I recently shared a shabbat lunch with a progressive family in a community not unlike my own. While in recent months I haven’t been going to shul on time myself, I was scouting this community, so I made it my business to show up on time. I was also staying over at the house of one of the gabbaim… In any case, at this shul, like at my own, the only people in shul on time were the old folks. I brought the point up with my lunch hosts, and a spirited conversation ensued.

The consensus was that this was a product of men being more involved in childcare, but I feel like that answer is incomplete and imprecise. After all, in progressive communities with egalitarian sensibilities, women have a greater role in the synagogue and their participation in communal prayer is more respected and encouraged. One would expect that shared childcare duties would lead to alternating synagogue attendance, with the husband attending on time one week and the wife the next.

The reality, at least at the shuls I’ve attended, is that young couples roll in during Torah reading, at the earliest – and many miss the davening entirely, showing up only in time for kiddush. It’s the old men who make it for the starting gun, not the young couples.

Truth be told, it’s not surprise. When you change the underlying assumptions and rules that have governed Orthodox society, say, by shifting gender roles, it is natural that there will be consequences to that shift. In order to remain vibrant and relevant, institutions must shift as well. Shul was an institution built by men who didn’t rear children for men who didn’t rear children. It is not suitable, as currently composed, for this new generation of Jews and their lifestyles. In my next post, I hope to make some pointed suggestions for how to adapt this institution to the current reality, and how to continue to affirm the centrality and importance of communal worship in the progessive, observant community.

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