• June 19, 2024
  • 13 5784, Sivan
  • פרשת בהעלתך

The Sacred Synagogue

The Sacred Synagogue

The synagogue is the house of prayer, as well as the center of Jewish life. In this course Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman will explore the laws concerning etiquette, management, and the construction of the synagogue.

May 17, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 1
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Yesterday was our first class in the series of shiurim which will discuss the laws of the synagogue. In the class we discussed an essay by Rav Soloveitchik zt”l titled בית הכנסת מוסד ורעיון”.”[1] Rav Soloveitchik wrote in his essay that he troubled by the alienation that many Jews, even observant ones, feel towards the synagogue. Therefore he attempted to explain the two aspects that synagogues possess; synagogues as institutions and synagogues as ideas. As institutions synagogues appear as structures based on fixed rules which govern the behavior of those who enter it. This aspect of the synagogue is off-putting and does nothing to encourage people to seek out the synagogue as a place where they can express their religious feelings.

The Rav zt”l felt that we need to understand the ideas that exist behind the synagogue in order to gain an appreciation of it.

What is the role of the synagogue in our lives? Why can’t we pray wherever we want? Isn’t Hashem everywhere? Don’t we say ? “מלא כל הארץ כבודו”

The Rav gave two explanations for the need for prayer to be a synagogue.

The Hebrew term  for the synagogue is “.בית הכנסת” The word בית can mean “house” which connotes a structure. A house is type of building with walls and a roof. There are all sorts of houses which reflect all sorts of architectural ideas. A synagogue can be flamboyantly ornate or it can be simple and unadorned. The word בית in the term     בית הכנסתdoes not mean “house” it means “home[2].” Home is where the person who feels lost and uprooted goes to find peace and tranquility.  The Rav wrote movingly about the shul of the Chabad Chasidim in the village of his youth. The Chasidim were poor, they worked hard all week in Russian villages which the Rav said were primitive to a degree which we cannot even imagine. Nevertheless, on Erev Shabbat the Chasidim would gather in their shul and sing the Tehilim which speak of our redemption. The Rav was struck by the fervor of their singing. What sort of redemption did they experience? The Rav explained that when they entered their shul they felt the presence of Hashem and this was what gave them the joy to sing. The בית הכנסת is a home for the person who needs a place where she can meet with Hashem.

The other explanation for the term בית הכנסת is based on a statement in masechet Shabbat. The Gemara says that it is a terrible sin to refer to a בית הכנסת as בית העם. At first glance it is not at all clear what is so terrible about this. “כנסת”  means “assembly” and “העם” means “the people.” Apparently the terms ought to be interchangeable.

The Rav says that the Gemarah is teaching  a profound idea. “כנסת” in the term “בית הכנסת”  refers to a specific entity known as כנסת ישראל. This is not an assembly that happens to gather at a particular time and place. כנסת ישראל is the entirety of the Jewish people. And it encompasses not only the Jewish people who are alive at a certain time but the entire Jewish people, those who are living today and those who lived in the past and are yet to be born. כנסת ישראל is a mystical entity which embodies and unites all of the Jews. בית הכנסת  is where כנסת ישראל can be found. When a synagogue is referred to as “בית העם” this limits its scope to the here and now, negating the timeless transcendent aspect of prayer. Prayer in the synagogue with a quorum is known as תפילה בציבור. The concept of ציבור is not the ten men who happen to be present on that day. The ציבור is a part of כנסת ישראל. By praying with a quorum the members of the minyan have joined themselves to the greater ציבור which is כנסת ישראל. The sanctity, the significance of the synagogue flows form the presence of the mystical כנסת ישראל which resides there.

This is a summary of yesterday’s class. I look forward to meeting with you next Tuesday. Stuart Fischman.

[1] It  can be found in the collection of essays titled דברי הגות והערכה .

[2] In the Hebrew text of the essay ( which is actually a translation from a shiur given in English) the translator juxtaposed the words בית and מעון. I have chosen to use the words “house” and “home” as they are used in the phrase “to make a house a home.”

May 24, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 2
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we discussed the building of synagogues. To put it simply, every community of Jews must have a building dedicated for the purpose of prayer. This building must be supplied with a Sefer Torah as well as other books to be used for the study of Torah. If a majority of the residents refuse to participate in the building of a synagogue the minority may use whatever coercive means available to them to compel the majority to take part in building the synagogue.

