Rabbi Twerski’s Rosh Hashanah Plea for Proper Synagogue Decorum is Featured in OU’s Jewish Action

24 Aug 2007


At a time of year in which Jews spend many hours in the synagogue, the Orthodox Union has issued a heartfelt plea for proper decorum during davening by making available “A Rosh Hashanah Message” from Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski and the OU. The message is being published in the Fall issue of Jewish Action, the OU’s quarterly magazine, and is being sent to the hundreds of OU shuls throughout North America for widespread distribution to congregants.

The OU has mailed 65,000 reprints of the message to its synagogues, with the request that it be placed on seats in the sanctuary on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“We are aware that decorum is not always what it should be and that rabbis – and the gabbaim who assist them – must often expend great effort to maintain the sanctity of the synagogue and an atmosphere that is proper for tefilla,” declared Stanley Weinstein, Chairman of the OU Commission on Synagogue Services. “By sending a reprint of Rabbi Twerski’s message to its shuls in time for Rosh Hashanah — with the expectation that congregants will read it, absorb it, and act accordingly — the OU once again is reaching out to its synagogues to support them in their work and to assist them in serving their communities.”

The publication of the message in Jewish Action extends Rabbi Twerski’s words beyond the OU synagogue network to the wider community, explained Gerald Schreck, Chairman of the OU Communications and Marketing Commission, which oversees the magazine. “Jewish Action constantly confronts the problems that affect the Orthodox community – in this case, improper behavior during synagogue services,” Mr. Schreck said. “Rabbi Twerski’s brilliant message will be of inestimable value in reminding readers that tefilla and teshuva must be accompanied by proper decorum and proper respect. If this decorum and respect are missing, the sanctuary is defiled.”

Rabbi Twerski, one of the country’s leading experts on drug and alcohol rehabilitation and the author of many books, including Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor and From Pulpit to Couch, was motivated to prepare his message after attending services in a “magnificent” synagogue in the New York area based on its appearance, but in which “the congregants’ decorum was appalling.”

The constant conversation caused the congregation’s rabbi to stop the services from time to time to wait for quiet, but to little avail. Rabbi Twerski relates, “I thought to myself: If these people were watching a television program and there was chattering in the room, would they tolerate being disturbed?” Distressed, he wrote a letter to the rabbi which was then read to the congregation from the pulpit, to a mixed reaction, which was conveyed to Rabbi Twerski in a series of phone calls. One critical caller told him, “What’s your problem? A shul is a social club.”

Deeply concerned about Jewish youth who “are at risk of being influenced by the immorality and promiscuity that surround us,” Rabbi Twerski declares that lack of respect in the synagogue erodes the connection to God which serves as a defense to protect our children. Turning to the devastating pogroms in Poland in 1648-49, he explains that a leading sage of the period, Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, “had a dream in which it was revealed to him that the atrocities that had occurred were due to the transgression of talking during prayer services.” This led Rabbi Heller to compose a special prayer for those who do not talk during services – a prayer which is published with the rest of Rabbi Twerski’s article.

“We are currently in the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, days in which we stand before God in judgment,” Rabbi Twerski writes. “Klal Israel is one large family; we are each responsible for one another…Talking during davening imperils Jews the world over…We cannot risk losing Divine favor. We cannot and should not forfeit the redeeming qualities of tefilla by conversing during davening.”

To which the OU replies, “Amen.”