In recent weeks we have been witness to devastating images of burning synagogues in Gaza, flooded synagogues in New Orleans — and perhaps soon, although we hope not, in the Houston area as well. This is surely cause for mourning, for the synagogue is the backbone of any Kehilla Kedosha, a holy Jewish community. This destruction is therefore emblematic of the loss of Torah and kedusha in the world.
In light of these tragic events, both in Gush Katif and in the American South, the Orthodox Union is calling on all of its member synagogues across the United States and Canada to participate in a Shabbat program for the purpose of giving increased emphasis to the holiness of our shuls. We ask you to institute a Ta’anit Dibbur – a period free of conversation – during the morning davening of the last Shabbat of the year 5765, Parshat Nitzavim, October 1, 2005.
So it’s too late to join them. It’s still a good and necessary idea, and not a bad thing to try for Shabbos Shuvah. Here’s their advice:
Levity is forbidden in synagogues and batei medrash. Levity includes, among other things, joking, laughing and idle conversation. (Orach Chayim 151)Idle conversation even includes discussion of secular subjects that is permitted elsewhere, such as business matters, not to mention generally forbidden talk, such as Lashon Hara, rechilus and quarrelsome speech. (Mishneh Brura ibid.)
During the Chazan’s repetition of Shmoneh Esray the congregation must remain silent, concentrate and answer “amen” after each bracha. If there are not at least nine individuals concentrating on the brachos, then they are considered brachos levatalah. Therefore, each person should conduct himself as if there will not be nine concentrating without him. (Orach Chayim 124)
Even reciting Tehilim or other prayers and learning Torah are forbidden during the Chazan’s repetition of Shmoneh Esray. (Mishneh Brura, ibid.; Derech Moshe as quoted in L’sefer Hagan, section 28)
Conversation is strictly forbidden during the Chazan’s repetition of Shmoneh Esray. If one speaks at this time, his sin is too great to bear, and he must be reprimanded. (Orach Chayim 124) We have witnessed the destruction of a number of synagogues due to this sin. (Mishneh Brura, ibid., quoting Eliyah Rabba)
Once Krias Hatorah has begun, it is forbidden to talk, even words of Torah. It is highly questionable whether one may even learn Torah silently instead of following the Torah reading. (Orach Chayim 146; Beur Halacha, ibid.)
It is forbidden to talk or learn during any other part of davening, even during the recitation of supplementary piyutim that one is not accustomed to say. (Orach Chayim 68)
Idle conversation is forbidden even when the congregation is not praying, i.e., before and after davening. (Derech Moshe Hanispach L’sefer Hagan section 29, quoting Rambam)
A person must make it clear to others that he does not talk in shul, and he should do so in a way that makes them want to act as he does. (Sefer Peleh Yoetz)
Follow these halachos no matter what those around you say or do. Cultivate your personal sense of Hashem’s constant presence and acknowledge the fact that when you enter a shul or bais medrash you are, quite literally, in immediate proximity to the Shechina. If you do not believe this, cannot take it seriously, or feel indifferent to it, recognize that you have a serious problem of fundamental faith that is necessarily infecting all of your Torah learning and observance. Pray to the Ribono Shel Olam for help and seek guidance from an authentic Torah personality.