The Ups & Downs when “Everybody Knows Your Name”

This post’s title references the hit show Cheers. One of its running gags, was the character Norm arriving in the bar and being greeted by a loud “Norm!” There was palpable sense of camaraderie among the patrons.

When I come to Shul on Shabbos morning the sense of camaraderie is also palpable. You can be greeted with a warm smile, a hearty handshake, a hand slap or even a hug. It’s a great feeling, but there are conflicts that should be explored.

On one hand, community is a cornerstone of Judaism, and a community consists of friends. Friends that go beyond the handshake, to being there in the tougher times, and to sharing your moments of joy. The closer the friendship, the more likely and deeper the sharing of your lives. The ropes of friendships are spun from the threads of the shared events we experience: the big ones like the weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, and the small ones like the warm handshakes and the “How Ya Doing?” greetings.

Even with the move from the social Shul of the past, to the growth oriented Shul of the present, the Shul is still the primary friendship building vehicle. And cultivating meaningful friendships is an integral part of spiritual growth.

The downside of such an environment, is that a Shul is not a bar. There needs to be a sense of reverence when standing in a House of Prayer and too much backslapping can negatively effect that feeling. The words that bring a smile to your friend’s face are only a small step away from the words that might be considered Kalut Rosh (lightheaded activity) which is prohibited in a Shul (see Shulchan Aruch 151:1).

One solution to this potential conflict is to be social outside the Shul, or in the lobby, or at the kiddush, and maintain a quiet dignified, little-to-no talking environment in the Shul. The problem with that solution is that there are significantly less opportunities for the friendship-spinning small interactions.

Another approach would be to continue with the warm smiles, handshakes and brief words in the Shul, and to be cognizant of the Kalut Rosh boundaries that the halacha sets. My Shabbos Shul follows the watch-the-boundaries approach because the balance is achievable, and the wonderful feeling of being a part of a warm and caring group of people is foundational for individual and communal growth.

Originally Published on 10/28/2015