Columns - 1996

    Rabbis prefer sleeping during sermon

    Yes, that's right. You heard it here first. Our investigative mole conducted a carefully constructed survey to determine which of the following was a lesser evil in the eyes of rabbis: Sleeping through the sermon, or talking through the service. Four out of five rabbis prefer sleeping through the sermon. (When snoring was mentioned, however, results were inconclusive. Must've hit a sore spot.)

    How scientific was this survey? Our mole approached a random congregant one Saturday morning, who will remain anonymous (we'll refer to her using the name her son calls her -- to her face, at least: "Mom"). When asked if she thought she knew four rabbis who would prefer people sleeping through the sermon, "Mom" said "Probably." Where did the dissenting voice in the survey come from? Get real. When was the last time five out of five rabbis agreed on anything?

    This brings up an interesting question: Who am I to conduct such a study? Well, I'm overly qualified to conduct exactly this kind of study. I'm an Alabama Jew living on the frontier (Yiddish for "California") with a word processor (Yiddish for "typewriter"). What more do you need? (Credo: "The microchip is truly mightier than the micro-sword... those small swords snap too easily.")

    Yes, I'm a southern Jew in California. The common reaction out here is "no you're not, you're a Jewish southerner". Seriously, nobody out here believes there actually are Jews in Alabama, let alone about 10,000 of 'em. I tell them we grow 'em Jewish on the farm, wedged in between the corn and cotton. They believe it.

    That's okay, though. They didn't believe me any more than they believed my surprise at seeing Jews in California pray in Hebrew, and that some of them even wear beanies (Yiddish for yarmulkes) during services! It all depends where you're from. Forget matrilineal or patrilineal descent or whether you put lox on your bagels (I don't. Ick.). Unless you're from a three block radius in New York (or if you're a successful doctor or lawyer), you're not Jewish.

    You would think we would learn, don't you? (I know you do. I asked you once. "Do you think we'd learn?", I asked. "Yes. Yes, I do.", you said. Don't you remember?)

    It's always nice to see, in all seriousness, that someone can be Jewish (even if they're not from New York) and go to any synagogue anywhere in the country or world (even outside New York) and there are certain similarities. The most obvious one is that {Breaking News!:} they all store their hazardous waste materials under the front row of pews in the sanctuary and chapel. Why else does everyone sit in the back?

    The Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue, and all the other support groups for "Jews who can tolerate hotel beds for four days straight" are barking up the wrong tree. Forget about Continuity, fundraising, and ritual. Address the dumping of hazardous waste under the first row! If not for us, think of the children! When children become Bar and Bat Mitzvah we make their whole families sit in the second row! That's too close, man!

    One synagogue I'm fond of and worked for in Pittsburgh, Pa., had an interesting scenario. The rabbi didn't ALLOW people to sit in the front row. His explanation: "No place to put the books". (For the non-Jews in our audience: You're not supposed to put books with God's name on the floor. Disrespectful. While you're at it, never put my column on the floor, either. Disrespectful. I know. It's hard to stomp on it on the coffee table. Try. It's good exercise.) Out here on the Frontier, they have a different approach: book holders under the front pews. The rabbi's explanation: "No place else to put the people." Good problem to have.

    So, what's the moral of the story? Don't talk during services? Don't snore during the sermon? Put on the ol' radiation suit and vacuum under the front pew? No. The moral of this column is that this is only the beginning. To quote the liturgical giant Zero Mostel, as he was on his way to services at the Forum in L.A., "Morals tomorrow, comedy tonight." I'll be throwing this stuff at you every month so either get used to it or vow never to look at page 34 in this paper again. But beware! I'm sneaky. I may not be on the same page every month...

    Doug Brook is a technical writer and Internet architect in Silicon Valley (California, folks) from Birmingham.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.