Thursday, February 24, 2011

How to Daven in Public Without Looking Like a Nutter

Quite honestly, you're probably going to look like a nutter whatever you do. But that's ok. You can minimize your public nuttiness with a few tips. This topic always makes me think of plane trips, so perhaps this colors my discussion. Feel free to add your tips in the comments!

First, seek a private location, if available. There's not much you can do in some circumstances, such as a plane with the seatbelt light still on. However, if available, there are airport chapels, the back of the plane, and other quiet corners.

Half the time, if you don't shuckle (rock) back and forth, you just look like someone who reads while moving his or her lips.

Use your cell phone! Pretend you're talking on your phone or a bluetooth and suddenly, you look no more crazy than anyone else. (But you will look crazy to someone like me who never remembers that bluetooths exist.)

But what about bowing during the Amidah? For instance, if I'm on a plane, I make less of a bow in my seat than I normally would. The people sitting by me inevitably realize I'm doing "something weird," but it generally doesn't draw attention from others.

And now, the pi├Ęce de resistance, tefillin! How can you possibly avoid looking like a nutter when forced to don tefillin in a public place? Surprise: You can't! If you have tips, I'd love to hear them, but I have yet to see it done without confusing everyone else. And at some point, some "proud American" is going to think you're a terrorist or something equally un-American. Don't think you're safe because you're flying to or from a large Jewish community: I remember a news article approximately 2-3 years ago where a teenager donned tefilin on a flight between Chicago and NYC, and the flight attendants tackled him!


  1. Planes have also been grounded before because someone dons tallis and tefillin on the plane. It's silly!

    I was actually thinking of this the other day. I am good at getting up in the morning, but I rarely have time to daven before class. However, due to bus schedules, I have a 15 minute window before my morning class in general, which is plenty of time to say the morning brachot, shema, and shemonei esrei(I take the leniency of being a woman in that if I can say something, it is better than nothing, and it "counts"). But I don't know how to go about this without being a crazy person, at least until the weather is nicer and I can do it outside. :) These are good tips!

  2. Keep in mind that's not a "leniency." Women aren't required to daven in any particular way, just that they daven SOMETHING once a day, even if it's something straight from the heart instead of a set liturgical prayer. There are rabbinic rulings (but those rulings seem awfully contentious and varied), but those davening rulings are almost always limited to women who don't have young children :) So it seems to me that you're practicing a stringency, chumrah master! Didn't you teach me this? :P

  3. Don't take my word for it, but I recall learning that it's a minority opinion that women need only daven something, anything, once a day - I believe it's the opinion of the Rambam. That's where we get the idea that it's okay for a school-aged girl to say just the morning brachos, then eat breakfast before saying the rest of davening, and then to daven at school with her class - since she's fulfilled her chiyuv to daven according to one opinion, she can go ahead and eat before finishing the davening at school. The majority opinion, as I recall, is that women do, in fact, have a chiyuv to daven at least shema (the first two lines) and shemonei esrei, and preferably all of shacharis, if she doesn't have young children. So, in that sense, saying only those few parts of davening would be a leniency (one which I rely on often, given my love of the snooze button...).
    Holding a cell phone/bluetooth while davening is a FANTASTIC idea! I will definitely give that a try.

  4. I learned that twice a day is the chiyyuv. And why encourage someone to actively follow the most lenient approach, anyway?

    Anyway, this is one reason I'm depressed that they've taken out all the payphones at my school. But may I also make the suggestion of using a library? People will just think you're reading! It's great!