any singing for removal or return of the Torah. I miss that from my Conservative attendance days. It’s a beautiful way to pay homage to the Torah, our blueprint for life.

    Pauses between stanzas of E-l Adon take up time and disrupt the tempo of davening; likewise on Friday night with l’chah dodi. People in Shul often sing along anyway, rather than fill in the pause by the chazzan.

    After kedushah, the talking starts, so I would like a Shul that has only silent Amidah from that point on.

  7. On Shabbos, what would be the reason for speed davening to begin with? At long as there are no lengthy pauses, the tunes used are really good and appropriate to the subject matter, and the sermon makes valid points organized well, the experience should be positive.

  8. Mark Frankel,

    Thank you for going to the trouble of checking with other daveners and with your Rav. The information you provided is very helpful.

    (Please pardon my delayed response.)

  9. Isnt it said that those who have no time for learning and the like during the week, should make up for it on Shabbos? Could it be that the reason that the davening is longer on Shabbos (hence the additional or Mussaf prayers) is because G-d knows we dont have time during the week to properly concentrate on our prayers then? I keep reading in the biographies of gedolim how they were revered because they had such concentration on their prayers that their Shemona Esrei took very long (an hour? more?, etc). These days, living in a fast paced world, we have no time for anything that takes longer than a few minutes. Many of us have developed shpilkas and can’t stand when things are dragged out longer than they can handle. I know, I have a severe case of it, but thats because I grew up with a father who was/is a Gabbai and never sat in his seat during davening. I never learned how to sit still.

    But I digress. Davening should be nice and not dragged out. It is longer since Shabbos being a day of rest we now have more time to praise and plead to G-d. But to those who think that you will be able to make community connections during the week, you are sorely mistaken. How can you make connections with people you have not met? Until you meet a new person in shul it is highly unlikely you will be able to invite them to your house for Shabbos. without talking to new people, how can you teach and show your children how to do hachnosas orchim? On more than one occasion I have heard or have been told by someone that I should not hesitate to call them up and INVITE MYSELF OVER to them for a Shabbos meal because it is highly unlikely that they will have the time to do it themselves during the week.

    Shabbos may be a time for family but it is also a time for community. Whether or not a shul needs a kiddush every week to create a social atmosphere after davening to promote achdus, is probably a topic for another article by Mark.

    A longer davening on Shabbos than during the week is “MiDiRabbonim,” shleeping and “krechtzing” it along is probably not. Its not the prayers that need to be left out or shortened, its the style.

  10. I stopped going to a certain shul after the Rav said Shabbos was

    strictly for being in shul,
    learning torah,
    and practically no time should be spent with family.

    Good riddance!

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