There is one person in my synagogue whom I feel the need to rebuke. He is often on his cell phone, pacing about and texting, while others are completing their prayers! What could the emergency be? What gives him the right to engage in such mundane activities when everyone else is praying?

Are there any sources in Jewish law that I can show him to convince him that his behavior is inappropriate?


I understand your concern. Sadly, this is a problem in many synagogues. When examining one’s own deeds, there is most definitely room to say that it is better to turn one’s cell phone off when in the synagogue.

There is a G‑d-given commandment, “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.”1 However, whenever we want to rebuke someone else, we must always first ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Have I already tried to judge the person favorably? Could there perhaps be some circumstance I am unaware of?
  2. Is the desire to rebuke coming from the right place? Is it only about fixing a problem, or is there a personal agenda here?
  3. Am I saying these words simply to “to get my point across” and fill my need to protest, or might my words actually be effective?
  4. Are the words being said out of love? Out of true concern? Will the other person look at it this way?
  5. What words will have the greatest chance of achieving that aim? Imagine yourself in the other person’s situation. What words would speak to you? Often it isn’t sources or preaching that speak to a person, but rather the respectful manner in which the concern is explained.
  6. Am I the best person to bring up the issue, or is there someone else who could say the same thing and likely accomplish more?
  7. Is now the time to rebuke, or is there another time and place where this has a better chance of working?2

Once these conditions are met, one will be able to find the best way to respectfully bring up the issue in question.

Please see How to Criticize and Other Thoughts On Love from our selection on the Jewish Way to Give Criticism and Rebuke.

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism