Shul Building, Part II

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: More seats?

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, there is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer.

Changing neighborhoods

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned with a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change. Before they even finished the social hall, it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building.

A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that they might have been required to do so, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

More seats?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions:

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

There is an early responsum on the topic (Shu”t Harivosh #253), and the ruling might seem to us counterintuitive. A wealthy individual purchased several seats in the shul many years before. Probably, when the shul was built, the community had sold or perhaps even auctioned seats, at prices depending on their location (think of the relative ticket prices on theater seats, lehavdil). The seats are considered private property and are even at times rented out to others.

There is now a shortage of seats in the shul and the community would like to add new seats in empty areas of the shul. The wealthy fellow claims that this will make it more difficult for him to get to his seat, and that his own seat will be more crowded as a result. Can the community add seats, notwithstanding his claim?

The Rivosh rules that the community cannot add new seats, because the wealthy fellow already owns the right to get to his seat in a comfortable way. However, the Rivosh rules that the community may do the following to try to increase the availability of seats:

1. They may set a limit on the rental price of the existing seats.

2. They may pass a regulation that unused seats must be rented out.

Building two shuls

There is an old Jewish joke about the Jew stranded on a desert island who built two shuls, one to daven in, and the other never to walk into. Is there any halachic basis to this habit we have of opening several competing shullen in the same neighborhood?

Indeed, there are old responsa regarding this question. The Radbaz, one of the greatest halachic authorities of the fifteenth century, was asked such a shaylah (Shu”t Haradbaz #910).

A man named Yehudah Abualfas wanted to open a second shul in his town. The background appears to be as follows: The community, which may have been located somewhere in Egypt, was composed predominantly of families who originated from Tunisia, but there were individuals who had settled there from other places. The shul followed the minhag of Tunis.

Yehudah Abualfas, who was born and raised in this community with Tunisian customs, and everyone else living in the town, were members of the general community. They donated to the community’s tzedakah fund, participated in its fees and taxes, and davened in the community shul which followed minhagei Tunis.

Abualfas’s family originated from a place where they followed the customs of the Spanish communities, not those of Tunisia. (Ashkenazim tend to group Sefardim and Edot Hamizrah together as one group. Technically, Sefardim are those whose antecedents once lived in Spain, whereas there were Jewish communities from Morocco to Iran and even farther east whose ancestors never lived in Spain and should be called Edot Hamizrah.) Abualfas and his friends had begun to develop their own community, consisting of members who identified as Sefardim and not as Tunisians, and they wanted to create their own community following minhag Sefard.

Shul versus community

The Radbaz divides the question into two topics: May the Sefardim establish their own shul, and may they establish their own community?

Regarding the establishing of their own community, which would mean that they would no longer participate in the tzedakah fund and other taxes and fees of the general community, the Radbaz rules that, once they have individually been paying as members of the main community, they cannot separate from that community and create their own. As individuals, they are bound to continue contributing to the main community.

However, regarding whether they may create their own shul, the Radbaz rules that they may, for the following reason: since they do not want to be forced to daven with the rest of the community, their desire to have their own shul will disturb their kavanah while davening. The Radbaz discusses at length the issue of davening with kavanah. He notes that one is not permitted to daven when one is angry, and that the Gemara states that, if the amora Rav Chanina ever got angry, he did not daven that day. Furthermore, we see that any distraction is a reason why one should not daven, even that of an enticing fragrance. Therefore, one may not daven when in the presence of people that one does not like. The Radbaz further suggests that just as there is a halacha that one will study Torah properly only when he is interested in the topic, a person will be able to concentrate in his davening only when he is praying where he is happy. For these reasons, the Radbaz rules that people who are not satisfied praying with the rest of the community are permitted to organize their own shul. However, he rules that it is within the community’s prerogative to ban the forming of other shullen, when this will harm community interests.

Berov am hadras melech

The Radbaz then discusses the halachic preference of berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King (Rosh Hashanah 32b). This means that it is preferable that a large group of people daven in one shul, rather than split among several smaller shullen. The Radbaz concludes that, indeed, it is preferable for everyone to daven in the same shul but, when people will be unhappy, that factor permits them to open their own shul.

The Radbaz closes this discussion with the following:

“Do not interpret my words to think that I believe that dividing into different shullen is good. G-d forbid… However, we are required to try as hard as possible that everyone pray with a full heart to his Father in Heaven. If it is impossible to pray with a full heart when davening in a shul that one does not enjoy, and the people will constantly be arguing, having different shullen is the lesser of the two evils.”

An earlier authority, the Rivosh (Shu”t Harivosh #253) mentions the same ruling — individuals who want to establish their own breakaway minyan cannot be stopped, and that it is improper to prevent this. However, if the members of the existing shul claim that their shul requires the income or membership to keep going, one should examine whether the claim is truthful. If, indeed, it is, one should work out a plan that accommodates the needs of both communities. (See also Rema, Choshen Mishpat 162:7.)

Two shuls

At this point, we can now address the second of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?”

The short answer is that there are circumstances when this is permitted, although, in an ideal world, it is not preferred.

One shul

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

The answer is that, because of the rule of berov am hadras melech, it is preferable to merge shuls into a larger entity, but, as I explained above, this will depend on circumstances (see also Shu”t Binyan Tziyon 1:122). If the members understand that it is a greater honor to Hashem to have a large shul with many people davening together, that is preferred.

Conclusion

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

Shul Building

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge together two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: Old shul

“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

Question #4: New shul

“We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer. This building is called a beis hakenesses(synagogue). The members of the community can force one another to build a synagogue, to purchase a sefer Torah and books of the prophets and of the kesuvim. When you build a synagogue, you must build it in the highest part of the town… and you must elevate it, until it is taller than any of the courtyards in town.

We see from the words of the Rambam that it is not sufficient to have an area available in which one can daven when necessary – it is required to have a building designated specifically for this purpose, even if the shul will be empty the rest of the day (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44). Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that a community is required to have a building designated to be their mikdash me’at.

Since it is a community responsibility to have a shul building, the minority of the membership of a community may force the majority to raise the money to build a shul (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). In earlier generations, communities had the authority to levy taxes on their members. Since building a shul is a community responsibility, they could require people to provide the funds necessary for this project.

Must we build a shul?

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions: “We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

The answer is that, not only is it not chutzpah on the part of those individuals, the halachic right is on their side. The community is required to have a shul, and it is unsatisfactory that the minyan takes place in a home that is not meant to be a beis tefillah. Therefore, individuals can certainly force the rest to build a shul.