This last point is significant. Halacha recognizes majority rule in managing community affairs. However for essential community services the minority is permitted to compel the majority to build essential items. If no consensus can be reached מהר”ם מרוטנברג wrote that all of the community tax-payers must attend a special meeting. Each person attending the meeting must take an oath that he or she will express only their sincere opinion motivated solely by their view of what would best serve the community’s interests and to vote לשם שמים. After everyone has taken this oath a vote will be held and the majority’s view will be accepted.

We then discussed a particular item of synagogue architecture- the בימה. The Rambam writes that in the center of the synagogue there should be a platform (בימה) from which the Torah will be read and sermons delivered. This platform must be in the center of the synagogue so that everyone will be able to hear what is said. The rule for the בימה is repeated in שלחן ערוך.

The כסף משנה in his commentary to the Rambam notes that in his time (the 16th century) many synagogues did not place their בימות in the center of the synagogue. He defends this practice saying that most synagogues are small, so even if the בימה is not in the center of the synagogue, everyone can hear the reading of the Torah from the בימה.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Reform movement began to build large synagogues and among the changes that they made was to move the בימה to the front of their synagogues. This was done for esthetic reasons, presumably in imitation of church architecture.

When the פוסקים of the 19th century were asked if the בימות can be move towards the front of the synagogues they were unanimous in their opposition. The first authority to be asked about this was the חתם סופר. He acknowledged the lenient opinion of the Kesef Mishneh, but what the Kesef Mishneh permitted after the fact the חתם סופר would not permit for communities seeking to deviate from accepted practice. As the חתם סופר writes, communities have become corrupted      (“נשתבשו הקהלות”). There is no reason to abandon the custom of placing the בימה in the center of the synagogue. The synagogues are patterned after the . בית המקדש In  the בית המקדש the מזבח הזהב was in the center of the היכל facing the קודש הקדשים. It follows that in our synagogues the בימה should be in the center facing the ארון הקודש. The חתם סופר ends his discussion of this matter with his famous dictum, החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום.

The נצי”ב was also asked about the permissibility of moving the בימה towards the front of the synagogue. The  נצי”ב replied that it is forbidden to do so by the Halacha. He also said that a change of this nature in the traditional design of the synagogue would lead to confusion among the masses who will say that if this change is permitted then other changes should permitted as well. This simple change would lead to disaster.

The question of “בימה באמצע” was the first attack on the traditional design of the synagogue and presaged a whole series of assaults both on the design of the synagogue and on the order of prayers. The warning of the נצי”ב turned out to be true.

We saw photos of several synagogues (that I found by looking in Google Images). It seems that even Orthodox synagogues do not always have their  בימות in the center of the room. Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked if it permitted to pray in a synagogue where the בימה is not in the center. He replied that it may be that in Hungary where the battle to stop the Reform was particularly fierce the rabbis forbade people from praying in synagogues where the בימה was not in center of the room. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein held that there is no reason to forbid this if the reason for moving the בימה  away from the center was done innocently. The sanctity of the synagogue is not affected by the moving of the בימה. If a person has a choice between two synagogues she should choose to daven in the shul whose בימה is in the center of the room. However if the only synagogue’s בימה is towards the front of the room one may pray there.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman

June 7, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 3
Class description

Hello Everyone,

First of all I wish to apologize for the abrupt way in which I ended yesterday’s shiur after only half an hour. I had returned from my trip to Uganda that morning and I needed to leave for an appointment at 1:30 PM. I felt a half-hour shiur would be preferable to no shiur. I particularly wish to apologize to Paul Terman since I did not answer his question about the גר”א and I will do so here.

In yesterday’s shiur we first saw two very different concepts of the בית כנסת. We saw the views of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe and of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. They disagreed about the permissibility of placing flags in the synagogue. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l was astounded that anyone would even consider making any changes in the design of the synagogue. He wrote that synagogue must be designed exclusively according to the laws of the Shulchan Aruch and it is forbidden to bring anything into the synagogue which is not ordained by the Shulchan Aruch.

It seems to me and I may be wrong that the Lubavitcher Rebbe took the idea of the synagogue being a “little Beit HaMikdash” (מקדש מעט) very seriously. Both the Mishkan and the Beit HaMikdash were designed by prophets[1] which means they were designed by Hashem. It is obvious that no changed can be made in the design of the בית המקדש. It follows that our synagogues which are substitutes for בית המקדש must be built without any deviation from the design described in שלחן ערוך which is possesses the authority of the Torah.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l looked at the matter differently. The Shulchan Aruch’s description of the synagogue is meant only to provide us with a description of what the synagogue must contain ( an ארון קודש, a בימה , etc…) . Additions may be made to a synagogue’s interior but these additions must be judged on their merits.  If there is a good reason for bringing the object into the synagogue then it is permitted.

