Keeping Quiet – How to Talk to Talkers in Shul

Should We Ever Talk in Shul
It is clear from this summary of the halachos of talking in Shul by Rabbi Doniel Neustadt, that much of the time a person should not be taking in Shul. In the time periods where it is permitted, I agree with those who point out that a Shul is both a place to daven and a place to relate to members of our community and therefore permitted talking serves a positive function. For this post we’ll focus on how to reduce prohibited talking.

Reasons to Reduce Talking
At its core we should reduce talking because it’s against the halacha, but I think there are three reasons people want to stop the talking:
1) Out of concern for the talker and their violation of the halacha;
2) It personally disturbs our davening or Shul experience; and
3) It goes against the environment that the Shul is trying to maintain

Concern for the Talker
It’s usually rare to find this reason in practice, because hostility towards the talker is the prevalent emotion. This hostility is manifest in both the shush and outright embarrassment of the talker.

If we are truly concerned about the talker, we should think of ways we can be effective in helping them stop. This involves being friendly and showing concern for them and quietly and privately suggesting that they adjust the times they talk or to go to the lobby to talk. A person has to assess each person and determine what, if anything, will be effective in influencing the talker, as we must do with all types of tochacha (rebuke).

Disturbing Our Davening
Thank G-d more and more people take their davening seriously these days. We’ve pointed out previously that davening is difficult and unwanted talking distractions often annoy us. A general suggestion is to constantly work on our concentration so the talking disturbs us less. If we have a relationship with the talker, we can sometimes appeal to him to reduce or stop his talking for our benefit.

If the talking still disturbs us, it is often wise to refer the issue to the Gabbai, President or Rabbi and ask them to make an effort to deal with it. We can also appeal to the people who listen to the talker, to signal to the talker that they will converse with them later.

Against The Shul’s Principles
In the increasingly competitive Shul environment in larger neighborhoods, many Shuls are looking to be known as having a quiet davening, which is a worthwhile goal in its own right. In some Shuls, members are asked to sign explicit contracts that they agree to abide by the minimal talking principles.

It is the responsibility of the authority structure of the Shul to enforce the Shul’s principles. When we take the matters into our own hands, the talker will often question our authority in asking them to stop talking. The issue will sometimes unfortunately be deflected from the proper focus of reducing talking, to that of who has the authority to ask for quiet.

Going Too Far
Some of us have been in the situation where our desire for quiet has caused us to embarrass the talker. Even if this would be permitted in certain situations, it is certainly not what we or the Shul want to become. Unfortunately some quiet Shuls are known for publicly embarrassing talking, which seems to be inconsistent with Torah ideals.

We need to use intelligence and discretion in this worthy cause. Sometimes we can let the talking go, but we have to be vigilant that it doesn’t get out of hand. We need to distinguish between the most important times for quiet, like Shomoneh Esrai, the repetition, and the reading of the Torah and other times where there is more room to look the other way.

As we pursue this goal, we need to maintain a friendly, warm and caring atmosphere and not turn the Shul into a battleground.

Orginally posted February 2012

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