Choosing Shalom Over Emes

My Shabbos Shul gives members who come on a regular basis a set seat each week. Since I was responsible for allocating the seats when we moved into our new building, it’s still my job to resolve seating conflicts. So it wasn’t out of the ordinary that a friend directed my attention to a quiet conflict in progress last Shabbos. No words were exchanged, but it was clear from the body language that two people were claiming the same seat.

After davening, I went over to the person who was assigned the seat and let him know I was aware of the situation and would try to resolve it. He said that he didn’t want to make waves and that the other person seemed to want the seat more, so he would take a different seat nearby. I offered again to try and resolve it, but he said it was ok, and he appreciated my involvement.

During the week, I daven regularly at a different weekday minyan. A number of months ago, the main gabbai clarified to me that regular daveners of the minyan could have a regular seat. Since I met the criteria, I said a regular seat would be great, and I was assigned one.

When I walked in last Sunday, I was told by a different gabbai to take a different seat on Sundays, because the person in my seat davens there on Sundays in the spring and summer months and he would be coming for the next 6 months. On the Emes (truth) scale, it would be hard to call a Sunday only spring-summer davener, a regular. But I didn’t say anything and I took the other seat. I thought that it was interesting that I was involved in resolving a seating issue on Shabbos and here I was on the other side of the table.

Reflecting upon the two events and seeing the Shabbos Shul member choose the route of Shalom over Emes, I decided to follow suit and not say anything to the Gabbai about the issue. The take away is that we do have rights, and there are times when we’re entitled to assert our rights. But perhaps our default position should be to relinquish or rights and choose Shalom over Emes.

8 thoughts on “Choosing Shalom Over Emes”

  1. When I first moved to my current shul I found a nice seat and occupied it.
    A few weeks later I found another guy regularly trying to sit in “my seat”! Turns out he goes on a sabbatical every summer and I’d arrived in a town a week after he left which is why I had the seat to myself for over a month. But I didn’t know that so for several weeks we would quietly race each other to the seat when we arrived at shul at the same time.
    Eventually the rabbi moved the mechitza for unrelated reasons and we both lost the seat.
    The Mishnah says the best vessel God could find was peace, not truth, for a reason.

  2. Bob, perhaps when there’s no official membership based policy, a set seat can be considered a privilege, when there is a policy it’s a right.

    In my Shabbos Shul, it’s a right, in my weekday shul it’s a privilege.

    Thanks for pointing out that distinction.

  3. I live in Jersey, in the (English) Channel Islands. As I make frequent (7-8 times a year) visits to a certain coastal town in southern England and ‘daven’ in the local ‘shul’ I thought it right to apply for membership there.

    I was astonished to see that not only had I been assigned a “regular” seat in the ‘shul’ but it also bore a small, brass plaque with my name on it! That is the way to resolve all seating disputes!

    1. Darth, that works well when you have enough seats for everybody who comes.

      In our Shul if 80% of the members came on a given Shabbos we would not have enough seats. (Kew Gardens Hills has over 30 places to daven on Shabbos.) We need a little flexibility and seating resolution on occasion.

  4. i belonged to a shul that used an entirely different method of resolving this issue: no one except two rabbanim have any claim to a seat. someone is sitting in the place where you normally sit – find another seat.

    1. Ben, that works.

      In some Shuls, people want to know that they can come and have a specific seat from week to week.

      That’s the beauty of Shul Politics, there are different ways to resolve these issues. If there was only one way, there wouldn’t be anything to discuss.

  5. Sometimes a smaller shul may have only a limited amount of space in its Ezras Nashim. In my shul, the mechitza panels can be moved to give the ladies more or less seating space. There are no fixed benches, only moveable chairs. The men have a little more sense of permanence because they have their chairs set at tables, which usually are not moved around a lot. So my husband can say he has “his seat” in the shul, while I can’t. Usually, the panels are moved around to give the men more space and the ladies less space (not out of sexism, but out of a practical assessment of how many of each gender has actually showed up). Most of the membership consists of young families, so on Shabbos many young mothers stay at home with their infants and toddlers, getting the seudah ready. That’s OK, it helps with shul decorum not to have babies crying or little kids kvetching. However, on those few days when a large number of women do show up, it can be hard for a latecomer female to find a seat, even a longtime member of the shul. There’s no hierarchy in our shul: you can’t tell another lady, “That’s my seat,” because there really aren’t any set seats for the women. For a couple of years, they did try to assign specific seats for women for the Yomim Noraim, setting up the chairs in neat rows, and having a seating chart posted in the ladies’ section. My shul no longer does this, and although a family can buy seats in the ladies’ section, that only means each female gets the privilege of hunting for an unoccupied chair and then dragging it into an unoccupied space (good luck again for latecomers). So even though my husband and I have been part of our shul for all of its sixteen years of existence, I don’t get any dibs on any specific seat, or square footage, in the Ezras Nashim.

Comments are closed.