The people who wish to bring flags into the shul are doing so to express their patriotic feelings towards the United States as well as their love for the State of Israel. These feelings are legitimate. National flags are not cultic objects and cannot be viewed in any way as idolatrous. Therefore, even though Rav Moshe felt that it would be better not to place flags in the synagogue, and certainly not to place them next to the ארון קודש it is not forbidden to do. Therefore if by means of peaceful discussion the flags could be removed then they should be removed. However if the synagogue’s directors refuse to remove the flags then there is no reason to break away from that synagogue. To break away from the synagogue because of the presence of the flags is a sign that the יצר הרע has made its way into this community.

The next subject which we discussed is the custom of placing flowers and other forms of greenery in the synagogue on Shavuot. The custom is an old one and is quoted by the Rema in Shulchan Aruch. Many reasons were given for the custom. The greenery is meant to commemorate the joy of receiving the Torah. Alternatively the greenery is meant to symbolize the fact that on Shavuot we are judged with regard to the year’s harvest of fruit.

Placing greenery in the synagogue was the unquestioned custom for Ashkenazic Jewry until the early 19th century. The Gaon of Vilna changed that. The Gaon felt that since on Christian holidays trees are used as part of the celebration we may not do so on our holidays. The Gaon’s reason for stopping the custom of placing trees in the synagogue is based on the general prohibition of imitating non-Jews:

ויקרא פרק יח

(ג) כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ:

The Rambam quotes this פסוק  and writes this ruling:

רמב”ם הלכות עבודה זרה פרק יא

הלכה א

אין הולכין בחקות העובדי כוכבים ולא מדמין להן לא במלבוש ולא בשער וכיוצא בהן שנאמר ולא תלכו בחקות הגוים, ונאמר ובחקותיהם לא תלכו, ונאמר השמר לך פן תנקש אחריהם, הכל בענין אחד הוא מזהיר שלא ידמה להן, אלא יהיה הישראל מובדל מהן וידוע במלבושו ובשאר מעשיו כמו שהוא מובדל מהן במדעו ובדעותיו, וכן הוא אומר ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים….

The Rambam says that we may not resemble non-Jews in any way, shape or form. The Gaon of Vilna learns from this Rambam that if non-Jews use tress then we may not.

What then did the Rema think about this question? Presumably Christians were using trees when he sanctioned the custom of placing of trees in the synagogue on Shavuot?

Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l  explained the thinking of the Rema. There are two approaches to understanding the prohibition of “”.ובחקתיהם לא תלכו One approach is the Rambam’s who holds that Jews must be absolutely distinctive. This was the view adopted by the Gaon of Vilna. The other approach was the one espoused the מהרי”ק – Rav Yosef Colon, a 14th century authority from Italy. מהרי”ק  was asked if a Jewish physician may way the robes worn by Christian physicians a symbol of their profession.

מהרי”ק answered that the prohibition of “ובחוקותיהם” does not teach that Jews may not resemble Gentiles. Rather it means that we may not adopt two forms of Gentile behavior. We may not adopt silly and nonsensical habits of the Gentiles. In our society one may say that it is forbidden for a Jew to have body-piercing done. This a foolish habit, so if someone has it done it shows that he or she wishes to imitate the non-Jewish society around us. The other forms of behavior which we may not imitate are behaviors which violate the norms of צניעות. The physician’s cloak  is a very sensible garment which tells people that the person wearing it is a healer. מהרי”ק saw nothing wrong with wearing it.

The custom of placing greenery in the synagogue is a sensible one and is based on Jewish sources. The Rema in Shulchan Aruch ( Yoreh Deah siman 178) holds like מהרי”ק so he had no problem with the Ashkenazi practice. The Gaon of Vilna in his comments to Yoreh Deah disagrees with the Rema and מהרי”ק  . The Gaon of Vilna adopts the position of the Rambam. Therefore he took exception to the custom of placing trees in the synagogue.

Some synagogues place flowers and trees  on Shavuot and some do not. What is important is to learn Torah and to maintain a good atmosphere in the synagogue.

