Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Shabbat Drashah…and Controversy - Part 1

Every Friday, over twenty organizations from across the religious spectrum publish alonei Shabbat – Shabbat Sheets, which cover the gamut of issues, politics, news and personalities in the Religious Zionist world. Some of these alonim are indeed short, but many are full magazines and newspapers catering to different small slices of the Religious Zionist population. Advertisers pay thousands upon thousands of shekel to reach this coveted audience which, unplugged from their cellphones, tablets and laptops, must instead thumb through the full-color pages of these publications for free news and information. From Olam Katan (which caters to the young, but which everyone reads) to Giluy Da’at to Matzav Haruach to Shabbaton to Shabbat B’shabbato…the list goes on and on (you can access a majority of the Alonei Shabbat here). Oh, and they also have some divrei Torah. 

The publishers distribute these Shabbat sheets in the most economically feasible manner – by giving them out in shul. The average shul attendee in Israel on Friday evening, arrives (if he arrives on time) to a smorgasbord of Alonim, from which he selects his favorites – or all of them. This is fine, if our friendly shul-goer puts his pile of sheets in his talit box and takes them home after davening. But, as we all know, that’s not what happens. Most people end up leafing through the pages either during davening itself, or during the dvar Torah between Kabbalat Shabbat and Ma’ariv.

I have tried to teach my children that we don’t read the alonim during davening (speeches are another matter entirely). Nonetheless, sometimes, I find myself sitting in Kabbalat Shabbat, literally surrounded by people reading the paper, and not davening. I find it both demoralizing and disturbing. Yet, one might legitimately wonder why I care what the people around me are doing. After all, at least they're not talking. The guy reading the alonim next to you isn’t making any noise. Isn’t it his business what he chooses to do during the davening? Why should his reading bother me?

I don't think so, for reasons that I will so explain.
And, when the head of our shul's education committee called me last Monday and asked me if I would be willing to give the dvar Torah on Friday night, I knew exactly what I was going to speak about.

Little did I realize that I was about to spark a controversy much larger than the issue of alonei Shabbat…

(To be continued)