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One Rabbi's Dream to Close All Shuls

March 24, 2020 | by Rabbi Yogi Robkin

Rabbi SR Hirsch wrote that closing "all synagogues by Jewish hands would constitute the strongest protest against the abandonment of the Torah in home and life."

With obviously no knowledge of the coronavirus, in the late 1800s Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote this chilling paragraph:

“If I had the power I would provisionally close all synagogues for a hundred years. Do not tremble at the thought of it, Jewish heart. What would happen? Jews and Jewesses without synagogues, desiring to remain such, would be forced to concentrate on a Jewish life and a Jewish Home. The Jewish officials connected with the synagogue would have to look to the only opportunity now open to them – to teach young and old how to live a Jewish life and how to build a Jewish home. All synagogues closed by Jewish hands would constitute the strongest protest against the abandonment of the Torah in home and life. – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (as quoted in the “Introduction by Translator” to Horeb, “The Classification of the Mitzvoth,” p.1xix)

Our current coronavirus-inspired quarantined existence is hopefully the closest we'll ever get to witnessing Rabbi Hirsh's alien reality of shuls being lock downed. That being said, Rabbi Hirsch was on to something that was and is in dire need of rectification. Could this be the time we actually do something about it?

For far too long the synagogue has replaced the home in its centrality to Jewish life.

For far too long the synagogue has replaced the home in its centrality to Jewish life. Sure, synagogues are ideal places for Jewish gatherings, communal prayer, and life-cycle celebrations. But life plays itself out primarily in the home, surrounded by the most profound influences any of us will ever know – our parents.

Rabbi Hirsch’s point is that Judaism and Torah need to be brought to life specifically in our homes if we want them to shape the next generation of Jews. We need to get the Torah out of the ark and into our living rooms!

And without a synagogue to go to, many of us are doing just that. Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat is being live-streamed onto our big screens, and families are praying together on their couches. Many organizations are increasing their online presence, and the plethora of learning opportunities available for download or live-zooming on our digital devices allows for a steady stream of inspiring and spiritual thoughts to fill our abodes. It is within our powers to turn this period of global uncertainty into a precious opportunity for familial value-sharing and growth.

Without offices to go to, many of us are spending a lot more time at home than usual. This means that our children are fully privy to the way we spend our time, both our working and resting hours. And while it’s easy to cajole our children to use their now extended home time wisely instead of endlessly numbing their minds in front of their computers and video game consoles, we can appreciate why our words might fall on deaf ears when we spend all our free time in a similar fashion.

Imagine what a powerful pedagogical impression we can send by utilizing our nights to study Torah at the dining room table or by finding ways to use our free time to express our values. As we all know, it is what our children actually see us do that makes all the difference in the transmission of family values. So now is the ideal to up your Jewish game and bring it to life in your home.

Let's try to live up to our higher selves during these difficult times. After only one week cooped up at home we all feel a little stir-crazy and on edge, and it becomes that much easier to lash out at our children and spouse in anger and frustration when things aren’t going the way we want. Our interpersonal Jewish values of patience, compassion, and love are on show and at stake now more than ever before!

These are unusual times, to say the least. These are also unusually opportunistic times for imparting our Jewish values to our land-locked ( home-locked?) children. We are unlikely to get this opportunity again in our parenting lifetimes.

Let's embrace Rabbi Hirsch's message and make the most of it.

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