Chag sameiach , Stuart Fischman


[1] The Mishkan was built under the supervision of Moshe Rabbeinu, the first Temple was built according to a design provided by שמואל הנביא ( see דברי הימים א’, פרק כח פסוק יט and Rashi there).The second Temple was built under the supervision of the prophets who returned from the Babylonian exile, see the first chapter of חגי.

June 14, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 4
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we discussed the halachot of decorating a synagogue with pictures and portraits. Synagogues, as places where we worship Hashem should of course be attractive and even beautiful, that is the command of  זה א-לי ואנוהו . However there is a question if the ornamentation can include representations of people or animals or objects.

There are two objections to having  “images” in the synagogue. The first objection is based on the Torah’s prohibition against having any “images.” This prohibition is part of the Torah’s sanction against any action which may demonstrate a hint of idolatry. The prohibitions against idolatry are located in the יורה דעה section of the Shulchan Aruch. The medieval Ashkenazi literature records vigorous debate surrounding the question of what sort of images, if any, may be used in a synagogue. There was agreement that it is forbidden to have paintings of celestial objects in the synagogue, the question was whether there could be paintings of animals and birds. Rabbeinu Ephraim said that pictures of this sort are permitted since these images are not worshipped by the surrounding non-Jews. On the other hand, Rabbeinu Elyakim forbade pictures of any animal of any sort and he ordered that these pictures be removed from the synagogue in Cologne. The Shulchan Aruch  adopts a lenient position in יורה דעה. The Shulchan Aruch says that paintings of animals are permitted, and there is an additional comment that images displayed in public are permitted because there is no suspicion that the community has any idolatrous tendency.

The פתחי תשובה on Yorah Deah records the question of whether it is permitted to decorate the ארון קודש with drawings of stars. The פתחי תשובה quotes the work שו”ת דברי יוסף who forbade this. The דברי יוסף wrote that even though the  Shulchan Aruch rules that paintings ( as opposed to carvings) are permitted, and that portraits displayed in public are not considered to be idolatrous these leniencies are not applicable to synagogues. Since the synagogue is a holy structure where prayer is conducted no images may displayed there at all. The פתחי תשובה disagrees with this opinion. The פתחי תשובה holds that the Gemarah specifically states that in synagogues images are not suspected of being idolatrous and therefore the painting on the ארון קודש is permitted. The פתחי תשובה  writes at the end of his comment that even though the painting is permitted, it is unseemly.

The second objection to having pictures in the synagogue is that these decorations are distractions. Illuminated medieval מחזורים and  הגדות are well-known to the public and are the focal point of many museum collections of Judaica. The Tosafot however decry these illuminations. The Tosafot in masechet Yoma say that these illustrations distract the reader from the prayers. This view of the Tosafot is recorded in Shulcah Aruch.  The Shulchan Aruch prohibits images both on the walls of the synagogue as well as in the prayer-books because of their potential to distract.

The common practice in Ashkenazi synagogues is to have an embroidered  פרוכת over the ארון קודש, and often the embroidery portrays a pair of lions supporting the לחות הברית. It seems to me that these embroideries are rather generic and are not a distraction. Also the simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch in יורה דעה indicates that these lions are not idolatrous.

Be that as it may, Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l wrote that this sort of פרוכת  should not be used. He quotes a long list of Poskim ( primarily Sephardic)  who wrote that even though in Shulchan Aruch, Rav Yosef Karo zt”l ruled leniently  regarding woven images, in his work of response ( שו”ת אבקת רוכל) he ruled like Rabbeinu Elyakim and forbade images of lions in the synagogue. Even if the Ashkenazi communities ruled leniently in this matter, here in Israel we should follow the strict opinion and  not have any images in our synagogues.

This is a summary of yesterday’s class. Thanks to everyone who participated, Stuart Fischman


June 21, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 5
Class description

The leaders of a shul sent the following question to Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlitah. There were two candidates for the position of חזן on Yom Kippur. One candidate was כהן with a very nice voice which is of course very nice in a חזן. However this כהן was living with a non-Jewish woman. The other candidate studied in a yeshiva (which is also very nice). Sadly, this fellow abandoned the Torah and violates the Shabbat publicly. The question was, which of these two should be entrusted with being the חזן on Yom Kippur?

Just as the Halacha requires that every community needs to build a synagogue, every community needs to hire a חזן. The חזן is the שליח ציבור- the representative of the community before Hashem. The Shulchan Aruch discusses the criteria in אורח חיים סימן נג. The חזן should be learned, pious humble and acceptable to the people. His youth should be blameless and he should have a pleasant voice.

