Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski
Getting the Uninterested Child to Shul
Recently there has been some discussion as to whether parents should force an unwilling child to go to shul. But there are some shuls where I wonder why any youngsters should want to go there.
When one enters a shul, one should recite the verse, "As for me, through Your abundant kindness I will enter Your House; I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You." Regrettably, in some shuls this is all but true. There is no awe of Hashem.
If the minyan is scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM, I see some people strolling in as late as 10 AM.
When I was in medical school, the pathology lecture began promptly at 8 AM, at which time the door to the lecture room was closed. If one arrived at 8:01, one could not enter. The fact that one's wife was sick and one had to drop off the baby at one's mother was not taken into account. Nothing short of a court order could have gotten the door open. You had better believe, we had respect for pathology
The Talmud states that when davening one should see oneself standing before Hashem (Berachos 28b). If one does not feel one is addressing Hashem, his verbalizations are not tefillah.
If the shul is a place of awe, where one should communicate with G-d, people should be respectful enough to be there at 8:30. Some people are more precise with being at the theater on time.
Then there is the inexcusable practice of conversing during services. In one shul, the rabbi had to stop the chazzan a number of times until silence could be restored. I cannot think of a chillul Hashem greater than this. Little wonder that the Shulchan Aruch says that this is an unforgivable sin, a term not even applied to eating treifeh! (Orach Chayim 124)
A shul is a beis hamikdash me'at, a smaller version of the Holy Temple (Orach Chaim 151). And yet, some still maintain a "Kiddush club," where children can see their parents drinking to excess.
How on earth can one expect young people to want to attend shuls like this? One worshipper responded to my criticism with, "What's the problem? A shul is a social club." With what right may you force a child to attend a social club?
If your child has no interest in davening, that may be remedied by spending ten minutes a few times a week (a bit more on Shabbos) going over part of the prayers and explaining them to him/her. This can arouse interest in what is otherwise just words. This may take some preparation. There are a number of books on tefillah that can make the prayers more interesting. If you cannot spare the time to help your child develop interest in tefillah, I doubt that you can be critical of his/her lack of interest in davening.
If we make shul respectful and the tefillos meaningful, our children are more likely to want to go to shul.