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

Lately there has been some discussion in the community about the decrease in shul attendance. Obviously, the pandemic is partially to blame for some of the empty pews, but Covid is not the only excuse being offered. Some congregants claim that they are no-shows because life gets in the way, especially for young couples with small kids. Other congregants, however, consider such an excuse less believable than “my dog ate my homework.” They insist that where there’s a will, there’s a way. (As a comedian once noted, where there’s a will, there also are greedy relatives.)

There are plenty of reasons for missing a minyan but not all of them are entirely valid. While some congregants may offer carefully-crafted explanations that cannot be readily fact-checked, in truth there are relatively few legitimate excuses for minyan-related truancy or going congregationally AWOL.

1. Weather

Failing to attend a minyan due to inclement weather is not beyond reproach. While a typhoon or monsoon may present understandable impediments, a little precipitation is no justification. Similarly, extreme heat can be dangerous but a little humidity does not justify chronic torpidity. Thus, whether weather qualifies as a valid excuse for skipping shul depends on severity. Wind is no excuse unless it is gale force or worse (or you are made of hay like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz), rain is no excuse unless it is acid (or you are the Wicked Witch of the West) and fog is no excuse unless it is in London. In other words, a sun shower is not a legitimate excuse but a meteor shower is, so use common sense and do not allow a cloudy day to cloud your judgment.

2. Health

The same severity test applies to medical conditions. Missing minyan pursuant to doctor’s orders makes perfect sense, especially if you are in traction, a full body cast or a coma. Other, lesser ailments, however, would not make the cut, like a zit, cavity or hangnail. Admittedly, some health conditions fall within a grey area and thus entitle the injured party to make a judgment call on whether to make a minyan. That said, sometimes congregants abuse this privilege. For example, a bruised spine might be a good excuse but a bruised ego is not. A broken leg clearly is a good excuse but a broken heart (arguably) is not. Nerve damage also is a good excuse but someone getting on your nerves is not (unless that someone happens to be an uber nudnik to the tenth power. However, a nudnik to the ninth power will not suffice.)

3. Sleep

Failing to make a minyan due to sleepiness also can be a relatively weak excuse. The invention of the Shabbos nap, which dates back to time immemorial, allows all Jews who like to snooze to lumber in their slumber after davening. Such a post-synagogue siesta means davening before dozing. If you do not suffer from narcolepsy, sleep apnea or circadian rhythm sleep disorder, then instead of catching some z’s, you should be catching some m’s, i.e., some minyanim. Otherwise, after you hit the hay, you will be hit with the “Hey, where were you today? We really needed you for the minyan!” Suffice it to say, blaming sleep for missing a minyan is nothing new and could aptly be described as a tired excuse.

4. Shalom Bayis

Missing minyan to prevent marital discord is not patently absurd but it should be invoked only under exigent circumstances. For example, a minyan should not be missed so that you can read the morning newspaper aloud to your spouse à la NY1’s weekday morning broadcast. (For the record, a morning news show that reads the newspapers out loud is as unoriginal and redundant as a shul president who reads the weekly announcements out loud directly from the shul newsletter.)

A minyan also should not be missed so that you can play freeze tag, hide-and-go-seek, duck-duck-goose or ringolevio with your children. Instead, you should be hopscotching your way to shul. If your disappointed children melancholily ask where you are going, perhaps put it in terms they will surely understand. For instance, tell them that you are in the middle of an epic game of capture the flag and you have every reason to believe that the flag is located in shul. That way, you can heroically make the minyan while also maintaining hero status in the eyes of your naive progeny.

5. Kiddush

Skipping a Shabbos morning minyan based on rumors of a weak kiddush, is a lousy excuse. While having a meaty kiddush may incentivize a large turnout, “glatt-ony” can easily lead to gluttony. For this reason, the motivation for minyan attendance should not be the promise of kishka and cholent.


Final thought: Going to shul is better than going broke, out of style or off the deep end.

Send comments or criticism to [email protected].

By Jon Kranz

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