I cannot resist telling over the following story from my experience as a shul rav. At one time, I was invited for an interview to a new shul that was located in an affluent area. I made a trip to meet the shul search committee, which was very interested in engaging me as their rav. They showed me the converted house that they were using as the shul, and mentioned that when they had renovated the building, they did so in a way that there would be an apartment in the building for the rav to use as his residence, since they did not have much money for a respectable salary. In their minds, since the rav could now save himself mortgage or rent money, that was a hefty part of what they intended for his salary.

I noted to them that in the position I had at the time, I could devote myself fully to rabbinic duties, something that would be quite impossible in the circumstances that they proposed. Their response was that although they understood my predicament, this was all they could afford, since most of their members were paying very huge mortgages for the zechus of living in this neighborhood. I made a mental note that none of them seemed to feel that the apartment part of the shul building that they were proposing was certainly nothing that any of them would consider suitable residential accommodations, nor would they consider the shul building representative of the high-class lifestyle that they had chosen for themselves.

How do we assess?

In earlier generations, the Jewish community had the ability to levy taxes and other fees on its membership. Virtually all Jewish communities had fairly strong authority over its membership because the community levied taxes and also was responsible for collectively paying taxes to the local monarch.

When assessing individuals for the construction of a local shul, do we charge according to people’s financial means, or does everyone share equally in the costs of the building?

The Rema rules that when raising the money for a shul, we take into consideration both the resources of the individuals and also who will be using the facility. Therefore, when assessing people for the building of a shul, the costs are allocated both according to the financial means and according to individuals. Thus, the wealthier members of a community will be paying a somewhat higher percentage of the costs.

Rent a shul

If the community does not have the resources to build or purchase a shul, they can force one another to put up enough money to rent a place (Mishnah Berurah 150:2)

Where not to rent

In a responsum in Igros Moshe (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:25), Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following: There is no orthodox shul in town, and they have been davening in houses. Now, they want to rent space from a local conservative congregation. May they do so?

Rav Moshe prohibits this for two reasons:

1. This arrangement provides some credibility to the conservative congregation.

2. When people see the orthodox people entering or exiting the building of the conservative temple, they may think that these people are intending to pray in the conservative facility, which is prohibited. This involves the prohibition of maris ayin, doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha.

Changing neighborhoods

Let us now address a different one of our opening questions: “In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

This question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:28).

In the case that he was asked, the shul had already opened a new facility in a nicer area and, until this point, the expenses of the old shul were being covered from the budget of the new shul. However, the members no longer saw any gain from doing so, since it was only a question of time until the old shul would no longer be at all functional. They would like to close down the old shul and sell the building. Are they permitted to?

The general rule is that a shul is considered communal public property and, as long as it functions as a shul, no one has the right to sell or modify its use. This is because the “owners” of the shul include anyone who might visit the area and want to find a minyan in which to daven. This is true, providing that there are still minyanim that meet in the shul on a regular basis — they cannot sell the building or close it down (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #29).

In the case at hand, Rav Moshe rules that those who have moved out of the neighborhood of the old shul have no responsibility to pay for the upkeep or repairs of the shul building that they are not using. The fact that the community has been treating the two shul buildings as one institution does not change this. Rav Moshe then mentions that, since the old shul is in a bad neighborhood, they may have a responsibility to remove the sifrei Torah from the shul, and perhaps even the siddurim, chumashim and other seforim, in order to protect them. He concludes that, since those who still daven in the old shul have no means of their own to keep the shul going, it is permitted to shutter the shul building and sell it. He also mentions that, if the bank will foreclose on the mortgage and re-possess the building, this does not require them to continue paying the mortgage. Nor does the bank’s decision as to what it will do with the shul property after the foreclosure require them to continue paying the mortgage.

Regarding those who still live in the old neighborhood, Rav Moshe rules that they should conduct the minyanim in a house where the sifrei Torah and the other seforim will be secure (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #28).

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned to have a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change, and it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building. A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that this was a good suggestion, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

We will continue this article next week…

Who Drinks the Kiddush Wine in Shul?

In honor of Parshas Bereishis and the first Shabbos

Drinking in shul

Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?

Background

The underlying question here is the following: The Torah commands us not only to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, but also not to cause someone else to violate the Torah. This law prohibits even causing a child to violate the Torah, notwithstanding that a child himself is not required to observe the mitzvos. Furthermore, it applies even when the child is, unfortunately, not being raised in an observant way. It is therefore forbidden for someone who has a babysitting job to feed a Jewish child non-kosher food, or to serve non-kosher food to a Jewish adult in a nursing facility or to a Jewish child in a school cafeteria.

The source

There are three different places from which we derive that it is prohibited to cause a child to violate commandments of the Torah (Yevamos 114a). These hermeneutic allusions are in the context of the following three mitzvos:

(1) The prohibition against eating sheratzim, tiny creatures.

(2) The prohibition against eating blood.

(3) The prohibition for a kohen to come in contact with a corpse.

We will soon see the significance of the three sources.

What age child?

This law applies even to a child too young to understand what a mitzvah is (Magen Avraham 343:2). Therefore, one may not use a baby blanket or baby clothes made of shatnez (Shu”t HaRashba HaChadoshos #368; Shu”t Beis Yehudah, Yoreh Deah #45; Eishel Avraham [Butchatch], Orach Chayim 343:1). Similarly, one is prohibited to feed a newborn infant non-kosher food, unless it is a life-threatening emergency (Magen Avraham 343:2).

Based on the above sources, we can now appreciate our opening question. “Why is the Kiddush wine in shul given to a child?  If an adult is not permitted to drink before he has personally fulfilled Kiddush, can we cause a child to drink?” To explain this topic better, let us examine its halachic background.

Friday night Kiddush in shul

At the time of the Gemara, Kiddush was recited in shul Friday night because of visitors who would eat their meals in guest rooms that were located adjacent to the shul (see Pesachim 101a and Tosafos s.v. DeAchlu). The fact that the guests ate their meals nearby is significant because of the principle, ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah — one fulfills the obligation for Kiddush only when it is recited or heard in the same place where one intends to eat one’s Shabbos repast. Someone who hears Kiddush but does not eat a “meal” where he heard it does not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing Kiddush. Discussing the details of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah requires a separate, lengthy article; but, for our purposes, we will say that most authorities conclude that eating a significant amount of food on which we recite a mezonos satisfies the requirement of a seudah.

