An Open Letter to the Man in Shul

I should have written this a while ago, but the hectic Yom Tov season made it too difficult.

I don’t know your name, but we saw each other in shul on the night after Yom Kippur. No, I’m not making this up; it was the night after Yom HaKadosh. It was a few minutes before Maariv and those who were present were using those few minutes for limud haTorah. The shul was absolutely quiet — until you walked in.

You walked in talking on your cellphone in a very loud voice. It was shocking. You seemed to have total disregard for the place you were in and for the people who were sitting and learning.

I regret that I did not say anything to you. By nature I am timid, and I’m reluctant to confront people. But that’s no excuse. I should have said something. I certainly hope that you are reading this letter.

I was wondering: What possessed you to walk into the shul while you were on the phone? Why couldn’t you finish your conversation in the street and then come in? Perhaps I discovered the answer when I left later: It had rained. Is that why you came into the shul, to escape the rain? If that was the case, then apparently you are unaware of an explicit halachah in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 151:1) that prohibits this.

My dear friend, what is most tragic is that it seems that you have not learned the lesson of these past many difficult months. When COVID-19 reached these shores, our shuls were closed for weeks. Many talmidei chachamim said that this was a message to all of us that we need to show more kavod for the mikdash me’at — our shuls. They urged us to shut our cellphones before we enter a shul.

And now, the Governor has severely restricted our davening in shul. Could it be that this is Hashem’s way of telling us that we have failed to learn our lesson?

Please, my friend, I appeal to you and all my fellow Yidden: Accept upon yourselves that from this day and on, you will never answer a call in shul and you will never speak or text on a cellphone in shul.

We need our shuls. We need our minyanim. We need our davening. It is our most potent weapon and tool in these very difficult times.

Your fellow Jew, who cares about you and all of acheinu Bnei Yisrael