Sunday, November 16, 2008

Children and the Torah Service

I have been thinking about the problem of smaller children and the Torah service. The basic problem is that children can easily get bored and be disruptive at a Saturday morning service. There seems to be several ways of handling this problem, and I was wondering what other synagogues did.

1. Synagogues can let children attend, expect a certain amount of disruption, and simply try to minimize it or live with it.

2. Synagogues can provide some kind of age-appropriate activities for children: day care, singing, children's services, Saturday religious school, etc. Smaller children simply go to their activity, and the adults go to the service. This had the advantage (especially important in more liberal synagogues) of having younger children see adults go to services, even when there is no bar- or bat-mitzvah.

3. Synagogues can provide "family services" that the whole family can attend. The advantage is that this allows the family to attend services together. But the disadvantage, as a friend of mine noted, it that there really is no such thing as "family services." There are only "children's services." Adults get very little out of them (other than watching their children), and children get the subtextual message that Judaism is geared for children. This is an especially bad problem if the only services the parents attend are "family services."

4. Synagogues can provide "family services" at times other than Saturday morning that are less lengthy. They can provide a family service Friday evening or a family havdalah service Saturday evening. Children are better able to sit through a shorter service. However, this still leaves the adults with a problem for Saturday morning services.

5. Synagogues can not allow children (or at least not tolerate occasional interruptions well) and not provide activities at the synagogue for the children. This leaves the parents with several options.

- One of the parents can watch the children at home, and the other can go to services. This tends to work in Orthodox or more traditional synagogues where families and synagogues have adopted more traditional gender roles. It also works in more liberal or moderate synagogues where one spouse (regardless of gender) is interested in attending services and the other is not. But this results in separating one spouse from the other spouse and kids.

- The parents can hire a babysitter. This is costly and results in separating the parents from the children.

- Both parents can simply stay home. This keeps the family together, but also keeps them out of the synagogue on Saturdays.

How does your synagogue handle this problem, what do you and others do, and how is it working?

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