Take your time

by | Nov 21, 2012 | Torah Thought

It is my belief that, contrary to popular suspicion, we Jews are looking for much, much longer services. I understand that such a belief seems to smack in the face of common sense. If you were to ask any 10 Jews at random, they would express the opposite opinion, but our normal behavior belies that attitude.

Let me explain.

The daily shacharit service, for those congregations offering such worship opportunities, is often delayed because of a search for the 10th person. The kabbalat Shabbat service, throughout our region and probably around the country, is a relatively brief service. Attendance for this paramount opportunity to express Jewish distinctiveness is meager compared to the size of a given congregation’s potential attendance. The Saturday morning service is a bit longer and the attendance is slightly larger, especially if there is a b’nai mitzvah involvement. In some of these instances, we start out with a handful of people and, the longer the service continues, the more people come. And then, just as we have the most people, the service is over!

The turnout for Shalosh Regalim events varies depending on what socio-religious gatherings are offered at any given time such as programs in a sukkah, congregational sedarim, or tikun l’el shavuot sessions.

But for the actual worship services connected with these Torah commanded holidays, the attendance is usually embarrassingly light.

The incontrovertible truth to my theory is the answer to the question: When do the most people come to services?

They come for our longest services! On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur! Which proves that I am correct in the supposition that what most Jews are looking for are much longer services!

The fact that you cannot fault this logic proves that we Jews are really a countercultural people because the cultural trend today is to rush through learning and to rush through living as fast as we possibly can. Our sense of time has changed radically from what it was in previous generations.

Look around you and find that everything is being abbreviated because of our shortening attention span.

Oxford Press is producing books on the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, and others, each less that 100 pages, each to be read in less than an hour. Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time has now been published in a condensed version entitled A Briefer History of Time. The Hundred Minutes Bible has 64 pages. It won’t be too long before we see Brecht’s Two Penny Opera, Dumas’ One Musketeer, or the Dickens’ A Tale of One City.

Television commercials that used to last for one minute are now down to 15 seconds. Hour long exercise classes are now down to a half hour. Mini-series on American TV are all but gone. Political sound bites on the news have been reduced to eight seconds. Millions are spent at fast and faster food emporiums.

And the list goes on.

The silliness with which this article began may well have a serious element. It may be a perspective from which to understand the tension between the world around us and the world inside our temples and synagogues, between frantically rushing through life’s experiences and trying to savor the principle that life is to be lived not summarized and trivialized.

Give it a try today, read more slowly, dine more slowly, enjoy your life at a slower pace. Live longer.

—Rabbi Arthur Steinberg, rabbi emeritus Ohef Sholom Temple.