Advice From YidParenting
By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Q: My husband is a wonderful ba’al chesed and a ben Torah. Usually, when it comes to chinuch, I defer to his wisdom, but he and I have been arguing about something that I think is right up your alley. My husband takes our three boys to shul early every Shabbos (or Friday night), and they always have good seats. Once davening begins, if someone comes late and doesn’t have a seat, my husband encourages the kids to give up their seats for the older person. I feel that once davening begins, they should be staying in their seats. We agreed to ask you.
A: A short while ago I experienced something similar. When our family went away, I brought my six boys to shul on Friday night to a local minyan. Since it promised to get crowded, I came early and sat near the chazzan. When davening began, the shul was already filling up, and a few minutes later it was packed. Someone from the shul “recommended” that my boys sit in a different room to make space in the shul, and I refused. They have as much of a right to daven as anyone else, and they were on time.
Obviously, there are variables that can change everything. If the person walking in late can’t stand well or needs to be up front to hear better, that’s different. Nonetheless, in most cases, I would agree with you. If your husband and children made the effort to be on time, I don’t think they should be giving up their spots so quickly.
I’m a big believer that it’s better to lead by example. It’s so important to show your children how to act, rather than just tell them what to do. However, we also learn that if one is performing a mitzvah, he is exempt from doing other ones. Though this is not the forum to delve into the meaning of that, my point is fairly obvious. Teaching your children how to daven is not simple. You need to juggle the actual davening while showing them what to say. There might be distractions in the shul, and it takes a lot of patience.
To ask your children to relocate is just a bad idea. Again, there are circumstances that warrant this, but in most cases I wouldn’t advocate it. If your children are old enough to daven themselves, and they willingly want to give up their seats, I think that’s fine. If the kids are young enough to sit on your lap without interfering with your own davening, that’s also fine.
Here are my thoughts on changing seats in shul:
- You should come to shul a few minutes early if possible, especially if you have children.
- You should try to have a makom kavuah, regular seats.
- Once davening begins, you should not change your seats unless there is an extreme circumstance (for example, an elderly person needs a seat).
- If you do need to give up your seat, it’s better that you change seats and let your children stay in their seats. This way they will understand the importance of davening in a set spot.
- I’m a big fan of sitting up front in the shul. It always confuses me when the shul is empty and people go sit in the back row.
One question that is sure to generate some debate is what to do if someone is in your seat before davening begins. Can you politely ask the person to relocate, or do you just have to deal with it? I have heard many different opinions on this, and it’s really a personal decision. Some shuls explicitly state that there are no permanent seats; others actually put the names of the mispallelim on the chairs.
In either case, whatever you decide to do should be done quietly, without creating a disturbance. It’s certainly not worth getting annoyed over or speaking badly about others. After all, the point of davening is to get closer to Hashem—not further from your fellow Jews!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, visit www.yidparenting.com.