Thursday, July 06, 2006

Signs of the Times

From time to time I pop into the local minyan factory, where I am greeted by a sign on the front door reading: "Please respect the custom of this place. You are required to wear bigdai elyon (hats and jackets) during davening."

Like quite a few other visitors, I cheerfully ignore this directive. An old man or two has shot the look of death in my direction, but as yet, I haven't been asked to leave.

I don't go there very often, however, because praying in those surroundings is quite an ordeal. For starters, the place is a mess: Worn out rugs. Peeling ceilings. Spiders and bugs. Once I even saw a mouse scamper across the floor. But worse than the four legged pests are the beggers. Swarms of them are everywhere, jangling handfuls of coins and flashing their credentials right under your nose. My friends from the far left of Judaism will find this hard to belieive, but they do approach right in the middle of prayer and, without a glimmer of remorse, they'll inturupt your conversation with the Almighty in pursuit of a handout.

More of the beggers bother me, perhaps, because my clothing identifies me as an outsider, and someone who might have a few coins to pass around, but as a rule I give nothing to those who distuirb me during services. I don't reward rudeness.

My good old home shul, the one with the modern, and therefore dated (but well-kept) furnishings, has it's own sign, by the way. It reads: "Collecting money during services is forbiden. Please do not disturb people when they are praying." The beggers, for the most part, comply, and wait in the alcove. Those that don't get the look of death. And if that doesn't work, they are escorted out.

So, nu, nu: Who's going to heaven? The shul with the sign which makes it more difficult for people to daven, by encouraging them to go elsewhere if they aren't properly dressed, or the shul with the sign that facilitates prayer by demanding a quite and inturuption free enviroment?

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