Since the חזן represents the community his appointment to the position needs in theory to be unanimous. A single vote to oppose the nominee is sufficient to block his selection. The reason for this is that nobody can be forced to accept a representative against his or her will. However the Poskim qualified the right to object to a חזן. A person can object only if there is another candidate. Furthermore the alternative candidate cannot be more expensive than the candidate preferred by the majority. Finally, the Poskim point out that we live with argumentative people. If we were to insist on unanimity in community appointments then nothing would ever be accomplished. Therefore, if someone objects to the election of a particular חזן he or she must explain their objection to the trustees of the community and they will decide if there is merit to the objection. After the objection is heard  a vote is held and the majority rules.

The Halacha expresses a preference for people whose youth passed blamelessly. This rule would seem to preclude a בעל תשובה from being a חזן. Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlitah writes that a valid argument can be made to prefer a בעל תשובה as חזן since he has the merit of having done תשובה. The preference for “tzaddik from birth” as חזן is limited to the prayers of fast days and the ימים נוראים. He goes on to say that the בעל תשובה who is excluded from being a חזן is someone who sinned deliberately. However if a person did not receive a Torah-education in his youth and only discovered the Torah in later life he is a צדיק גמור. It is a mitzvah to welcome this person and he may be a חזן.

So what about our opening question? Do we choose the man who is living with a non-Jewish woman or do we choose the מחלל שבת בפרהסיא?

Rav Shternbuch writes that it is a sign of troubled times that we are faced with questions like this. Nevertheless he needed to send a reply. He answered that it would be better to just shut down the minyan before allowing a person who lives with a non-Jew to be חזן. To allow this man to be חזן would be a terrible חילול ה’ and it would only promote intermarriage. The lesser of the two evils is to choose the fellow who is מחלל שבת בפרהסיא .

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

June 28, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 6
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s class we discussed the issue of who can be considered to be a member of the community for purposes of being counted towards a minyan as well as for being honored with an  עלייה לתורה.

There are three reasons for excluding a person from participating in the public prayer in the synagogue:

1) The person does not believe in the mitzvoth performed in the synagogue. The Rambam was asked if Karaites can be counted towards a minyan. The Rambam said they cannot be counted towards a minyan. Since Karaites reject Chazal, the idea of תורה שבעל פה and Rabbinic Law how can they form a minyan when they disavow the minyan itself?

2) The prohibition against flattery. The Gemarah in masechet Sotah tells a story the king Agripas. Agrippas was a very good and pious king. However the Torah requires that a king be of Jewish descent and Agripas was a descendant of Herod.  When Agripas read the Torah before the people at the הקהל ceremony he cried when he read the words ” “.מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְThe people who loved Agripas called out to him,     “.אל תתיירא אגריפס אחינו אתה אחינו אתה אחינו אתה”The Gemarah says that because of this act of flattery the Jews were doomed to be destroyed.

We learn from this story that the community may not display admiration for a sinner. It may be that by honoring in the synagogue a person who publicly sins we are doing what our ancestors did for Agripas.

3) Certain sins are so serious that the people who perpetrate them are excluded from the Jewish people. This is what the Rambam writes at the end of הלכות שבת:

… אבל מחלל שבת בפרהסיא הרי הוא כעובד עבודה זרה ושניהם כגוים לכל דבריהם…

The Mishnah Brurah ( based on the Pri Megadim) applies this idea of the Rambam to the laws of minyan:

משנה ברורה על שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות ברכות השחר ושאר ברכות סימן נה סעיף יא

(מו) או שעבר עבירה – כתב הפמ”ג דוקא עבירה שעבר לתיאבון אבל להכעיס אפילו בדבר אחד או שהוא מומר לע”ג או לחלל שבת בפרהסיא דינו כעכו”ם ואינו מצטרף:

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l wrote several teshuvot on this subject.

In one teshuvah he discussed the possibility of counting a  מחלל שבת towards a minyan. He explained that there are two ways to look at this issue . The idea of a minyan being needed to say certain prayers is stated in masechert Megillah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כג עמוד ב


אמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן: דאמר קרא ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל – כל דבר שבקדושה לא יהא פחות מעשרה. מאי משמע? – דתני רבי חייא: אתיא תוך תוך, כתיב הכא ונקדשתי בתוך בני ישראל, וכתיב התם הבדלו מתוך העדה, ואתיא עדה עדה, דכתיב התם עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת, מה להלן עשרה – אף כאן עשרה.

