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Bring the Children

09/09/2021 06:06:17 PM


Ken Davidson

Several years ago, Jerry Seinfeld related what he called “the greatest Jew joke” he had ever heard: “Two gentile businessman meet on the street. One of them says, ‘How’s business?’ The other one says, ‘Great!'” The point of Seinfeld’s joke is if the businessmen had been Jews, they would have found something to complain about.

In my line of work it is not unusual for me to find myself the recipient of complaints by temple members. Several years ago, at my former congregation, I was approached by a member on Sukkot morning who was very upset that there were children running up to the bimah and playing with the Sukkot decorations. This well-intentioned member felt that children should be with their parents and supervised so as not to be a distraction. For many, our first instinct might be to agree with this member. However, this week’s Torah portion offers a different insight.

Parashat Vayeilech includes the commandment of Hakhel, the requirement to read the Torah to the entire nation of Israel. Moses instructs us to “Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn…to observe faithfully every word of this Torah.” Rabbinic commentaries provide several possible explanations for why children are specifically included in this mitzvah. Speaking practically, since all adults are to attend, it stands to reason that the children must join them, if only for lack of childcare. Why then, would the Torah be so specific as to include children who, clearly, could not be excluded? And how could a child be expected to understand and learn in an assembly of such magnitude? (Remember, they didn’t have the benefit of our sanctuary sound system.)

I believe that although young children cannot intellectually understand our prayers, they can benefit emotionally from the beauty of our services and the emotional impact of our synagogue community gathering to pray and sing together. I believe that the experience of presence and participation is achieved regardless of one’s ability to comprehend or, as in the case of the Hakhel gathering of all Jewish people, hear the prayers. I agree with the commentary that interprets this passage as more than just permission to bring children to synagogue, but rather as an imperative to do so.

Unlike the member who complained to me about the children attending the adult service, I believe that for our services to have a positive impact on our children, they must feel a sense of joy and excitement in our places of worship. We must provide them with a positive experience. Of course, we must educate our children and teach them about respect for the service and clergy. But that education should also include teaching them how to participate in the service, so their voices are also heard in the singing of our songs and the recitation of our prayers.

Here at CBI we offer so many wonderful opportunities for our children to learn about Judaism and Jewish practice. I ask each of you to encourage the children in your family and your extended families to join us in Religious School, Children’s services, Family services, and, yes, even in services not designated as being for children. When we instill a love of Judaism in our children at an early age and when we actively encourage their participation in our celebrations and worship, we ensure that our children will be guided by Jewish values as they grow into Jewish adults.

Susan joins me in wishing a Shanah Tovah to you all,  


Mon, February 6 2023 15 Sh'vat 5783