A bit later in history

In the era of the Rishonim, several hundred years after the Gemara, no one ate Friday night meals in the shul building, yet the custom to recite Kiddush at the end of davening was still commonly observed. Although we find many authorities who ruled that one should not recite Kiddush under these circumstances, most communities continued the practice of reciting Kiddush in shul (Tur and Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 269).

Why do we continue to recite Kiddush?

If no one fulfills the mitzvah with the Kiddush recited in shul, why did the practice continue? This question is discussed by several of the Geonim and the Rishonim, and I will present here some of their approaches.

Rav Naturanai Gaon states that one should recite the Kiddush in shul because of the benefit that hearing Kiddush has for one’s vision. This idea is based on the Gemara’s statement that taking overly-long strides damages one’s vision, and that the Friday evening Kiddush restores the vision that has been lost (see Brachos 43b). Since not every household had wine on which to recite Kiddush, the custom developed to recite Kiddush in shul for this therapeutic purpose. It appears that, according to Rav Naturanai Gaon‘s reason, no one needs to drink the Kiddush wine in shul, since its purpose is not to fulfill the mitzvah.

The Tur objects

However, the Tur, who quotes Rav Naturanai Gaon, sharply disputes the reason. This is because the Gemara explains that the basis for Kiddush in shul is for guests and not the therapeutic reason of Rav Naturanai Gaon.

Another early authority, Rabbeinu Yonah, presents a different explanation for reciting Kiddush in shul, even though the reason mentioned by the Gemara no longer applies. Rabbeinu Yonah contends that the Kiddush was for the benefit of people who did not know how to recite Kiddush and who would simply not fulfill the mitzvah at all. When these people heard Kiddush in shul, they fulfilled the mitzvah min haTorah, notwithstanding the fact that they did not observe the mitzvah as Chazal instructed, since it was not Kiddush bimkom seudah (Rabbeinu Yonah, quoted by Rosh). Thus, Rabbeinu Yonah assumes that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is a rabbinic ordinance, and that we would recite the Kiddush in shul for the sake of those who would thereby fulfill the Torah mitzvah.

Not all authorities agree with this approach. The Rosh contends that the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah is min haTorah. Thus, simply hearing Kiddush without eating then and there does not fulfill any mitzvah and would, therefore, not provide a satisfactory reason to recite Kiddush in shul.

Other authorities explain that reciting Kiddush in shul has a status of a takkanah, a rabbinically-ordained practice that we continue to observe, even though the reason it was established no longer applies (Rashba and Ran, quoted by Beis Yosef). (We should note that although the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch discuss the practice and logistics of reciting Kiddush in shul, they both state that it is preferred not to recite Kiddush in shul. For this reason, many shuls do not recite Kiddush Friday night. However, where the custom is to recite Kiddush in shul, one should continue the practice.)

Kiddush catch-22

Regardless which rationale we use to explain why we recite Kiddush in shul, the Tur raises the following question: The halachah requires that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Pesachim 105b; Eiruvin 40b), and also prohibits drinking before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush. Since no one is eating in the shul building, no one fulfills the mitzvah with that Kiddush, because of ein Kiddush ela bimkom seudah. Thus, whoever drinks from the Kiddush wine in shul is drinking before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, which is prohibited; yet, someone must drink from the Kiddush wine.

To resolve this predicament, the Tur recommends that the Kiddush wine in shul be given to a child to drink, which, he notes, fulfills the requirement that someone drink from the Kiddush wine (Tur, Orach Chayim 269).

Kiddush conundrum

However, it is not clear how this innovation of the Tur resolves the predicament in a satisfactory way. How can we give a child the Kiddush wine? As we learned above, we are not permitted to cause a child to violate halachah – and he is drinking without fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush!

This difficulty is raised by the Beis Yosef, who suggests three solutions to the problem:

  • All three sources of the halacha not to cause a child to violate the Torah — not to eat tiny creatures, not to eat blood, and that a kohein not become tamei from a meis — are lo saaseh prohibitions of the Torah. There are halachic authorities who rule therefore that the proscription to cause a child to violate the Torah applies only to mitzvos of at least the level of a lo saaseh, but not to any prohibition that is considered halachically a lesser offense, such as an issur aseh or a mitzvas aseh, and that it certainly does not apply to a mitzvah miderabbanan (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Shabbos 29:40). Since Kiddush is a mitzvas aseh and not a lo saaseh, it is permitted to cause a child to violate its laws. As a result. some authorities permit causing a child to eat or drink before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush.

Although this approach can be used to justify the Tur’s proposal, the Beis Yosef notes that many authorities reject this limitation and contend that one may not cause a child to violate any prohibited action. To justify the practice of giving the wine to a child according to their opinion, we need to find an alternative reason to explain why the shul Kiddush is given to a child. Therefore, the Beis Yosef presents two other approaches to explain the practice.

Not yotzei, but may drink

  • Although, in general, one may not drink before fulfilling the mitzvah of Kiddush, there is an opinion among Rishonim that one who recites Kiddush to benefit others may drink the wine of Kiddush, even when he is not now fulfilling the mitzvah (Rabbeinu Shemuel in the name of the Sar of Coucy [one of the Baalei Tosafos], quoted by Mordechai, Pesachim, Tosefes MeiArvei Pesachim, page 35a). The Beis Yosef explains that, although we do not usually follow this position, we may have the children rely on it, as a means of resolving what to do with the Kiddush

A third approach

  • The Beis Yosef presents a third approach, perhaps the most unusual, to explain why we permit a child to drink the wine of Kiddush. Because we must recite the Kiddush and we do not want the brocha of Kiddush to be recited in vain, we permit a child to drink the wine, even though this is an act that we would otherwise prohibit.

Halachic differences

There are obvious differences in practical halachah between these approaches. The first opinion holds that one may cause a child to do something that an adult may not do, provided that the prohibition is less severe than a lo saaseh (see also Rashba, Shabbos 121a; Ran, Yoma, 1a). (Even according to this approach, because of the laws of chinuch, the child’s father, and possibly the mother, may not have him drink, if the child is old enough to be educated. Thus, this heter may not apply if the father gives his own son the wine of Kiddush in shul.) Based on this opinion, some authorities permit directing a child to carry something on Shabbos in an area where carrying is prohibited only miderabbanan, if the child needs the item (see also, Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger 1:15; Biur Halachah 343). However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 343:1) and the Magen Avraham (343:3) prohibit this.

According to the third approach, only one child should drink the Kiddush wine in order to minimize the amount of violation performed, whereas the other two answers permit serving the Kiddush wine to any child who desires. (I note that I have never seen any place that allows only one child to drink the Kiddush. Customarily, many of the children in shul line up to sip the Kiddush wine. This practice implies that this third approach was not accepted as the reason for the custom.)

Matzoh on Erev Pesach

Here is another case where the above-mentioned approaches may disagree: May I feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach? The Terumas HaDeshen contends that, according to the answer that the prohibition is only to feed a child something that is prohibited with the stringency of a lo saaseh, one may feed a child matzoh on Erev Pesach, which is not as severe a prohibition (Terumas HaDeshen #125). However, he concludes that if the child is old enough to appreciate the Seder, one may not feed him matzoh on Erev Pesach for a different reason — because this runs counter to the experience of matzoh being special on Seder night. (Further discussion on this topic can be found in Rama, Orach Chayim 471:2 and the commentaries thereon.)

Yet a fourth approach

Some later authorities did not feel that the approaches suggested by the Beis Yosef explain the Tur’s ruling in a satisfactory way. They therefore presented other reasons to explain why it is permitted to give a child the Kiddush wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah. One approach is that it is forbidden to cause a child to violate a Torah law only when the prohibition applies at all times. However, it is permitted to cause a child to perform an activity that is usually permitted, but that is prohibited at this particular time. Following this reason, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, since eating and drinking are activities that are usually permitted, even though this is a very severe prohibition for an adult (Sefer HaYashar #52). (There are authorities who rule that, according to the previous answers, one is permitted to feed a child on Yom Kippur only when it is a life-threatening emergency, but a child old enough to feed himself should not be fed by an adult, but instead be told where food can be located [Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 313; see also Mikra’ei Kodesh of Rav Pesach Frank, Yamim Nora’im, page 149].) Therefore, there is no problem giving a child wine before he has fulfilled the mitzvah of Kiddush, since drinking wine, in general, is a permitted activity (Magen Avraham 269:1).

Another difference in halacha

This last answer also results in a different halachic practice than that of the previous approaches. According to this last answer, one may feed a child on Yom Kippur, even when the child could feed himself. It is also permitted to feed any child before he has heard Kiddush, as long as the child is below the age of bar or bas mitzvah.

A minor kohen

At this point, I would like to discuss a related question. Rivkah Katz* asks me: “My husband and sons are kohanim. Am I required to be careful where I take my infant son?”

In the first pasuk of parshas Emor, the Torah (Vayikra 21:1) states, Emor el hakohanim benei Aharon, ve’amarta aleihem lanefesh lo yitama be’amav — Say to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and you shall say to them, that they shall not contaminate themselves to a dead person among their people. Since the Torah repeats the word say, we derive that there are two levels of responsibility here, and since usually it says the sons of Aharon, the kohanim, and here it reverses the order, the Torah is commanding that an adult must not cause a child kohen to become tamei (Yevamos 114a, as explained by Bach, Yoreh Deah 373). From the wording of the Rambam (Hilchos Aveil 3:12), we see that every adult Jew, even a non-kohen, is commanded not to make a child kohen tamei. This requires everyone to know the halachos of what makes a kohen tamei. One cannot have the attitude that, since I am not a kohen, these laws are not relevant to me.

We can therefore answer Rivkah’s question: She is, indeed, required to find out all the halachos germane to kohanim becoming tamei, so that she knows where she may bring her son, and where she may not.

An adult kohen

Another related question I was once asked:

“My father-in-law, who is not observant, is a kohen, whereas I am a Yisroel. Are we required to be as stringent about where we go on family outings as we would if I myself were a kohen?”

Answer:

The Rambam rules that it is forbidden for a non-kohen to make an adult kohen tamei (Rambam, Hilchos Aveil 3:5). To quote the Rambam: “If the kohen is unaware that what he did is forbidden, and the adult who made him tamei knows that it is forbidden, then the adult violates the lo saaseh. If the adult kohen knows that it is forbidden, then the other person violates only lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition (Pesachim 22b).

Thus, we see that, indeed, one must be concerned about where one takes grandpa, even if he himself is not concerned. For a reason that is beyond the scope of this article, this is true even if grandpa is already tamei meis.

Conclusion

Chazal say in Pirkei Avos: “Kol she’ruach habrios nocha heimenu ruach hamakom nocha heimenu,” One who is pleasing to his fellowman is pleasing to his Creator. Being concerned that we not harm others halachically is certainly part of both our social responsibility and our halachic responsibility. When we do our mitzvos properly, others will see us and say, “He is a frum Jew — he lives his life on a higher plane of caring for others.”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

 

Where Should I Pray

Certainly, both Bilaam’s desire to destroy the shullen of the Jews, and Pinchas’s praying that the plague end (see Tehillim 106:30), makes this a befitting week to discuss:

Where Should I Pray

Question #1: My Shul or my Minyan?

“Is it more important to daven with a minyan or to daven in shul?”

Question #2: Minyan-less

“I work nights, and by the time I am finished in the morning, there is no minyan with which I can daven. There is a shul near my workplace, but no minyan that accommodates my schedule. Should I go there to daven bi’yechidus?”

Question #3: The Shul I Don’t Attend

“From a halachic perspective, does it make any difference in which shul I daven?”

Question #4: Davening Privately

Davening with a minyan disturbs my learning schedule. May I therefore daven bi’yechidus?”

Introduction

As we will soon see, there are many halachos that determine the preferred location for prayer. Among other issues, I will be discussing the following questions:

What constitutes davening with a minyan?

Should one pray in a shul even when there is no minyan?

Is there a preference as to which shul one should attend?

With a minyan

The Gemara and authorities laud the advantages of praying with a minyan:

“The Holy One, blessed is He, said: ‘Whoever is involved in Torah and chesed and prays with the tzibur, I treat him as if he redeemed Me and My children from the nations of the earth’” (Brachos 8a).

