On Rosh Hashanah morning, the Rabbi noticed little Adam was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the synagogue. It was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven-year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the Rabbi walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, "Good morning, Adam." "Good morning, Rabbi," replied the young man, still focused on the plaque. "Rabbi Resnick, what is this?" Adam asked. "Well, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service." Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Adam's voice was barely audible when he asked: "Which service? Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur?"
Of course this is just a joke and most people don’t die from attending services at a synagogue (although unfortunately a lot of people are dying for the services to finish!).
That said, there is a certain ‘danger’ associated with the synagogue service that I must warn you about.
At the very end of Parshas Behar, the first portion of this week’s double Torah portion, G-d commands the Jewish people: “My Sanctuary you shall revere” (see Leviticus 26:2). Reverence for the Sanctuary (Mora Mikdash in Hebrew) is actually one of the 613 commandments of the Torah, and it obligates a Jew to act with awe, reverence and proper decorum upon entering the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) in Jerusalem.
It also includes the prohibitions against going to the Temple Mount carrying a cane or wearing shoes, taking a short cut through it, and other laws (see Talmud Berachos 54a).
Many Halachic authorities are of the opinion that this Biblical prohibition applies even in our times when we no longer have a Holy Temple – for each and every synagogue is considered G-d’s Sanctuary and must be treated with the same respect and reverence as was the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem (see, for example, Sefer Yereim Mitzvah #324, cited by Chofetz Chayim in his Introduction, Positive Commandment #7, note 7).
The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) in Orach Chayim 151:1 writes that in a synagogue or in a house of Torah study one is absolutely forbidden to engage in frivolous conversation and light-headed banter at all times.
The Mishnah Berurah (ibid. note #2) adds that even to discuss mundane things (related to work, for example) inside a shul is prohibited. How much more so does one have to be careful not to engage in forbidden talk in a synagogue such as lashon hara (malicious gossip and slander) etc. He explains that it is far worse to sin in the ‘King’s palace’ (i.e. today’s synagogue) than to sin outside the palace, and one who speaks lashon hara in ‘front of G-d’ in the synagogue shows a callous disregard of G-d and His Presence in the Sanctuary and his punishment will be severe.
But wait, it gets worse …
The mystical work Kav Hayashar (in Chapter 3) writes in the name of the Zohar (the main text of Kabbalah) that one who talks in shul and engages in inappropriate conversation “has no portion among the Jewish people”. He writes further that those who constantly speak lashon hara and other forbidden speech in the synagogue cause G-d to remove His Divine Presence from that place - and many synagogues have been destroyed due to this sin.
If you know your Jewish history you will likely have learned that in the years 1648-1649, the murderous Cossacks, led by Bogdan Chmielnicki, pillaged many Jewish communities across Poland and the Ukraine and slaughtered almost 100,000 Jews and burned countless synagogues and Torah scrolls.
Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann HaLevi Heller (1579-1654), a great Torah Scholar and Jewish leader who lived through that horrible time, revealed that it was explained to him through a prophetic communication that the terrible calamity came about because Jews were engaging in forbidden conversation in their synagogues and showing gross disrespect to G-d and His holy sanctuaries.
In reaction to the great tragedy that befell the Jewish people in those fateful years, and to help ensure that it never be repeated, G-d forbid, Rabbi Heller authored the following Mi Shebeirach prayer that is said in some synagogues today, and that blesses all those who refrain from talking in shul during the service, that they should have children who are upright and healthy and prosper in this world and share in the next world:
May the One who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon bless all who guard their mouths and tongues and do not speak during the time of prayer. May the Holy One, Blessed be He, shield them from all trouble and misfortune, from plague and illness, and extend to them all the blessings which are found in the Torah of Moses our teacher and in all the books of the Prophets and the Sacred Writings. May they merit seeing their children live, thrive and grow in Torah, see them to the marriage canopy and to the performance of good works, and to serve the Lord our G-d always in truth and innocence, and let us say AMEN!
In light of the above, we are issuing the following Public Service Announcement to our fellow Jews all around the world:
PLEASE DON’T TALK IN SHUL!!! IF YOU HAVE TO TALK,
TAKE IT OUTSIDE TO THE LOBBY!!! THANK YOU!!!
(brought to you by the Committee for the Protection of Synagogues Worldwide).