Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shteebles

Here in my hometown of Brooklyn, there are shteebles all over the place. If you live anywhere in Midwood or Boro Park, there's gotta be one right around the corner.

But while it's nice to have so many shuls all over the place, I've found the concept of a shteeble to be troubling. We've always been taught that a shul is supposed to be a miniature Bais HaMikdash, a "mikdash me'at." When you go through the parshiyos of Terumah and Vayakhel, the Torah spends considerable length going through the details of the beauty of the mishkon. Even though the main point of avodas Hashem is supposed to come from our inside, from our hearts, yet the Torah clearly recognizes the importance of our physical senses seeing and feeling the physical beauty of the mishkon.

And that's why I find the concept of the shteeble so troubling. The mishkon wasn't just a cramped first floor of someone's house. Aharon HaKohen and his family did not have a house upstairs. I've never done much research on this issue, but I get the feeling that the shteeble is a relatively new idea in Judaism. When you look at many of the historic shuls in this country (next time you're bored as hell, get one of those Oscar Israelowitz books with the pictures), they're all large buildings with sophisticated architecture.

Many people get all upset about the lack of decorum in shuls. And I have a feeling that the shteeble hasn't helped the cause much. When you daven in a claustrophobic environment sitting on top of everyone else, all the while hearing the rebbe's kids horsing around upstairs, it's hard to take davening seriously. Being in a large, airy, beautiful building gives off more of an aura of kedushas bais haknesses.

Now I know some of you might say, there are plenty of people who go to these big, beautiful shuls and talk anyway! But I'm not saying that destroying the shteebles would make everyone quiet. My point is just that they might be a contributing factor.

- An encouraging incident happened in my shul a few years back. One of the "richies" (as my Hasidic cousins would say) wanted to put up a hook in the shul so he could hang his hat in there. The gabbaim said "no way. This is a shul, not a coatroom." The richie got pissed off and left the place. I've gotta give the gabbaim credit for taking the dignity of the shul seriously, especially where a richie was involved.

4 Comments:

Blogger The Yankee Despiser said...

I will say this - regarding the decorum issue, the shteeble has definitely not helped the cause; it's only hurt it. The fact that the word shteeb means house in Yiddish tells you that the idea to "make yourself at home" is antithetical to the respect you're supposed to have in a shul.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Isaac. On one hand, I agree with you that shteebles do not have the same aura of kedusha that large fancy shuls have. I think its terrible when people go to a shteebel rather than a regular shul just for convenience purposes. However, I think many people are intimidated by the fashion shows and other meshagas that goes on in many of the fancy shuls and therefore chose to daven in shteebels because they are so low-key. Some people find it easier to have kavanah in a more relaxed atmosphere. If that is someone's intent in davening at a shteeble, I think its very praiseworthy.

3:56 PM  
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