Should you bring your kids to shul? This is a question that has been pestering Jewish fathers since the time of Yaakov and Eisav.
Your wife says yes. But we’re not asking your wife.
Now I’m not talking about kids who run around in shul. Am I talking about kids who run around in the hallway where they can hear what’s going on in shul but where we magically can’t hear them screaming game rules at each other? That’s a good question.
I’m talking about kids who basically sit still. Better than the adults in some shuls.
In general, everyone’s going to say that it depends on the age of the child. Like some fathers decide to bring their kid when his friends start coming to shul. Which, when you phrase it like that, sounds like a bad idea. His friends being there is the last thing you want. And some fathers say that the right time is when the child is old enough that davening in yeshiva isn’t about singing the whole entire davening together, so that he’s not sitting there in shul, confused like, “Why haven’t we started singing Baruch She’amar yet?”
I don’t really believe that there’s a minimum age to bring kids to shul, as long as the kid can be quiet. But then some people are so anti kids in shul that it doesn’t matter why you’re bringing them. I’ve heard these people say, “I don’t come to shul to see your kids.”
Well, I don’t come to shul to see your dirty tissues sitting on the table after you walk away.
I feel like these people are walking around on Simchas Torah like, “Why are all these kids here? At Kal Hane’arim?” Or they’re at a bris, asking, “Whose idea was it to bring this baby? He won’t stop crying. Control your kid!”
Of course, there are kids who probably shouldn’t be there—definitely not for extended periods. Like sometimes, it’s very obvious that the husband brought the kids to shul just so his wife can rest. And that’s very nice of him to prioritize one person’s rest over a whole shul of mispallelim.
“Don’t worry,” you’re saying, “I watch my kids. Except during Shemoneh Esrei, obviously. That’s the only time they run around.”
And you can always tell that that’s why the kid is there, because the wife sent along enough snacks to feed the entire shul. Especially on a fast day. Like you know how your teacher used to say, “If you bring food to class, you have to bring enough for everybody”? Well, this kid brings enough for everybody
And I think this happens in the women’s section too. My wife told me about a discussion she heard where one woman was complaining about children leaving messes in shul that other people then have to sit in, and another person said, “Well, people should bring their kids with healthy, mess-free snacks! Like carrot sticks!”
No. I don’t want to listen to a wood chipper the entire davening.
And there’s always the one kid who shows up with a cloth bag full of books and action figures, and he breezes through his entire pile of books in three minutes, and now he’s playing out a whole story with characters hanging off the shtenders and hiding in the tallis bag, and falling from great heights into the tissue box, and this is what I’m watching during the rabbi’s drasha.
“Yes, but the toys worked! My kid behaved so well!”
No kidding. I don’t think he was aware that he was in shul.
I don’t feel like you should have to bring your kid entertainment for shul. I feel like your kid should look around and notice things more and more over time. I feel like a nice picture book or two that’s not out of place in a shul is okay. Like sometimes if I don’t bring along any picture books for a younger kid, I try to find a sefer with pictures, which usually ends up being something about passul esrogim, or that sefer about the shiur of kezayis, where every page has pictures of food. That one’s great for fast days. Meanwhile, the kid at the next table is practicing. And my kid is saying, “That’s too little for a bracha; you have to eat more.”
And yes, there is something to be said for giving the kid candy in shul so he equates davening with sweetness. But I think one treat does that, handed to him by a stranger. There’s a candy man. That’s why I pay membership. Of course the issue with a candy man is that kids who otherwise would not come into the shul traipse in as a group just for that, and then again to ask, “Can I also have one for my baby brother? He’s not here.”
And then there’s one kid who comes up with all these other people that he or she has to get candy for. Like this one kid is in charge of feeding their entire circle of acquaintances:
“Can I have one for my friend? She’s outside. Also, my mother’s expecting; can I have one for the baby? Can I also have one for my cousin, who goes to a different shul that has no candy man? Also, there’s someone I know in school… I don’t know her, but my friend knows her…”
What is my point? My point—unless you are a child reading this in shul—is that there is a difference between going to shul and getting out of the house. But if the child is actually coming to be in shul and is experiencing all these firsts one at a time in a way that reminds the adults around him what it might have been like to slowly figure out a shul with fresh eyes, that might actually be inspirational for the people around him.
I don’t know if that was my point the whole time, but it is now.
Maybe ask your rav. Between aliyos, at least.
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].