Why I kiss my child in shul
When I'm not davening, that is.
Gil "Musin' Man" Student, aka the "Bal-Hirhurim," has an informative and learned post about not holding one's child while davening (but see Josh Waxman's demurral). The comments on that post mention the prohibition in the Shulchan Aruch of kissing one's child in shul, or to quote: "Kissing one's small children in thesynagogue is forbidden, in order to fix in the heart that there is no love like the love of the Omnipresent." (Shulchan Aruch, OH 98.1, Remo).
Understanding this halachah and its sources might be a useful way to approach the different ways that (some) Orthodox and (some) Conservative Jews (and maybe Reform Jews as well, but I don't know so much about Reform Judaism) see halachah in general. For Orthodox Jews, speaking in general, the reason for the halachah is subordinate to the halachah itself. Yes, there are those situations in which "the reason is nullified and [thus] the decree is nullified," but from what I understand of contemporary Orthodox responsa there are very few situations in which a halachah in the SA is nullified based on a rationale that no longer applies. (If anyone can point me to such examples, I'd be grateful.) On the other hand,, when a Conservative rabbi makes an effort to understand a halacha in the SA, her first approach might involve an understanding of the motivations behind the halachah -- not necessarily through historical research or speculation, but through indications given in the sefer itself. Call it an active reading of the halachah.
So let's take a look at what this one says. To break it down into propositions, we first need to realize that there are several possible understandings. One is the following (call it formulation A):
1. There is no love like the love of the Omnipresent.
2. If you kiss children in shul, you show that you think 1. is false.
3. Thus you should not kiss children in shul.
Another (formulation B) is this:
1. There is no love like the love of the Omnipresent.
2. We should try to inculcate this understanding in our children and ourselves.
3. If you kiss your children in shul, you weaken this understanding, or make it more difficult

To rephrase: formulation A assumes that kissing your children in shul is, in essence, a challenge to the ontological authority of God's love. "See me kiss my children!" you are saying. "Even here, my love for them requires that I kiss them, even where I should be feeling the love of God." But this of course assumes that these two kinds of love are contradictory, that love of other people and love of God are mutually exclusive. Since this seems not to be true, at least to me, one begins to suspect that something else should be adduced to explain this halachah: namely, the prominent ascetic strand in our religious literature. For example, in siman 240 of the Shulchan Aruch, covering the laws of sexual relations, one recommended approach to sex (but by no means the only one) is something akin to terror. This is an exaggerated example of a general trend, that physical demonstrations of affection should be held in check as part of the religious life. (Compare also siman 255 of Sefer Hasidim, written before the Shulchan Aruch, which expands the prohibition to kissing one's child in the presence of one's rabbi [religious teacher, not community leader]).
If there is something besides this asceticism lying behind this halachah, I would like to figure it out so that I can better understand it. Unfortunately, I don't know when I'll have a chance to study the two works the Remo cites (or one of Remo's commentators cite?) as the sources: Binyomin Zeev (first printing: Venice, 1539) and Agudo (which I think is the same as Ha-Agudo, first printing Cracow, 1571). It would be interesting, and relevant, to find out the approach which these seforim take to the matter; i.e., with what philosophy they are deriving this halacha.
Formulation B is weaker, but still, I think, hard to defend. Just imagine this perfectly plausible explanation to a child about the relationship between God's love and parental love (what child would sit still for this without laughing in your face is another matter altogether): "I'm kissing you now because I love you. But Divine love is even greater!" That's just as defensible an account as "I'm not kissing you now, even though I love you, because Divine love is even greater." That is, kissing or not kissing a child in shul is not a particularly sensitive criterion for understanding, or agreeing with, the incomparability of Divine love, but is more strongly related to how one thinks of physical demonstrations of affection in general.
(Whether one should kiss one's child in shul in general, apart from this halachah, is a separate issue. I do it when I'm not davening.)

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