I am privileged to be one of the presenters (along with Rabbi Benjamin Yudin and Rabbi Andrew Markowitz) at The Naftoli Aaron Torah Enrichment Program (NATEP) at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn. Each weekday morning after davening, men and women gather to learn Torah. Every session is also recorded and broadcast via Zoom so our snowbirds in Florida can participate, as well as participants from Teaneck, Livingston and even Maryland.
Recently we were learning the laws about a Torah scroll that becomes deficient [posul] due to a missing letter. What is the status of the prior aliyos? What if there is only one Torah scroll, etc.? As we were discussing the various views of the Rambam, the Rashba,, the Mordecai and other sources, we veered into a discussion of the importance of listening to the reading of the Torah.
One of the women asked a question that led to an extended dialogue, which I will now share. She stated that she comes to shul on time but many women do not, and as a result they are “catching up” during the Torah reading. She wanted to know if that was the right thing to do. My response was multileveled. One should not be doing anything except listening during the reading of the Torah; this applies to men as well, and people should learn the laws of what may be skipped in order to recite the Amidah together with the congregation.
I understand that it is often difficult for parents of babies to get anywhere on schedule, but somehow they manage to make certain appointments on time. If men and women (all day school/yeshiva graduates) truly understood that the reading of the Torah is God talking to us, this might not be the problem that it is. In addition, there seems to be a tendency today not to engage babysitters. Hence we often see infants in shul, and they are not always sleeping.
Granted, some authorities feel that Torah reading is a communal obligation, not necessarily an individual responsibility. However, the majority consensus is that each individual must hear every word, hence no talking, no learning, no davening, during the reading of the Torah.
The problem, however, is not limited to parents of infants, and that’s a bigger issue. People who would never come late to a movie or a show, or to a doctor’s appointment, business meeting, school play, etc., have no problem showing up to davening an hour late. I believe it is because they have no real understanding of what prayer is all about. Every day school/yeshiva must make it mandatory to study the siddur, the laws of prayer and the philosophy behind prayer. It is sad that the siddur is the Jewish text with which we are most familiar but know the least about. Rabbis too ought to fill this gap. Rabbi Soloveitchik z”l often spoke and wrote about prayer as a “rendezvous with G-d.” Would that we could generate this understanding and passion.
It’s interesting that those who come to the daily minyanim generally show up on time. They get it. That’s why they come. Shabbos davening should not be a social event. If we have not communicated the essence of what prayer is or ought to be in twelve years, then the system has failed. If all we have taught our children is to see who can read faster, then we have failed as parents and educators.
Along these lines is the rapidity or speed reading of some who lead the service, especially for Ashrei and Aleinu. I don’t see how it is possible to recite these words so fast. Those who are reciting kaddish after Aleinu must stop in the middle in order to recite kaddish, which is halachically problematic since the kaddish is predicated on the words of Aleinu. This is not a new problem. There is an expression used when something must be done quickly: “Daven it up like Ashrei.”
Rabbis and principals need to acknowledge this problem and devote time to resolving it. I find it fascinating that a yeshiva, beis medrash, or shtibel davening is so meaningful and spirited. Why can’t our shuls do the same?
Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene is a slow davener.