If I’m in shul and somebody greets me should I answer him back?
You should acknowledge a greeting always. Of course, if you’re in the middle of shemoneh esrei or you’re in the first parsha of krias shema, you shouldn’t, but everywhere else you should acknowledge it. But it’s enough that you should turn your face to him and smile. That’s enough when you’re in shul. You don’t have to jump out of your seat, run over and say shalom aleichem or anything else. Because you’re standing in the palace of a king, and when you’re standing before a king you don’t do things like that.
Even the custom of walking back and forth during davening, I would never agree to it. I think it’s very disrespectful. Of course they say it’s heimish. They say it shows you’re in your father’s house. It shows you’re not a goy – a goy is afraid of his god but the Jews are in their father’s house. But it’s not true. It’s only an excuse for hefkeirus.
I was once in a place. A man with a beard and a kapote was there. He was standing and saying birchas krias shema, and another man who had davened in a previous minyan was talking to him the whole time! The whole time while this man was supposedly talking to Hashem. Isn’t that ridiculous? Both of them should go back to cheder and learn what it means to stand in tefillah or even in brachos and speak to Hashem.
Once I witnessed in a certain shul a man was standing in shemoneh esrei and his neighbor was talking to him during that time, and the man who was standing shemoneh esrei from time to time nodded as if to say, “Yes, yes.”
And so from the idolaters we have to learn how to respect Hashem and how to behave when we speak to Him or stand in His house.
TAPE # 407 (May 1982)