Shul Attendance: Privilege or Responsibility?

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    I would like to share an excerpt from a dvar Torah by R’ Sruli Motzen. It is as follows:

    This ties in with a subject I have been thinking about lately. Some of you may be familiar with the “JFK phenomenon”– that there are those who show up to shul “just for Kiddush”. There are people who do this occasionally and those who do it on a regular basis. Most women will do it at least once in their lives (but plenty of men do it too). Maybe you overslept; maybe you mistimed the walk; maybe your child woke up sick; maybe you went to another shul and are meeting your family; etc. Or maybe you really just decided to come for the food or to socialize.

    Suppose you are the president of a shul. How do you feel about this JFK business, and what, if anything, do you do about it? Do you enact a formal policy? If so, how do you enforce it? If you noticed a particular congregant following this pattern week after week, would you approach him/her about it? Do you expect your congregants to take the initiative to sponsor Kiddush with a given frequency (e.g. once a year or twice a year) and do you enforce that? How? Now what if you have a couple or family visiting from out of town, and they call you to arrange hospitality. You place them with a family and are surprised to note that they show up at shul JFK. Do you approach them about it? Is their situation different because they aren’t regular congregants? Does that give them more of an excuse (e.g. they weren’t familiar with the shul’s policy or culture), or less of an excuse (e.g. they should have repaid the hospitality by at least coming to shul for davening)?

    Which brings me to what I think is the underlying issue. Is going to shul a privilege or a responsibility? If it’s a responsibility, then maybe no one should be allowed to benefit from the shul (kiddush, hospitality, events, whatever) without contributing (financially and/or by your presence in shul). If it’s a privilege, then assuming you have not been excommunicated for some reason, you can partake of shul benefits without compulsion to repay the shul in some way, although of course it’s a nice thing if you do.

    I am not interested in the obvious answer that men have a chiyuv to daven with a minyan and hear the Torah read, since a) it doesn’t really answer the question, and b) I provided the possibility that one could attend one minyan and then walk to Kiddush at another shul, for many reasons.

    I hope this is clear. It has been on my mind recently based on a personal experience and I am trying to organize my thoughts. R’ Motzen’s words really struck me and I was wondering, since we can never really know what is going on in a person’s life, is it ever appropriate to judge someone on an institutional basis for not going to shul, or for going to shul late? Why or why not?

    I am very interested to hear everyone’s thoughts.


    I forgot to add that we are assuming a shul that does not struggle to put together a minyan, so the men are not needed for that purpose.


    Just one point. I am not sure that men have a chiyuv to daven with a minyan. Men must daven everyday, but the language of the Shulchan Aruch appears to suggest that it’s a good think to try to daven with a minyan but not a “Chiyuv”.

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