I’ve never really been a shtender person. I’ve never really had a problem holding my own siddur. It reminds me that I’m davening.
Sure, I understand that a chazzan needs a shtender, because he has to stand the whole time, and he has an extra-heavy, large-print siddur with big letters and lots of room for gabbaim to cross things out and make corrections.
I also understand the benefit of a rabbi having a shtender, because he sits up at the front during davening, all by his lonesome, and it’s either that or one of those one-man tables that you use in your dining room to hold the parsha questions. In fact, sometimes he has two shtenders facing opposite directions—one for Shemoneh Esrei, and the other for Bo’ee B’shalom. And for when he has to speak, because, after all, it is a lectern.
Yes, there’s an English word for shtender. It’s called a lectern, and it’s for giving lectures, I guess. The secular world uses it too. You need a height that allows you to see your notes and an angle so people don’t realize you’re reading from your notes. That’s pretty much all they use it for. In fact, if you tell someone from the secular world that some yeshivas have an entire room full of lecterns, all facing different directions, you would entirely blow his mind.
“So everyone is just speaking at the same time? To the whole room?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
And I don’t really get them either, when it comes to learning. I guess maybe there’s a use for them on Shavuos night—you don’t want to fall asleep, and the best way to make sure of that is to force yourself to stand all night. And any Gemara with large enough print for you to see with your eyes closed is going to be too heavy to hold.
But then there are the yeshivas that are just full of shtenders. That’s all they have. What are they learning that everyone is always falling asleep?
Does it matter? They’re teenagers.
I like tables, because I like to be comfortable. Okay, so some people are comfortable on shtenders. They put their feet up on the brace thingies, or they lean over and support their entire weight on the top part and then pitch forward and SLAM into the ground. (This is even more embarrassing with a tabletop shtender.) That’ll keep you awake.
And then some people take the shtenders and they lean them waaaaaaaaaaaay back, so they can sit with the Gemara three inches from their nose and the entire weight of the Mesechta supported on their chest. To be comfortable.
I want to get lost in the Gemara. I don’t want the Gemara to get lost in me.
And on top of that, shtenders don’t allow you to spread out at all. I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to put a Gemara and a notebook side by side. I have to take notes on the Gemara on the Gemara. But then I can’t see the Gemara. It’s like you need a separate shtender for your notebook. Or maybe that’s why the chavrusa system was invented. It’s more of a dictator and stenographer.
But from what I hear, some yeshivas do it to fit more people in. That would explain the lack of aisles. And I do notice that it’s only yeshivas; there are no shuls that do this. Shuls don’t generally give everyone shtenders. Though some people do bring in those tabletop shtenders that they made in camp. What do non-Jews make in camp?
A lot of birdhouses.
But I don’t really like those either. Though shtenders are great as a deterrent against other people sitting in your seat if you’re not there. Because no one wants to sit in front of someone else’s tabletop shtender unless they have to. It’s great for standing, but then you sit down and there’s nowhere to put your siddur. Yes, a lot of times there’s a door which, when you open it, is a mini shtender. But it’s not your shtender, so you don’t feel comfortable opening it There’s just this big wall in front of you, with a single knob sticking out that you play with during the Rabbi’s drasha. And then you hear the screw falling off inside.
And now you can’t even put the knob in the cabinet and pretend it didn’t happen. Unless you have something to pry it open with. You have to pick it up and bring it to a locksmith.
But that’s another benefit of shtenders in general—they’re portable. You should carry one around for when you learn on the subway. People will think you’re there to speak.
I realize here that I’m coming down pretty hard on shtenders. So I called my brother, Lipa, who learns in Lakewood. (The yeshiva. Also the town.)
My brother took a poll around Lakewood of 25 random guys, and everyone said that they prefer tables, but that everyone else he asks is going to say they prefer shtenders. And this is in Lakewood, which has the highest concentration of shtenders in a single room in America. (SOURCE: Guesswork.)
So apparently, everyone’s learning in Lakewood despite the shtenders.
I understand that some people really like shtenders. I’d allow time for rebuttal, but nobody’s going to come in and say that they don’t like tables. At best, they’ll give me some more upsides of shtenders.
Maybe we can have an official debate. Using tables.
By Mordechai Schmutter
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected]