Dear Jack, I Was the One Who Said “You’re in My Seat”

Dear Jack,

I read your article on the OU’s website titled, You’re in My Seat, and I would like to apologize for being one of the five people who asked you to change your seat. I was one of the people who asked you nicely, but I should have immediately found you an available seat.

In a previous Shul where I davened, in which there were a lot of non-observant guests, we would never ask a person to move to an available seat, because of the possibility of causing offense. But here, we assume observant guests know that Shuls often have fixed seats and that our guests will ask someone for help in finding an available seat. Clearly, that was a mistake and I will try to make our members aware that they should be proactive and always help guests find an available seat.

Although you pointed to the halacha of Makom Kavua as a possible reason we asked you to move, it’s not the only reason we have fixed seats in our Shul. Most of us work pretty hard during the week and Shabbos morning is our refuge where we can sit peacefully, daven, learn, and listen to the drasha. As you’ve seen it can be quite disconcerting to have to find a seat each Shabbos, so we’ve contributed our time and money to keep our Shul running, enabling each of to have a seat we can call our own. From my experience, a regular Shabbos seat is close to a basic human need for observant Jews who daven with a minyan every Shabbos.

Although you suggest that we get there on time if we want our regular seat, our membership, in consideration of our individual situations, voted to give us the rights to our seats until Borechu. Even with that right, I would have gladly sat in another seat. However for various personal situations I usually can’t get to Shul earlier than Borechu, and because I have a desirable aisle seat, I would in fact never get to sit in my regular seat.

All the above notwithstanding, I want to apology on behalf of the Shul for this incident. If you can remember and publicize the good guest rule, “to ask for an available seat”, and we can remember the good host rule, “to immediately find an available seat for our guests”, we hopefully can both make our Shuls and communities, a better place.

With Apologies
Mike

6 thoughts on “Dear Jack, I Was the One Who Said “You’re in My Seat”

  1. Malka Hellinger Forshner

    So nice of you to write this letter of apology to Jack………and I just read the original “You’re in my seat” article to make sure I’m not off base….but there’s something missing here, guys. You can quote all the talmudic commentaries you want on the concept of “makom kavua” but the bottom line is……what if a person is in shul for the very first time……wondering if they want to embark on the BT route, or if that person is in shul for “the last time” (chas v’shalom) because they’re feeling disgruntled with their frum life, and are just going to give it one last shot…..they’re never going to be able to read a letter of apology………since they won’t be around!

    I’ve been the recipient of that “you’re in my seat” comment (yes, it even happens on the ladies’ side) and it really stings! B”H, it didn’t terminate my quest to be a Torah Jew, but the memory is not a pleasant one. Hope I’m not sounding too harsh here, but it’s a far more serious issue than perhaps you all imagined! Have an awesome Shabbos, even if you’re sitting in the back and can hardly hear, since you insisted on giving your seat up front to a zillion new comers to your shul!!!

    Reply
    1. Mark Frankel Post author

      Malka, thanks for your comment. I have also been the recipient of the “you’re in my seat” comment and I agree it’s not pleasant. However there are different aspects of this issue, and I think the more we can understand the different points of view, the better we can handle the situation.

      I tried to make clear in the letter that makum kavua is not the main issue.

      Let me highlight the main points I tried to make and you can tell me which ones you disagree with:
      1) the membership of a Shul has the right to have a reserved seat policy for the members and supporters of the Shul who want to know they have a fixed seat each Shabbos
      2) you should not ask someone who is not observant to change his seat under any condition. I would include a new BT in that.
      3) members should be proactive in finding guests an available seat
      4) guests should ask members for an available seat

      I think if we follow these ideas and show consideration for both guests and members, our Shuls will be better places.

      Note: I (Mark) just used the format of a letter as a device to present a composite point of view based on my experience. I’ve never personally said to someone, “You’re in my seat”. However, I do try to find a guest an available seat when they’re seating in someone else’s seat.

      Reply
  2. Malka Hellinger Forshner

    Hmmm, how do you know who’s not observant (yet) or if someone is a new BT? You got some kind of shabbosdik radar system of reading a Jew’s inner most thoughts/speech/action..current and past? I think we should be extra kind to anyone in shul (b’tzad a seat and everything else) who we don’t recognize as one of the regulars………..and even then, unless your shul has mamash really assigned seats…….have an awesome shabbos, and a freilichen Chanukah!

    Reply
    1. Mark Frankel Post author

      Malka, it’s not hard for people to tell if someone is not observant or a new BT.
      I agree with you that we should be extra kind to anyone in Shul. I think helping someone find an available seat is an act of kindness.

      Reply
  3. Yakov Spil

    In the shul where I daven, the Rov made a few ground rules, one of them is , we are not allowed to ask someone to move from our seat. It violates the whole principle of makom kavua, where by fulfilling this we merit Elokay Avrohom b’ezro, the G-d of Avraham will be his help. How can that be accomplished when we do not emulate the very middah that Avraham is known for- being a hospitable person?

    I feel for the person who feels he cannot get to shul earlier, but he certainly can’t complain if someone takes his seat before he gets there.

    Certainly, a person realizes that it’s not HIS makom. It’s the real estate in shul. By asking someone to move, we cast the shul in a negative light precisely for this reason because a Yid did not feel welcome.

    Most people, really, are sensitive to this and do not want to sit in someone elses seat. I think they’re making too much of it because of this idea. If the person values his seat, he’ll get there in time. But the damage to the shul’s reputation as a result of ONE person making an untoward comment, is worse than the inconvenience we are caused by finding another seat.

    In our shul, the Rov would help the person find another seat just because the risk of offending is so great.

    Reply

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