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    Avoiding the extremes

    When Samuel Pepys visited a London synagogue on Simchat Torah he was shocked at the rowdiness.

    Another writer who visited a synagogue in my time said that it was so funereal that one wondered who had died.

    The ideal is to avoid both extremes, both rowdiness and irreverence. Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the Lord with joy”; Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the Lord with reverence”.

    There ought to be joy but there ought to be reverence too. Unbridled exuberance should be avoided, but so should cold formality.

    If there is no feeling in the service it seems, as Abraham Joshua Heschel said, that the synagogue has caught a cold.

    The Chassidim re-introduced song and dance that were characteristic of Simchat Bet HaSho’evah, The Festival of the Water-Drawing, in the time of the Temple, but a congregation must have its agreed sense of how far the rejoicing should be allowed to go.

    There is an analogy in the communal regulations introduced in some places to control ostentation and extravagance at weddings and Bar-Mitzvahs; there is a case for similar regulations in regard to unruliness on Simchat Torah (and of course Purim too).

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