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Synagogue Decorum and The Prohibition Against Speaking During Torah Reading – In the Wake of the Har Nof Tragedy

This Halacha was delivered on the day following the tragic terror attack in a synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem


The Shulhan Aruch rules (Orah Haim 146:2) that it is forbidden to speak during the Torah reading in the synagogue. This prohibition applies even to speaking words of Torah; it goes without saying that mundane or idle conversations are forbidden during Torah reading, but even speaking words of Torah is forbidden. It should be noted that in Bet Yosef (Orah Haim 141), Maran cites the comment of the Zohar (Parashat Vayakhel) that there must not be any noise whatsoever in the synagogue during the reading of the Torah. The voice of the reader should be the only sound heard in the synagogue during that time.

Later (146:3), the Shulhan Aruch adds that it is forbidden to speak even “Ben Gabra Le’gabra” – in between the Aliyot. Many people mistakenly assume that once an Aliya has ended, there is a “recess” during which they can engage in conversation. The Shulhan Aruch writes explicitly that speaking is forbidden even in between the Aliyot. The period of Torah reading must be treated like the Amida, as a time when speaking is strictly forbidden. The Shulhan Aruch also rules that it is forbidden to speak during the reading of the Haftara – another Halacha of which many people are, unfortunately, not aware. The reading of the Haftara is like the reading of the Sefer Torah in this regard, and speaking is strictly forbidden during the reading, until the conclusion of the Berachot recited after the reading.

If one is reading the Haftara along with the reader, but he did not complete the reading before the reader did, then he should stop his reading to hear the Berachot (Be’ur Halacha, 284).

If somebody feels that he cannot refrain from speaking during the Torah reading, it is preferable for him to leave the sanctuary and go into the hallway to speak. This way, although he misses the Torah reading, the people in the synagogue are able to listen attentively to the reading. If he remains in the synagogue and engages in conversation, he is “Hoteh U’mahati” – he commits a sin, and causes others to sin, and they are unable to hear the reading and also might learn from his example.

These Halachot are especially pertinent now, as the Jewish Nation mourns the terrible tragedy that occurred in Har Nof, where four Rabbis were murdered in a synagogue while praying and wearing Tallit and Tefillin. One of the lessons to be taken from this horrific tragedy, perhaps, is to appreciate the great privilege we have to come each morning to the synagogue to pray and learn Torah. We say each morning, “Ashrenu Ke’she’anu Mashkimim U’ma’aribim Be’bateh Kenesiyot U’be’bateh Midrashot U’meyahadim Shimcha” – we are so fortunate to come each morning to the synagogues and study halls to declare Hashem’s Oneness. The four Rabbis who were murdered made the ultimate sacrifice for the glorification of Hashem’s Name. We, at very least, must recommit ourselves to proper synagogue decorum, appreciate what a great privilege it is to learn and pray in the synagogue, and realize that this privilege must not be abused through improper conduct.

The Har Nof tragedy speaks to all Jews around the world – not just to the Jews in that neighborhood, or in Jerusalem or in Israel. We, too, must look into ourselves to see which areas are in need of improvement, and, as the tragedy occurred in a synagogue during prayers, we must make a firm resolve to improve our conduct in the synagogue and our attitude toward Tefila.

 


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