Is Shushing Worse Than Talking in Shul?

The Importance of Maintaining Decorum
The laws regarding behavior in Shul discourage most talking. This great set of Synogogue Guidelines by Rabbi Michael Taubes demonstrates the severity of the prohibition of unnecessary conversation and what degree of quiet is required during the various parts of davening.

Our Motivation for Quiet
Despite general knowledge of the laws, people make mistakes and sometimes talk during inappropriate times during davening. This even happens in quiet Shuls. When talking happens we would like it to stop, motivated by a combination of the following factors:
– eliminating something that is disturbing or distracting to us
– preventing the talker from committing a transgression
– helping the Shul to have the proper decorum

Is Shushing Effective?
One of the popular ways to try to stop talking is the shush. It’s certainly better than telling a person to shut-up and perhaps it’s rooted in preventing embarrassment. Although shushing will often result in the talking stopping, without dealing with the underlying causes it’s a stopgap measure and the talking will continue. Another issue regarding shushing is who has the authority to deal with talking, ofttimes it’s not the shusher.

Is Shushing Disruptive?
Sometimes the shushing is more disruptive then the talking, since the talking is often quiet, while the shushing is heard by many. Depending how it is done, shushing can be embarrassing to the talkers, which some people feel is justified, although others feel it is inappropriate. When the shushing continues through the service, it can be a real disruption.

So How Do We Stop Talking?
The most effective strategies involve the Rabbi, Officers and membership. It make senses to identify the major problems. Then determine what areas makes sense to target first. Then try to implement a gentle plan to achieve the first goal. Measure the effect, make changes if necessary, and repeat the process until an acceptable level is achieved.

11 thoughts on “Is Shushing Worse Than Talking in Shul?”

  1. I think that shushing can be looked upon as disruptive, but I am not sure there is a better solution, since many parts of davening are halachic “no talking zones”.

    This recently posted quote from the Sudilkov Rebbe put much in perspective for me:
    “If we are given 22.5 hours a day when we are permitted to speak with others, why must we encroach on the 1.5 hours that are set aside solely for our conversation with Hashem? Isn’t it He alone who provides for all our needs? If we really believe Hashem hears the words we say, how could we ever even think of speaking to others when we are standing before Him in His house? We need to stop speaking to others when we are speaking to Him!”

    From here:

    1. I think the first question is what is the goal:
      1) eliminating something that is disturbing or distracting to us
      2) preventing the talker from committing a transgression
      3) helping the Shul to have the proper decorum

      I think number 1) is often the driver and I’m not sure Shushing is the answer there.
      It’s certainly not the answer to number 2).
      And number 3) needs a broader Shul based plan.

      Next week I’ll propose some alternatives to address the three goals.

  2. Kaf HaChaim commentary on Orach Chaim, Siman 151, Sif 1, Sif Katan 8:

    It is written in Sefer Petach Einayim [written by The Chida, Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, born 1724 CE, died 1806 CE] of blessed memory, that a person who speaks mundane conversation in the synagogue, he would be better off not going at all, because he sins and causes others to sin, and the Satan accuses…

    1. It would be interesting to learn and understand the difference between the Sefardic and Ashkenazic poskim regarding the permissibility of mundane conversation in Shul.

  3. I happen to think that shushing is worse (though to me they are both totally unacceptable).

    The people talking to one another are clearly not doing the right thing. Those who shush (1) also distract those trying to pray and (2) usually in my experience are sanctimonious about their shushing. So with essentially no benefit, the shushers are losing out on bain adam lamakom AND bain adam l’chavero, whereas the talkers are losing out only on bain adam lamakom. It reminds one of the Rashi at the end of Noach comparing the relative merits of the generation of the mabul and the generation of the p’laga.

    1. what about the Gabbai, is he sanctimonious when he shushes too? Isn’t that part of his job?

      and what about the Shliach Tzibbur, is he allowed to stop davening if the talking gets to be so loud that he can’t hear himself?

  4. I shush. But I usually don’t shush people who I know will not take the hint. Many people will. I don’t think it’s any more distracting than the talking, and if it stops the talking — as it usually does, in my experience — it’s obviously a net gain.

    I don’t know what is “sanctimonious” about shushing. Nor do I believe there is any basis whatsoever for saying that people who shush “are losing out on bain adam lamakom AND bain adam l’chavero.”

    I wish more people would shush; when they do I am relieved not to be the only one who cares about talking while davening or is not intimidated by such selfishness.

    1. I have found shushing sanctimonious based purely on observation. obviously there could be exceptions –there could even be many exceptions, I just don’t recall seeing them.

      As to losing out on both bain adam l’makom and bain adam l’chavero, my intention was this: I see both talkers and shushers as good people, and their unfortunate behavior is (presumably) a result of lack of balance –the talkers care about prayer, but are overwhelmed by feelings of friendliness towards other worshippers and thus talk. So they have good relations with others but at an inappropriate time, which results in them losing out on tefila (gain in bain adam l’makom, loss in bain adam l’chavero). The shushers are motivated by the correct desire to have proper synagogue decorum, but take this too far in confronting others. By shushing, they are aggressively confronting those who are talking and also losing focus on their prayers (loss in both). That is why I think shushing is worse.

      Having said all this, I have to admit that I don’t have regular contact with either type (though in the aggregate I’ve seen both a fair amount over the years in different places) –the last two shuls that I have davened in regularly (a period of about 13 years during which I moved once) lacked any significant number of talkers, and the rav in each place made a rule that if anyone should be talking then the officially appointed gabba’im and no one else is charged with dealing with the situation.

  5. I couldn’t decide whether shushing is good or bad. But I look forward to the discussion on strategies to stop talking in Shul.

  6. It depends- does the shusher gab with his friends and then turns around to to hiss at “yenem”?

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