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Synagogue Stadium Seating

Synagogue Stadium Seating

Would the synagogue experience be enhanced by stadium seating?

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Would the synagogue experience be enhanced by stadium seating? That is a fair question to ask every time you sit in a pew with an obstructed view behind an unusually large Jew. Stadium seating (halachically approved, of course) also might help whenever you are situated behind someone wearing a hat large enough to cause a solar eclipse.

Ask yourself this every time you sit in shul with an obstructed view behind an unusually large Jew.

Granted, the synagogue service is not a sporting event but there are sights to behold including the Ark opening and Torah parade. These are special spectacles that you might miss if the person in front of you is built more like Goliath than David.

Stadium seating on both sides of the mechitza would require some ingenuity to ensure that individual sightlines are still consistent with all mechitza-related regulations. Such ingenuity is possible because, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention and the grandmother of stadium seating. (As an aside, one could argue that invention is the sister of innovation, the cousin of technology and the black sheep of the Luddite family).

Admittedly, stadium seating in synagogues, even if halachically approved, would have certain drawbacks. The sightlines of stadium seating would make it harder to inconspicuously fall asleep during the rabbi's sermon. It also would make kibbitzing during davening far too noticeable, but that actually might be a good way to reduce chitchat and tittle-tattle.

Movie theaters previously suffered from this seating dilemma but many have wisely shifted to stadium seating, making the average cinematic fanatic ecstatic. Some movie theaters, however, have created a new problem by offering in-theater food service, which can be extremely distracting during the film. Other things that would be distracting during a movie is if the person sitting next to you incessantly talks on the phone, needlepoints a tallis bag or practices shofar blowing.

Many courtrooms have remedied obstructed views by employing stadium seating in the jury box so that each juror can clearly see those testifying. This cure makes sense because if jurors were unable to actually see witnesses on the stand, then a trial would be more like "The Dating Game."

Some may argue that most synagogues never had a seating choice because they were built before the advent of stadium seating. The retort to that is simply one word: Pompeii. It is an Italian city home to the oldest surviving Roman amphitheatre known as the Pompeii Spectacula. It was built in 70 B.C.E. and somehow Roman architects back then figured out how to give all spectators a decent view. Of course, as they say, “Rome wasn't built in a day,” but a new synagogue also is not built in a day. In some cases, it takes a congregation years, countless board meetings, hotly-contested voting and disputed recounts just to agree on the carpet color. Now imagine a shul board meeting to vote on stadium seating:

Shul President: All in favor of stadium seating say aye!

Congregant #1: Oy!

Shul President: Was that an “aye” or an “oy”?

Congregant #1: It was an “oy” as in oy vey izmir!

Shul President: What’s the problem? Why don’t you want stadium seating?

Congregant #1: With my bad hip, I have enough problems getting to my seat as it is. Now you want me to schlep up steps?

Congregant #2: Excuse me, but I have a more important question. Will there be opportunities to donate money specifically for the new stadium seating steps?

Shul President: You want to put your name on a step?

Congregant #2: Yes. People walk all over me as it is, so it would be sort of fitting.

Of course, stadium seating is not the only solution for synagogues. Congregants could be assigned seats based on their size, with the more diminutive seated in the front and the more gargantuan seated in the back. The problem with this concept is that it does not take into account other factors like eye-sight and hearing. One could argue that the near-sighted and hard of hearing deserve orchestra seating while others should be seated in the mezzanine with opera glasses.

Another solution is the Broadway ticketing approach, i.e., charge less for obstructed or partial views. Synagogues can easily adopt this model, at least with respect to selling tickets for the High Holidays. In other words, for a few extra dollars congregants could score choice seating behind the petite Smallstein family rather than behind the gigantic Hugeberg family.

If a synagogues elects to create stadium seating, that does not mean that the synagogue also should create a stadium environment. There are many reasons why a synagogue should not be treated like as stadium. For example, if a gabbai makes a mistake during the service, congregants should not "Boo!" like fans booing the referee. During the Torah reading, congregants should not encourage the Baal Koreh by doing "The Wave." Congregants also should not attend services in costume or face-paint and, before services, they should not tailgate (or, in this case, strollergate) in the shul parking lot.

Bottom-line: It is better to take a backseat than to be in the hot seat.

December 2, 2017

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