Monday, February 27, 2012

Where Do You Sit?

I went to a presentation at work the other day and noticed that, as usual, the first two rows of the room did not fill up. Isn't it always that way.   There are some teachers or managers that count out the exact number of seats to make sure that every seat gets filled up or to prevent a feeling of an empty audience or distance from the presenter.  I even know of an educator that once removed the first two rows of chairs from his minyan and guess what happened?  The third and fourth rows were empty at the start of the tefilla.

Now I know that people like to sit in the back often so that they can chit chat, or play freely with their phones, or just to be out of the eye line of fire from their boss, but the same elements are at play in any shul.  Some people just sit in the back because it is cool.

Humans are creatures of habit and often go to sit in the same spot that they previously sat in.  A מקום קבוע (a fixed spot) is a serious issue for many people with regard to tefilla, (the Talmud discusses advantages in Brachot 6b) and often causes people to affix one place and not change it.  But why don't most people choose their place in the front?  On the High Holidays, I am pretty sure these seats cost just as much as the ones in the back, even if they are the last to go.

But seriously, does where you sit have any impact on your actual experience?

I think it does.  One advice column suggests that you can eliminate 90% of classroom distractions by sitting in the first row.  There even is a 2005 study that claims that students that sit in the front of the class have a higher GPA. Could this statistic apply to daveners? Do people in the front of the shul have a better tefilla experience than those in the back?  I have no data to back this up - but I am seeking anecdotal resources that explore if there is a place within a structure that triggers a more positive or negative experience.

One final anecdote:  A few months ago I was visiting my brother's shul and on our way out we bumped into a neighbor.  My brother introduced me and commented how this guy had recently changed his seat in shul.  He replied, "Yeah, I realized that I was spending more time talking than doing anything else so I figured if I was coming, I should probably give it more of an effort or stop coming." This neighbor had moved his sit to the first row, directly in front of the rabbi!  I asked how it was going 'up there' and remarked, "I really feel a difference".

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