“The prayers of the community are always listened to. Even when there are sinners among them, the prayers of the community are never viewed by Hashem with disfavor. Therefore, a person should always join with the community, and he should not pray by himself any time that he can pray with the tzibur. A person should always wake up early and go to shul, and should always attend shul in the evening, because prayer is not heard at all times, except when recited in a shul. One who has a shul in his city but does not daven there is called a bad neighbor” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Segulah for longevity

In the merit of praying daily with a minyan, there is a segulah for living a long productive life, as we see from the following passage of Gemara:

They told Rabbi Yochanan: “There are old men in Bavel.” He responded with astonishment, noting that the Torah promises longevity only for those who keep the Torah carefully while living in Eretz Yisroel, but not for those who live in chutz la’aretz, including Bavel. When they told Rabbi Yochanan that these older people were wont to come to shul early and to stay late, he understood that they lived long in the merit of this mitzvah (Brachos 8a).

What constitutes tefillah betzibur?

Davening with a minyan means that one begins the shemoneh esrei at the same time that the tzibur does (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). One who arrives in shul late and therefore begins shemoneh esrei later than the minyan does, fulfills the mitzvah of davening in shul, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan. If possible, he should attend a later minyan, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan and in order to make sure that his prayers are heard.

Conflicts with my learning

Someone whose learning will be disturbed by his attending regular minyanim is still required to daven with a minyan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:27; cf., however, Eimek Brocha, page 7). In the above responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein does recognize one exception to this rule: Someone who learns in a place where there is no minyan davening is not required to interrupt his learning in order to daven at the same time as a minyan. This ruling will be explained shortly.

How far?

How far is someone required to travel in order to be able to daven with a minyan? This depends on whether he is at home or on the road. If he is at home, he is required to travel at least up to 18-24 minutes in order to be able to daven with a minyan (see Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 163:28 and Biur Halachah ad locum s.v. berichuk; however, cf. Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting Shu”t Beis Yaakov #35, who rules more leniently.) In his above-referenced responsum, Rav Moshe suggests that one might be required to travel even more than this to join a minyan.

I wrote 18-24 minutes because of a dispute among early halachic authorities. This dispute is dependent on how one understands a passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95), and discussing these details is beyond the scope of our current article.

On the road

If someone is on the road and there is a minyan that is not in the direction that he is going, he is required to travel up to 18-24 minutes out of his way in order to daven with a minyan (see Pesachim 46a, as explained by Rashi and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 90:16). On the other hand, if he is traveling and knows that there is a minyan ahead of him, such that traveling to attend the minyan does not take him out of his way, then the halachah is more stringent. He is required to travel up to 72-96 minutes in order to participate in a minyan.

Davening at the time of the tzibur

If someone cannot daven together with a minyan, there is a halachic preference to daven at the same time that the tzibur davens, even though the individual is not davening in the same place where the tzibur is located. In other words, although his prayer will not qualify as tefillah betzibur, the fact that the tzibur is davening at the same time as this individual assists the acceptance of his tefillah. When someone davens with the tzibur, his prayer is always heard, even when his kavanah is subpar. (Of course, the better his kavanah, the more the tefillah is heard and responded to.) Davening at the same time as the tzibur, but in a different place, is considered to be on a somewhat lower level (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 4b s.v. keivan; see also Machatzis Hashekel 90:17, quoting Shelah Hakodesh).

Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman

In this context, we are going to eavesdrop on a conversation that transpired between two great gedolim of the time of the Gemara, the great amora’im, Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman. (Both of these scholars were so well-known that they are usually referred to by their first names. Rav Nachman’s full name was actually Rav Nachman bar Yaakov [Tosafos, Bava Basra 46b s.v. Shalach], and the Rabbi Yitzchak referred to was probably Rabbi Yitzchak bar Pinchas [see Taanis 5a], but it might have been Rabbi Yitzchak bar Acha [see Brachos 27a and Rashi, Pesachim 114a].)

The conversation

Rabbi Yitzchak said to Rav Nachman: “Why did the master not come to shul to pray?” Rav Nachman replied, “I was unable.” Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: “Then you should have gathered ten people with whom to daven.” Rav Nachman responded that he found this difficult to arrange (tericha li milsa). Rabbi Yitzchak then advised, “The master should have instructed the sheliach tzibur to inform him when the tzibur is davening.” To this, Rav Nachman replied, “Is this so important?” Rabbi Yitzchak then quoted Rabbi Yochanan who, in turn, had cited Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai about the importance of davening at the time when the tzibur davens (Brachos 7b-8a).

This passage of Gemara teaches that the highest priority is to daven with a minyan in shul. The second choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan in shul, is to daven with a minyan that is not meeting in shul. Although there are advantages to the minyan in shul (see Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Tefillah, Chapter 8), davening with a minyan outside of shul is far preferred to davening without a minyan.

The third choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan at all, is to daven at the time that the minyan is davening in shul. The Rema (Orach Chayim 90:9) mentions that those who live in a place where there is no daily minyan should daven at the time that the tzibur davens. This demonstrates that the advantage of davening at the time that the tzibur davens is not limited to a tzibur that is within walking distance. The same rule is true for someone who is traveling – he should try to daven at the time that the tzibur is davening (Magen Avraham ad locum).

Exceptions

The Shelah Hakodesh mentions that there is an exception to this rule, meaning that there is a situation where one must daven bi’yechidus, and he should not daven at the time that the minyan is davening. If the minyan is davening maariv before it is fully dark, he should not daven at the same time that they are, since they have a heter to daven before it gets dark, but he does not. In this instance, he should wait until tzeis hakochavim, definite nightfall, before he davens (quoted by Magen Avraham).

Other poskim mention another instance in which one is not required to daven at the same time that the tzibur does, but can daven when it is convenient for him. If the tzibur davens shacharis later than he would like to, and he wants to be able to begin learning, he may daven before they do, in order to be able to begin his uninterrupted learning afterwards (Be’er Heiteiv). This ruling teaches that there is a difference between davening with a minyan and davening at the time that the minyan davens. As we mentioned before, the requirement to daven with a minyan supersedes his own desire to daven at a time that accommodates his own learning schedule. However, assuming that one cannot daven with the minyan anyway, but could, in theory, daven at the time that the minyan davens, he is not required to daven at their time, when his learning schedule is better accommodated in a different way.

Arranging a minyan

The Gemara mentioned that Rav Nachman did not arrange his own minyan because tericha milsa, it was difficult to arrange. Had it not been difficult to arrange, he certainly would have arranged a minyan. Thus, the halachah is that if someone cannot make it to the shul’s minyan, he is required to arrange his own minyan, unless it is a tircha to do so.

Tircha for whom?

