For the week ending 1 October 2005 / 27 Elul 5765

Choosing a Synagogue

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Question: There are two synagogues in my neighborhood, both of them equally Orthodox and both having services with the same Ashkenazi text. For personal reasons I prefer to pray in the one a little farther from my home. A neighbor of mine recently told me that there is resentment among the members of the nearer synagogue to my avoiding their place of worship as if it is not good enough for me. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: Rabbi Yochanan (Mesechta Sotah 22a) states that he learned the importance of striving to gain greater Heavenly reward from a widow who came from a distant neighborhood to pray in his synagogue. When he asked her why she did not pray in one of her local synagogues, she replied that she wished to gain a reward for the extra steps she had to take to get to his place.

While you may be getting a reward for those extra steps, and this is a factor in choosing your synagogue (Orach Chaim 90:11, Magen Avraham 22), it is not the only consideration in choosing a synagogue in which to regularly pray. Preference should be given to one in which there are more worshipers, unless there is so much noise there which interferes with hearing the repetition of the service and the reading of the Torah (Mishneh Berurah 90:29). There may be other factors which are responsible for your "personal reasons" in skipping the nearer synagogue, but you should make an effort to dispel any suspicion of snubbing it, perhaps by making an occasional appearance.

You certainly do not wish to be seen by your neighbors as the personification of the legendary Jew who was stranded for years on a desert island following a shipwreck. When a ship finally arrived to take him from the island he gave his rescuers a tour of all that he had built by himself, including a home and two synagogues. When asked why he needed the second synagogue when there was certainly enough room in the first to accommodate a lone worshiper, "That one," he replied, "is the synagogue I dont go to!"

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