Transforming Seating Problems into Chesed Opportunities

Despite having a pretty good awareness of the issues involved in Shul seating on Shabbos, a few years ago we discovered we still had some issues. Not all guests were being accommodated in an optimal fashion. Instead of entering a denial phase, we embarked on a simple plan to deal with the issue.

The Shul now has three seating Gabbais, situated on both sides of the Shul. When a guest comes into a section, the Gabbai performs a quick visual check for an available seat and then welcomes and escorts the guest to the seat. When the proper attention is given during the first 30 minutes of davening it works beautifully. Those involved are willing to sacrifice some part of the first 30 minutes of davening to accommodate the guests.

On a past Shabbos, a simcha brought a higher number of guests to the Shul. The high level appreciation shown by the guests as they were escorted to their seats illustrates that this proactive seating process is superior to a passive, let the guests sit where they want approach. One of the Gabbais mentioned that this Chesed felt so right.

On one level, this was a small change which was enacted with little fanfare. But on another level it transformed the occasional seating problem into a situation with multiple Chesed opportunities every Shabbos. Shuls were built for these types of positive transformations.

3 thoughts on “Transforming Seating Problems into Chesed Opportunities”

  1. If someone sits in my seat I just don’t mention anything and sit elsewhere. Why make a fuss? It’s a kindness to let them do so. When I go to another shul I usually ask someone in the women’s section if it’s okay for me to sit in a certain seat (I would never sit in the Rebbetzin’s seat or in a seat that someone purchased which has their name plate on it.) As a fundraiser our shul sold seats for $1000 for those who wanted a “permanent” seat. Some people sit in the seats they were assigned for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and throughout the year while others sit in other seats throughout the year. Any person who is bothered by someone sitting in their seat should make it a point to be in shul on time and occupy that seat to avoid seating issues.

    1. Hi Mrs. Jaffe, good to hear from you. Your position is what I referred to in the article as the “passive, let the guests sit where they want approach”. This is what I would call the conventional wisdom on the subject. However we have clearly seen that having a “greet and find the guest an empty seat” approach is far superior. We hope others will proactively reach out to their guests with this approach.

  2. This is one of the best SHUL POLITICS articles because it gives a practical solution to a widespread problem.

    I humbly suggest that the seating Gabbais arrive in the synagogue at least 30 minutes earlier than everyone else, and also start praying earlier, to avoid a situation where they are forced to “sacrifice some part of the first 30 minutes of davening to accommodate the guests,” as mentioned in the second paragraph of the current article.

    In any case, we learn from Berachot 47B the importance of arriving early in the synagogue.

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