Dear Rabbi Sam,
My husband and I are at odds about what to do with our 5-year-old son regarding shul. Our other boys (aged 7, 9, and 13) started going to shul when they were his age. He does not want to go to shul, and so he is all alone with me when all the others boys leave for shul. He is not happy and mopes around. I think my husband should take him, but he feels he’s not old enough. Do you think that a 5-year-old should be with his father and siblings at shul?
Signed, Shul or Home?
Dear Shul or Home,
Age is only one consideration that factors into this determination. I think that whoever is in shul should want to be there and know how to comport themselves when they are in shul. Sometimes we may need to help them find shul meaningful and a place they want to be.
There are two primary principles that need to be balanced and considered carefully. One is chinuch (our obligation as parents to educate our children in Torah values and laws), and the other value is maintaining the sanctity of the beit knesset (house of worship) by recognizing the effect our child’s presence will have on the other worshippers. Additionally, there are several other critical considerations that warrant attention in order to arrive at a responsible decision. Some of them include:
What are your short- and long-term goals in having your child come to shul?
Is he able to participate appropriately?
What are the standards and customs of the community in which you live?
Is your child prepared developmentally and skills-wise to be in shul in a meaningful way?
What are the rabbi’s views and tolerance for children in shul?
These are only a few specific factors that may need to be addressed before deciding. It should also be noted that many synagogues, in order to deal with similar concerns, have developed a range of children groups/services to help them learn the skills and procedures necessary.
Therefore, when your 5-year-old child starts showing an interest in going to shul, and additionally, he has developed the skills necessary to be present is a respectful and meaningful manner, that would be a good time to start exploring having him join his father and siblings in shul.
Until then see if you and he can enjoy the remaining time you have left with him in this stage and try to make it exciting and memorable. He is not “alone” when you are together. Before you turn around you may miss having him around at home with you.
Hoping you and your family enjoy shul and home.
Rabbi Sam Frankel, LCSW, is Dean of Students at Yavneh Academy, Paramus, NJ and is in private practice in Child and Family Therapy, Teaneck, NJ Submit your letters to: RabbiSam_jewishlinkbc.com Contact Rabbi Sam at: (201) 928-1148; rebsf18_yahoo.com
By Rabbi Sam Frankel