My 11-year-old son is very resistant to staying in Shul for Davening on Shabbos morning. Davening now takes almost 2 ½ hours, and he can’t sit still for that long. He Davens for an hour and then wants a 15-minute break. He goes outside and plays with other kids in the Shul, and then comes in a while later and Davens some more. Every week the break is longer, and my wife and I are heartbroken since we raised him to appreciate the importance of Davening. Any help you can throw our way would be much appreciated.
Shlomo Caiman – Kew Gardens
My theory regarding Davening is, Shul is for Davening. I’ve written this before and I’m sticking to it. If your son wants to take a “break” from Davening, he should be brought back home. You certainly shouldn’t act upset at him, nor should you tell him off. Simply say, it’s fine if you want to play, but Shul is only for Davening. The fact is, that the one person who really teaches the kids to Daven, is the mother. She’s the one that instills in the children the importance of Davening, and even inculcates within them a love of Tefilah. I know many women that never get to go to Shul on Shabbos, but they’ve raised some amazing children. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s well worth it.
What’s the problem with letting kids play for a bit? I personally know many teenagers that were allowed to run outside and play when they finished Shemona Esrai when they were younger. Now, they’re 15+ years old and they still run around during Davening. There are exceptions, but if children grow up thinking Shul is a place to play, it’s hard to change that mindset.
You did bring up a second interesting point in your e-mail. What used to be called “Ants in the pants” or “No zitz fleish” is now called ADHD. Yes, I’m certainly generalizing, but many kids (and adults) have shorter attention spans these days. Some people blame it on electronics, others on our diet. No matter what the reason, children these days have a harder time focusing and sitting through Davening.
The oddest part about this, is that Shacharis on Shabbos in many Shuls now takes longer than it used to. I recall Davening in many Shuls that took approximately 2 hours for Shabbos Davening, and now, as you so eloquently pointed out, they’re almost at 2 ½ hours. What changed? I asked about twenty different people ranging from Rebbeim to businessman and got very similar responses. They all agree that Shabbos Davening has become longer over the year. No one had any clear-cut reasons, but they all shared their thoughts.
So, what is it? Possibly the Baalei Tefilah are taking longer. Maybe the Rav is speaking longer. More Mi Shebeirachs? Laining going slower? In any case, I don’t think it’s a good thing. If we really want our children to stay in Shul and Daven, we need to be more understanding. Those extra 15 -25 minutes are very hard for kids that are already at the tail end of their limit.
I sat with a few Gabboim who broke down their ideal timing for Shacharis. 25-30 minutes for Pesukei d’Zimra. 20-30 minutes for Shacharis. 35-50 minutes for Laining. 15-20 minutes for Mussaf. 5 minutes for Anim Zemiros and other Tefilos at the end. If the Rabbi speaks, 5-15 minutes. Obviously, this can vary, but you get the idea.
It goes without saying that the Chazzan should be using the correct Nusach and not just reading the words. There should be singing and it’s not a competition to see who can Daven faster. Nonetheless, adding up everything using the higher number ends up with 2 hours and 30 minutes. The shortest would be an hour and 45 minutes. I strongly believe that if we kept Davening to an average of 2 hours and 10 minutes, kids would have a much easier time staying in Shul the entire time.
To be fair, if Davening always takes 3 hours, it makes sense to keep it that way. However, if the Shul used to finish in 2 hours and over the past few years it’s been taking longer, the Gabboim should discuss internally. If they are unwilling to do anything, maybe it’s time to switch shuls.
I would like to share one last thought. Rabbi Chaim Follman, a senior Rebbe in the Yeshiva, taught me an amazing lesson regarding children’s Davening. He doesn’t tell kids to Daven. Instead, he shows them what to say, and tells them they have to stay in their seats for a specific amount of time. This way, the children realize that flying through the words won’t gain them any time. I’ve watched him in action, and it’s really fantastic. If certain Shuls began finishing on time, the Mispallilim would focus less on the clocks, and more on the words.
Wishing you all a good Shabbos,
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.