July 19, 2024
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July 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“All good things must come to an end.”(Geoffrey Chaucer 1374) This maxim is true of weekends, holidays, vacations, summer camp and celebrations. It also is true of an all-you-can-eat buffet because at some point, even if you are a professional chazzer, you simply cannot eat any more. This maxim also applies to the synagogue service because like a story, train or loaf of bread, it too has an end.

As the synagogue service ends, a fascinating custom takes place in many shuls: children are ushered in to close the service. They usually replace the chazzan at the bimah and essentially lead the ending of the service, often while standing on a stepstool and/or their tippy-toes. The Talmud does not expressly discuss whether children should lead the ending of the service but, more generally, it does discuss whether a child is required to perform certain mitzvot. For example, “[a] minor who knows how to wave the lulav is obligated in the mitzvah of lulav; one who knows how to wrap himself in a garment, is obligated in the mitzvah of ritual fringes…” (Sukkah 42a) In addition, “[w]ith regard to the children, one does not afflict them by withholding food on Yom Kippur; however, one trains them one year before or two years before they reach majority, by means of a partial fast lasting several hours, so that they will be accustomed to fulfill mitzvot.” (Yoma 82a)

In addition to closing the service, there are many other things that children are encouraged to do in shul, especially on holidays. For example, on Simchat Torah they are encouraged to sing and dance. On Purim they are encouraged to dress up in costumes and rattle their gragers. On Yom Kippur they are encouraged to eat quietly behind closed doors and to avoid flaunting their cookies and drink boxes.

Even on non-holidays, there are plenty of things that children are encouraged to do in shul. They are encouraged to attend mini-minyan, collect siddurim and chumashim and hunt for candy during a bar mitzvah candy-throwing. Of course, they are many things that children are discouraged from doing in shul like wandering the hallways aimlessly, taste-testing the kiddush surreptitiously and taking a nap under the rabbi’s seat conspicuously. Children also are discouraged from playing Ring Around the Rabbi, Pin the Tail on the Chazzan or Bobbing for Herring. (Actually, that last one arguably is less of a game and more of a punishment for kids, but I know plenty of adults who would enjoy it.)

For most children, leading the end of the service is among the highest in-shul honors they can receive. While it may be appropriate for children to lead the end of a synagogue service, there are many other endings that probably should not be handled by kids, including:

(1) a real estate closing;

(2) a Game 7 World Series closing;

(3) the closing procedure to complete open heart (or any other) surgery;

(4) decommissioning a power plant;

(5) playing Final Jeopardy;

(6) writing or directing a television show’s finale (unless the show is on the Cartoon Network);

(7) achieving the final phase of nuclear fission (or anything else nuclear); or

(8) performing a sword-swallower’s grand finale.

Similarly, while there are many beginnings in life that would be appropriate for children to lead, there are some beginnings that should not have kids at the helm, including:

(1) a search for weapons of mass destruction;

(2) “The Hunt for Red October”;

(3) a spacewalk around the international (or any other) space station;

(4) a deep sea dive through piranha-infested waters;

(5) a Conga line through enemy territory (unless “enemy” simply means people who don’t like to dance the Conga); or

(6) a trek to the top of Mount Everest (unless the child’s last name is Sherpa).

Just as certain beginnings and endings are not appropriate for children, children also should not be put in the middle of or between certain things. For example, you do not want to put kids:

(1) in the middle of nowhere;

(2) in the middle of the road (unless it’s the road to success);

(3) in the midst of despair;

(4) between warring factions (unless it’s camp color war);

(5) between a rock and a hard place (between Iraq and a hard place also might be a difficult spot); or

(6) between the Scylla and Charybdis.

Final thought: Unless your child is named Arthur, you also do not want that child “caught between the moon and New York City.” I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.

By Jon Kranz

 

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