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Jul 31, 2007

emailing during services

I just read in the newspaper (here in the US of A) about a study that was conducted regarding the proliferation of checking email while in curch. The study showed that about 12% of Americans check and send email while sitting in the pews. Atlanta was one of the highest communities at 22% and Chicago was near the low end with 9%.

I do not think church is any different than synagogue, though I am not aware of any specific studies on the use of email in shul. I would guess we would see similar numbers, if a study was done.

I know that in Israel many shuls have signs up that request people coming in to pray turn off their cellphones. I have not seen similar signs in shuls here in the US, but I am sure there are shuls that do have such signs.

Then again, the signs do not really help much. There is one shul I daven in in which the gabbai himself answers his phone during davening (he is not davening at the time, but present during other minyanim) and talks briefly. Plenty of people answer their phones and either talk, or make noises to let the person know he is davening, or answer questions with hms and uh uhs, or leave the shul when the phone rings. And there are some people who either set their phones on silent and do not answer or turn them off completely.

And that is talking on the phone. The study I mentioned above is regarding not talking but checking and sending email, which is basically a silent and unnoticeable (to others) activity.

Even some of the people who do not (or try not to) talk on the phone while in shul, do read and respond to text messages they recieve while in shul during services. I do as well. I try not to, but sometimes I cannot resist the urge to send out a quick and witty reply to a text message I received. I do not have email or internet access on my cellphone, so I am not guilty of emailing others while talking to God, but I have been guilty of the occassional SMS.

I frequently see people in shul checking their email or surfing the internet (to check the exchange rates, the stock market, on a busy news day to see updated news, etc..) .

Why do we do this? Do we not recognize and believe that we really are talking with God? Are we just in shul out of habit? Are we not paying attention enough to what we are doing?

There might be some of that, but I think most people who go to shul to daven do it not out of habit, but out of belief that it is right and proper. If it was just a habit, it would be easier to stay at home and daven. It is faster, convenient, and easy. I have done so in the past at times in my life when davening was more of a habit to me, but I almost always go to shul now because I believe it to be the correct and appropriate way of davening.

So I think most people who go probably do not just go out of habit. On the other hand, davening does have an element of boredom to it. There is a lot of time wasted in shul during the services. Often the services are moving at a slower pace than the congregants like. It is difficult to pay attention the whole time, even for someone who tries to pay attention and daven properly.

Maybe shuls need to speed up the services a bit so there will be less "dead" time available causing people to lose focus and start emailing and internet surfing. Maybe there is a different solution.

It used to be that if someone was bored or distracted for a few minutes, he just daydreamed or thought about other things. Now, with the world literally at our fingertips, it is easy to suddenly spend even a moment of boredom with other things to do. So where we used to daydream we now check our email or the stock market.

I do not think the reasons for checking email are new. I think the source of it is the same boredom that was always there. It is just a new thing that is available for those down moments.


  1. While I do read and respond to texts and emails while in Shul, I definitely do not talk on the phone! I either let it go to message or walk outside to talk. What really bothers me is the ringing of the phones! Is it so difficult to put it on vibrate while in shul (or in a meeting or anywhere it can disturb other people?)

  2. Well, since I only go to shul on shabbos or yom tov (if that!) I never see people emailing in shul. :)

    I will say that growing up in Conservative and Traditional shuls, there was much more kavod shown during services than in the Orthodox shuls I now go to. I think this is because shul is one of the only spiritual/holy places secular people attend - most don't go to mikvah, kollel/bais medrash, and they usually don't daven or perform many other Jewish rituals at home - shul is the big bang. As such, you behave. Kind of like going to an opera. You might be bored stiff, but you show you have class by being silent (except for the audience participation parts)and not fidgeting too much.

    I was really shocked the first time I attended an Orthodox shabbos service and saw people walking in and out and chatting. I couldn't believe my eye! I kept expecting the Rabbi or Gabbai to say something, but no one did. Later, my boyfriend (now husband) explained to me that people are so comfortable with the service, it's like being at home in a way. Plus, the insiders (Orthodox) know when they can and can't speak and when the can and can't leave. Not that you are suppposed to speak ever - but when it is essential you keep quiet and when it is less essential.

    It's like many aspects of life - you've got to know what you can and can't get away with. And when I think about all of us dumb mugs years ago, dressed in our finest, keeping quiet for 2-3 hours, when we could have been whispering jokes and loshon horah or checking stock quotes during the rabbis speech! Well, at least I'm "in the know" now! I'll be sure to bring my Palm next time I'm at a weekday service..

  3. I cant speak for others, and have no desire to but for me personally I feel having my mobile on would be too intrusive personally.

    BTW welcome back Rafi.

    Shalom Mr Bagel

  4. Maybe people need to learn the value of shutting of the cell phone and internet periodically.

    Isn't that the greatest gift of Shabbat?

    Frumhouse: Interesting point about Conservative vs Orthodox shul habits.

  5. Wow. I'll admit to zapping messages to colleagues during meetings, but during shul? Never!

    And I'm with Michael and Mr. Bagel - I find it a relief to have a break from my cellphone, email, etc.

  6. There is a bit of an addiction to being connected. It is hard not to check your messages


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