Keeping the Sanctuary a Holy Space

Balancing Sanctity, Inclusiveness, Frustration, Children, and Disruption

THE SANCTUARY: The holiest place in the Temple is the Sanctuary. In biblical times, it was referred to as the "Mishkan," the place where God's presence ("Shechina") stayed in the midst of the Israelites. (In Hebrew, the words Mishkan and Shechina have the same root, indicating that God is in the Sanctuary.) While God is everywhere, we retreat to the Mishkan or Sanctuary when we wish to be with God and with others in prayer.

FRUSTRATIONS: However, some congregants have told us they feel frustrated when they are in the Sanctuary because their thoughts and prayers are disrupted by noise or other activities. We recognize that each of us defines "disruptive" differently. Some feel it's disruptive when people are talking around them, when someone tries to help by collecting Siddurim or Chumashim during services, or when children speak loudly, having fun that would be more appropriate in the playground. At times, people try to help by telling their neighbors to be quiet, inadvertently talking louder and causing more disruption than the original conversation, or offending the people they had found offensive. Without realizing it, some people may glare at other adults or at children who are just being kids. Many perceive the glare as if it were the Ayin HaRah ("evil eye"), definitely out of place in the Sanctuary.

WE WANT ALL OF YOU: We want everyone from newborns to octogenarians to be in the Sanctuary and experience what it is like to be in a holy space. We need your help! In addition to your being mindful of whether you or members of your family might be more disruptive than you realized, please let us know what you think would be helpful.

CHILDREN IN THE SANCTUARY: A special note about young children … we want them and need them in the Sanctuary. Not only does their involvement add to the spirit of our prayers, it provides them with experiences and memories that will be with them for the rest of their lives. For many of us, being with our families in the Sanctuary are among our fondest childhood memories, something we'd like our own children to have.

WHAT'S NEEDED: Some ways to cut down on disruptions are pretty clear: Cell phones and other electronic devices should be turned off. If you must talk with someone, step outside the Sanctuary to have your discussion. Young children should be with their families so that parents or other caregivers can provide good examples of how to behave in the Sanctuary. There will be times when even the best kids will need their parents to remove them from the Sanctuary so as not to disrupt others. Since running around in the Sanctuary is both disrespectful and disruptive, we are asking that parents remind their children that there is to be no running in the Sanctuary at any time, even when services are not taking place. Also, children should only be on the Bima when invited to be there by the Rabbi or other Leader, or when they are with their parents. In general, no food or drinks should be consumed in the Sanctuary, although we realize that there may be exceptions, e.g., for medical reasons or when very young children may need a bottle. Most others needing to eat might leave the Sanctuary for a short while. Children should be taught (and adults need to remember for themselves) that any incidental speech should be in whispers rather than in conversational or "outside voices."