Religion & Beliefs

Length Doesn’t Matter

One of my major pet peeves is people who whine about davening going on too long. While I have no patience for sermons or divrei Torah that go longer than seven minutes, a long service on Shabbat morning doesn’t bother … Read More

By / May 10, 2007

One of my major pet peeves is people who whine about davening going on too long. While I have no patience for sermons or divrei Torah that go longer than seven minutes, a long service on Shabbat morning doesn’t bother me at all. I have no place else to be. I can arrive whenever I want. What do I care if it lasts until 12:30 or 1:00? Davening, in its very nature, is an active thing. One should be engaging with the text on at least some level. And if you don’t understand what’s going on, it’s not hard to look over to the facing page to see the translation. Plus, and I’m not saying this is a good thing, but I’ve generally got friends or family members sitting with me, and if something is dragging on too long, we chat. Which is to say, if you’re bored at shul, it’s probably your own fault. I bring this up because JTA just published an editorial by Edgar Bronfman about how synagogues should adapt to modern life in order to attract and retain members. His big cause? Make davening shorter.

Most important, all synagogues would do well to experiment with shortening the length of service. Two to two-and-a-half hours, and sometimes three, on a Saturday morning, or even on a Friday night is a daunting commitment for anyone, let alone someone who just wants to explore Judaism for the first time.

When I speak with young people, they tell me that services should be shortened. But even then, an hour can be too much to handle if what transpires is boring, irrelevant and bereft of meaning. With beautiful music, choirs chanting, meaningful short services and prayers that speak to the human condition, perhaps we can attract a younger segment of the population, especially if we ask them to participate in their services.

Yes, of course going to synagogue should be a fun, interesting and engaging experience, and of course it’s going to suck if it’s “boring, irrelevant and bereft of meaning.” But come on. If someone can’t handle an hour of shul a week, they’re not really interested in going to shul at all. And hey, I don’t think everyone needs to go to shul. If it’s not your thing, that’s cool. But shortening the service doesn’t really solve the problem. If you want to be more relevant, then you should have more dynamic sermons, make sure services are lead with someone with a pleasant simple voice in a way that encourages people to sing along, plan services for teenagers and young kids, and get some social action programming going on every week. People want to become more involved in the community, and I agree that communities need to be more innovative in their outreach and marketing (we could learn a few things from the Church Marketing Sucks blog). But sacrificing the integrity of a service isn’t the answer. If it seriously take two and a half hours to get through davening, and no one’s dawdling or being ridiculous, then that’s how long it takes. If you just can’t sit still that long, there are plenty of other ways you can get involved with the Jewish community and religion life. This Forward article about synagogue podcasts is awesome, and is exactly the direction we should be headed in. Cutting down the Torah reading (especially if you’re already only doing the triennial cycle) is not the answer.