What does it mean that it is a tircha to arrange the minyan? The Machatzis Hashekel cites a dispute among the rishonim whether this means that it is a tircha for the individual who cannot come to shul to make the arrangements that he have a minyan, or that the concern is that it is a tircha for the people to assemble especially for him (Semag). There would be an interesting difference in practical halachah that results from this dispute. According to the first opinion, in the days of Rav Nachman this would have required someone to go door to door or to look in the street for people to form a minyan for him. Today, when one could let one’s fingers do the walking, it would presumably not be considered a tircha to arrange a minyan. On the other hand, according to the second opinion, asking people to come especially to your house to form a minyan certainly involves a tircha for them. By the way, the words of our text of the Gemara, tericha li milsa, imply the first way of understanding the topic. Either way, someone who has this question should refer it to his rav or posek.

In shul

Until now, we have discussed davening either with a minyan or at the same time as a minyan davens. Aside from the importance of tefillah betzibur, it is also important to daven in shul, even when there is no minyan there. The Gemara (Brachos 6a) teaches: “Abba Binyamin says ‘a person’s prayers are answered only in shul, as the verse states, lishmo’a el harinah ve’el hatefillah,to hear the song and the prayer” (Melachim I 8:28). As Rashi explains, rinah means prayers in shul where the community as a whole recites praises of Hashem with beautiful song.

This statement of the Gemara surfaces another time in mesechta Brachos (8a), in this occasion in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, and it is quoted in the halachic works of the three major early halachic authorities, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh and by all later poskim. When the Tur (Orach Chayim 90) quotes this halachah, he states that a person should always daven in a shul with a minyan. However, Rabbeinu Yonah cites, in the name of the Geonim, that even if he needs to daven at a time when there is no minyan, he should still daven in a shul, since it is a place designated for the public to daven (Beis Yosef).

The Shulchan Aruch combines the conclusions of the last two discussions as follows: “A person should always try to daven in shul with a minyan. If an extenuating circumstance prevents his attending shul, then he should daven at the time that the tzibur does. And if this is also not possible and he must daven by himself, he should still daven in a shul.” (Orach Chayim 90:9). The Magen Avraham cites illness or weakness as reasons why someone missed the minyan in shul. He also notes that it is preferable to daven with a minyan at home, rather than daven at the time the tzibur is davening, but without a minyan. Again, this is based on the Gemara that we saw above.

Beis midrash versus shul

The Gemara teaches that the great scholars, Rav Ami and Rav Asi, davened in the place where they studied Torah, notwithstanding the fact that there were thirty shullen in their city (Brachos 8a, 30b). Thus, we see that davening in the beis midrash where one usually learns is more valuable than davening in shul. Among the early halachic authorities, we find two interpretations of this practice.

  • Rabbeinu Yonah explains that someone whose full time occupation is studying Torah (toraso umnaso) should daven in a beis midrash rather than in a shul, even at the expense of not being able to daven with a minyan. Alternatively, since he spends his entire day learning in one place without interruption, he should not waste potential learning time by leaving his home for shul (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, Chapter 90).
  • The Rambam disagrees and rules that he should daven with a minyan. According to his understanding, it appears that the Gemara is teaching that a Torah scholar should daven in a beis midrash with a minyan, and does not need to attend the shul’s minyan. The Rosh follows a similar approach, concluding that the Torah scholar who would not have a minyan where he learns should go to shul to daven for several reasons, including that others will learn from his example and not daven with a minyan (Shu”t HaRosh, cited by Tur Orach Chayim chapter 90).

Choosing between shuls

When one has a choice of shullen in which to daven, does halachah provide a priority as to which one he should choose? Indeed it does, mentioning three rules to follow.

Regular shul

One should preferably have a shul which one attends regularly (Mishnah Berurah 90:28).

Farther shul

Rabbi Yochanan said that he learned from a widow how one should earn reward for mitzvos by walking a greater distance. She would come daily from a different neighborhood to pray in the beis midrash of Rabbi Yochanan (obviously, in the women’s section). Rabbi Yochanan asked her, rhetorically, “Is there no shul in your neighborhood?” to which she answered, “Do I not get extra reward for walking to the farther shul?” (Sotah 22a). We find that Rabbi Yochanan reiterated this lesson in a different passage of Gemara, where he ruled that it is not an advantage to live next to a shul, since one thereby loses the merit of walking a greater distance to shul (Bava Metzia 107a). From both passages, we see that one should try to daven at a shul that involves a farther walk, in order to gain extra merit.

Larger minyan

The halachah is recorded that one should daven in the shul where more people are attending davening (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). This is because of the concept called Berov am hadras Melech (Mishlei 14:28): the more people that participate in a mitzvah, the greater is the honor for Hashem.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!

 

Bimah in the Middle

Prior to Shavuos is an excellent time to review some of the less-known halachos germane to kerias haTorah, including whether the Bimah needs to be in the middle of the shul.

Question #1: Small Shul

“We have converted a storage area into a temporary shul for our neighborhood. Must we put the shulchan in the middle when, as a result, we will have less seating capacity?”

Question #2: Reading from the Front

“May I daven in a shul where the bimah is in the front of the shul?”

Question #3: The Beis Medrash

“Must the bimah of a yeshivah be located in the middle of the beis medrash?”

Where is the bimah?

Although we find allusion going back to the time of the tanna’im concerning the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan in a shul, most of the halachic discussion about the topic is within the last two hundred years, for reasons that will soon be obvious. Let us begin by citing the early sources for this halachah, and then analyze some of the responsa on the subject.

Introduction:

When the Rambam records the laws germane to the proper construction of a shul, he mentions that a shul should have a raised platform in the middle, which we call the bimah (Hilchos Tefillah 11:3, see Kesef Mishneh). The Rambam explains that the bimah is used for two purposes: in order to read the Torah and to facilitate public speaking, the goal, in both instances, being to enable people to hear. He then adds that the shulchan upon which the sefer Torah is placed (which he calls a teivah) should be positioned on top and in the middle of the bimah. We thus see that there is a halachic preference, if not an outright requirement, (1) to have the shulchan placed in the middle of the shul, (2) to have it on an elevated surface.

Notwithstanding this ruling of the Rambam, the Kesef Mishneh (ad locum) notes that many shullen are not built this way. To justify the custom, he explains that, when constructing a large shul, one should place the bimah in the middle so that people can hear the reading, but when a shul is small, it may be more practical to have the Torah read from a place that is not centrally located.

When Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Kesef Mishneh, wrote the Shulchan Aruch, he omitted the law requiring a bimah platform and that the bimah and the shulchan be in the center of the shul. This appears consistent with his opinion that the location of the bimah and the shulchan is not a requirement of shul design, but, rather, is a practical matter that is dependent on the construction and acoustics of the shul. However, both the Tur (Orach Chayim 150) and the Rema (ad locum) mention that the bimah should be in the middle of the shul.

Talmudic sources

The Gra cites Talmudic sources for the practice of placing the bimah in the middle of the shul (Glosses to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 150). The Tosefta (Sukkah 4:4) and the Gemara (Sukkah 51b) describe the huge shul in Alexandria, which had a seating capacity of many thousands, and which had a wooden bimah in the middle. The Gra apparently holds that these allusions provided the Rambam with his source requiring a centrally located bimah. The question now is, if there is indeed a Talmudic source requiring the bimah to be in the middle, how can the Kesef Mishneh rule that there is no such requirement? Apparently, he feels that a large shul must have a centralized bimah in order to make it possible for the maximum number of people to hear the reading of the Torah, whereas a small shul does not require that its bimah be centrally located. On the other hand, the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema contend that a centrally-located bimah is an important aspect of shul design and construction.

The Chasam Sofer

We find little other literature on this subject until the nineteenth century. The earliest work of that era on this topic is a responsum from the Chasam Sofer, regarding a plan to increase seating capacity in a shul by relocating the shulchan to the front (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #28). The Chasam Sofer discusses the points raised by the Rambam, the Tur and the Rema that the shulchan should be in the middle, and the Kesef Mishneh’s comment that a small shul is not required to have its shulchan in the center, since people will easily hear the kerias haTorah from wherever it is read. The Chasam Sofer writes that the Kesef Mishneh’s reason applies only in a case of a shul that was built originally without the bimah in the middle, but once the bimah was built in the middle, one may not move it to a different location. Furthermore, the Chasam Sofer writes that if a small shul was expanded to accommodate a larger crowd, they will now be required to move the shulchan to the middle so that everyone can easily hear kerias haTorah.

The Chasam Sofer then writes an additional reason why one may not change the location of the bimah and the shulchan after they have been built. He notes a ruling of the Talmud Yerushalmi concerning the marking of the boards used in the construction of the mishkan. Since the boards of the mishkan were identical, why were they marked to designate each one’s proper location every time the mishkan was reassembled? What difference does it make where one puts any particular board?

The Yerushalmi explains that even if all the boards are identical and perfectly interchangeable, one is required to have each board returned to the same relative location. Each board acquires a specific sanctity because of its location, and this should not be changed. The Chasam Sofer then quotes the Maharil, who ruled that one should be careful to replace the planks of one’s sukkah in the same place year after year, for the same reason as we have just mentioned. Each board has a claim to its location, and one should return it to the spot it held the year before. Similarly, contends the Chasam Sofer, the part of the shul on which the bimah and the shulchan rested should remain as their location, and therefore, one may not relocate the bimah away from the central place that it has held.

As proof to his point, the Chasam Sofer notes that, although the second Beis Hamikdash was larger than the first, the location of the menorah, the mizbechos (the altars) and all the other vessels remained the same — they were not moved to accommodate the new, larger structure. This was because the site where the holy vessels were located should not be changed. Similarly, rules the Chasam Sofer, even according to the Kesef Mishneh’s approach that a bimah need not be centrally located, this ruling does not permit relocating a bimah that has already been placed in the middle.

Shulchan is like the mizbeiach

In addition to the reasons just cited, the Chasam Sofer provides another reason why the shulchan should be in the center of the shul. The shulchan serves in a role similar to that of the mizbeiach, the altar of the Beis Hamikdash. This is because of the concept – based on the words of the prophet Hoshea, U’neshalmah parim sefaseinu – our lips, meaning our reading of the Torah, replace the bulls that were offered in the Beis Hamikdash. (This idea is conveyed in a passage of the Gemara in mesechta Megillah 31b.)

When we read about the korbanos during kerias haTorah, it is as if those sacrifices are being offered. This reading, then, provides the shulchan with some of the sanctity of the mizbeiach, and the shul with some of the sanctity of the Beis Hamikdash.

This idea can be demonstrated from the hoshanos that we perform on Sukkos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 660), which are reminiscent of the hoshanos procedure performed in the Beis Hamikdash, when the four minim were carried around the mizbeiach. The original service of the hoshanos could be performed only by circling around the mizbeiach. So too, when we perform hoshanos, we walk around the shulchan, which serves as a surrogate mizbeiach. Similarly, on Simchas Torah, we carry the sifrei Torah around the bimah (Rema, Orach Chayim 669:1).

The Chasam Sofer explains that since the mizbeiach was in the middle of the Beis Hamikdash, so too, the shulchan should be located in the middle of the shul.

Meishiv Davar

Another major posek who associates a centralized bimah with the mizbeiach is the Netziv, Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, who was the Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshiva in Volozhin for many decades of the late nineteenth century. In a responsum (Shu”t Meishiv Davar #15), he notes that the shulchan is in the middle to parallel the mizbeiach, which explains why we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah from the bimah just as in the Beis Hamikdash they blew the trumpets at the time that the korbanos were offered. He rules that the shulchan must be exactly midway between the north and south parts of the shul, just as the outside mizbeiach was, but that it does not have to be midway between the east and west parts, because the outside mizbeiach was not located centrally in this axis.

The Netziv adds a few other reasons why it is prohibited to move the bimah — one of which is that people will assume that they can change other Jewish customs, without realizing that they are tampering with halachah.

Which mizbeiach?

When one reads the two responsa very carefully, that of the Chasam Sofer and that of the Meishiv Davar, one will notice that there is a bit of a dispute between them. Although both scholars compare the shulchan to the mizbeiach, the Chasam Sofer compares the shulchan to both the inner mizbeiach, which was made of gold and predominantly used for burning the ketores, the incense offered daily in the Beis Hamikdash, and also to the outside mizbeiach, whereas the Netziv compares it only to the outside mizbeiach.

The inner mizbeiach was located midway between the shulchan of the Beis Hamikdash, on which was placed the lechem hapanim (the showbread), and the menorah, which was kindled daily. The shulchan stood in the northern section and on the western side of the kodesh; the menorah stood opposite it on the southern flank, and the mizbeiach was exactly in the middle of the kodesh.

The outer mizbeiach, which was used all day long for the various offerings of the Beis Hamikdash, stood in the middle of the azarah, the courtyard of the Beis Hamikdash. Actually, there is a dispute among tanna’im exactly where the mizbeiach stood. All agree that on the orientation of east to west, it was in the middle of the azarah. The dispute is from a north-south perspective, whether it was exactly in the middle, or whether it was somewhat off center, either to the north or to the south. According to some authorities, this dispute might affect whether one should try to make sure that the bimah and the shulchan are exactly in the middle of the shul, or whether it is sufficient that they are near the middle, but they do not need to be perfectly centered, as is the prevailing custom.

It should be noted that, notwithstanding that the Chasam Sofer and the Meishiv Davar both explain that the bimah must be in the middle of the shul because of its comparison to the mizbeiach, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that this is not a convincing reason for the practice (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42).

Moving the bimah

According to what we have just said, one should not move the bimah in order to make more room to perform hoshanos. Although this seems to be the predominant approach among the halachic authorities, the Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes from the Imrei Eish a justification of those who move the bimah in order to conduct the hakafos, on the basis that (1) there is no requirement to make the bimah represent the mizbeiach, and (2) even if there is such a requirement, the bimah does not need to be in the perfect center, and it is permitted  to move the bimah, provided it is not placed next to the aron, but in front of it. Nevertheless, all agree that both the hoshanos and the hakafos must go around the bimah, as expressed in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, chapter 660) and the Rema (Orach Chayim, chapter 669).

Imitating idolic practice

Until now, the discussion regarding the proper location of the bimah and the shulchan has involved only the laws of building a shul. However, a completely new issue is discussed by a disciple of the Chasam Sofer, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Yoreh Deah 165). In a responsum dated erev rosh chodesh Adar, 5616 (1856), to Rav Yisroel Dovid, the av beis din of Feising, the Maharam Shik introduces a new halachic issue: the Torah violation of imitating the practices of the gentiles. In the mid-1800’s, those who wanted to locate the bimah and the shulchan to the front of the shul were, in general, not motivated by space concerns, but because they wanted their shullen to look similar to the way non-religious congregations appeared, which, in turn, were made to appear like churches. Following gentile practices in the observance of our mitzvos involves the violation of several verses of the Torah, such as, Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, Do not follow their laws (Vayikra 18:3), Velo seilechu bechukos hagoy, Do not follow the laws of the gentile (Vayikra 20:23), and Hishamer lecha pen tinakeish achareihem, Be careful lest you be attracted to them (Devorim 12:30). This general prohibition is quoted by the Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah, Chapter 178:1).

In the details germane to understanding the laws of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, there was a dispute between Rav Yisroel Dovid and the Maharam Shik. Rav Yisroel Dovid felt that this prohibition would exist even when the reason for moving the bimah was to make more seating room. The Maharam Shik disagreed, demonstrating that Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu is violated only when the intent is to mimic non-Jewish practices. The Maharam Shik also prohibits having the bimah in front or moving it there when someone might assume that the bimah is in front in order to mimic non-Jewish practices, even when this was not the intention of those who planned and constructed this shul. When it is clear that the purpose for moving the bimah and the shulchan is to create more seating capacity, it is not prohibited under the heading of Uvechukoseihem lo seileichu, but only because of the reasons mentioned by the Chasam Sofer.

Turned-down position

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:4) quotes a letter from Rav Shimon Sofer (a son of the Chasam Sofer, who ultimately became the rav of Cracow) written to a very prominent community that had offered him the position of chief rabbi. Rav Sofer wrote a letter to the community turning down the post, because the bimah of their main shul was not located in the middle of the sanctuary and, also, because the chazan’s amud was located at a high point in the shul, when, according to halachah, it should be at a low place.

In this context, we should quote the Mishnah Berurah, “With our great sins, in some places the custom of the early generations has been ignored and the bimah is constructed near the aron hakodesh, out of desire to follow the practices that the gentiles observe in their temples. Regarding these communities, one should say, And Yisroel forgot his Maker and he built temples [Hoshea 8:14]. The later authorities already cast aspersions on these people” (Biur Halachah 150:5, s.v. Be’emtza).

Entering the shul

Is there any halachic problem with entering a shul whose bimah is in the front?

The Minchas Yitzchak (3:5) quotes from different sources that prohibited even entering such a shul.

However, Rav Moshe Feinstein holds a more moderate approach to this last question (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:42.) Rav Moshe was asked whether one may daven in a shul that has its bimah in the front. The questioner had heard that in Hungary they had prohibited davening in such a shul, an approach that would indeed be reflected by the above-quoted Minchas Yitzchak. Rav Moshe responds that he was unfamiliar with such a prohibition. If it did exist, it was because they needed to stamp out Reform, and it has the halachic status of a hora’as sha’ah, a ruling established because of a temporary circumstance. However, in other countries one is permitted to daven in such a shul. Rav Moshe concludes that when there are two shullen in a town, one with its bimah in the middle and the other with the bimah elsewhere, one should daven regularly in the shul whose bimah is in the middle.

Beis Medrash

At this point, let us discuss the third question asked at the beginning. “Must the bimah in a yeshivah be in the middle of the beis medrash?”

This question is discussed by the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak, 3:6), who concludes that the rules governing the existence of a bimah and a shulchan and their location are germane only to a shul, but that there is no requirement to have a bimah in a beis medrash. The reason for this ruling is a topic for a different article. The Minchas Yitzchak writes that it is perfectly acceptable for a beis medrash to use a portable shulchan for kerias haTorah.

Conclusion

We all hope and pray that the day will soon come when we shall merit the third Beis Hamikdash. In the interim, we should be careful to treat our batei keneses and batei medrash with proper sanctity, including all their halachic details.

 

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who often invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explaing that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have indeed been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice, certainly a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa] of this Gemaraattributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises over all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are also justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Gemara Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145 and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnamity. But could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great Nineteenth Century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man, he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’ it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are actually quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and therefore merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise, that halacha requires one to sing  it daily as if one personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still somehalachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later they were sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter 14). Thus, they are praises that are directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and at the same time they are beautiful praises that reflect on the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite them as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit it placing them closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether they are said as a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world are that man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration: Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this Ron replied : “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems from your description that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should be,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He had expected to receive an answer that he would not foresee; similar to Yosel’s other brilliant answers. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting hefound the rabbi more than accomodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag in all communities always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from most other members. His input as an “outsider” was happily accepted. And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also to Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.