The “עדה”  needs to number ten males. We learn this from the use of the word  עדה to describe the evil מרגלים who were ten in number. Those spies were worse than מחללי שבת בפרהסיא. Nevertheless, we learn from this verse that if there are ten מחללי שבת the mitzvah  of קדוש ה’ would need to be fulfilled in their presence. Similarly we may say דברים שבקדושה based on their resence.

There is a second way to look at this matter. As we saw in the Rambam , if a person does not believe in a mitzvah he cannot form  the quorum needed to carry out that mitzvah. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l ( without quoting the teshuvah of the Rambam) says a similar idea based on various suggyaot in the Gemarah. People who do not believe in certain mitzvoth ( such as tefillin and shechictah) cannot perform these mitzvoth for other people. One may argue that in order to count towards a minyan the person must participate in the prayer service. Rav Moshe zt”l concludes we may count מחללי שבת in order to enable us to say the prayers which require a minyan.

When it comes to giving aliyot to people who sin there are two issues which need to be addressed. Every person who receives an עלייה לתורה says a blessing before and after the reading. If we know that a person does not believe in the sanctity of the Torah then his blessing is meaningless. This person may not be given an aliyah. Rav Moshe goes on to say that the prohibition against flattering sinners ( which we saw in the story about Agripas) precludes us from honoring people who do not believe in the sanctity of the Torah with any of the honors given out in the synagogue. For these reasons , Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l said that it is forbidden to give any honors to members of the Reform or Conservative clergy.

If a person sins because of his inability to overcome his desire then in case of great need we may give him an honor in the synagogue. Rav Moshe zt”l was asked about honoring a doctor who helped many members of the synagogue and who was a very kind and generous man. The problem for the synagogue was that he was married to a gentile.  Rav Moshe explains that as long as the person believes in the sanctity of the Torah he may receive an aliyah since he believes in what is being read. With regard to the prohibition against flattering a sinner, he writes that the prohibition is to avoid saying that the sinner’s behavior is proper. When the people called out to Agripas “אחינו אתה”  they were saying that he can continue to rule as king despite his not coming from a Jewish family. In the case brought before Rav Moshe zt”l the doctor was indeed generous in helping the community and he deserved to be praised for his good works. Therefore, in order to keep his good will, the community would be permitted to honor him with פתיחת ארון הקודש. Rav Moshe zt”l added that the doctor could not however be called up to read from the Torah אבל לקריאה בתורה אין להתיר מטעם שכתבתי לעיל.

We ended the shiur with an essay from Rav Dror Fixler. Rav Fixler addresses the issue of giving aliyot to מחללי שבת. In his opinion the idea of excluding מחללי שבת בפרהסיא from the activities in the synagogue is due to the equating of חילול שבת with idolatry as we saw in the Rambam. Rav Fixler feels that in our time people are מחלל  שבת because they do not understand the significance of Shabbat. The fact that these people come to the synagogue demonstrates that they do not wish to cut themselves off from Judaism. If we show the מחללי שבת that they are welcome in the synagogue we have a chance to help them to return to observance of the Torah. If we refuse to welcome them we will lose that chance .

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

July 5, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 7
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied the laws of the מחיצה . In the early decades of the previous century[1] it was thought that Orthodox Judaism would not survive in the Unted States. One of the harbingers of its feared demise was the fact that synagogues were being built without mechitzot.[2]

As we know Orthodox Judaism did not die in the United States. As Rav Soloveitchik zt”l wrote the struggle to establish Orthodox Judaism in the United  States was a war and the synagogues were the battlefields where this war would be won or lost. In one of his most famous rulings the Rav zt”l said that if the only place where a person could hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is in a synagogue lacking a mechitzah then that person should stay home. The impetus to do away with the mechitzah was born from a desire to bring the synagogue into line with modern social mores. As the Rav zt”l wrote, the removal of mechitzot was nothing less than the “christianization” of our places of worship.

The source in the Gemarah for the mechitzah is a suggyah in masechet Sukkah:

משנה מסכת סוכה פרק ה משנה ב

במוצאי יום טוב הראשון של חג ירדו לעזרת נשים ומתקנין שם תקון גדול…..

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף נא עמוד ב

במוצאי יום טוב כו’. מאי תיקון גדול? – אמר רבי אלעזר: כאותה ששנינו, חלקה היתה בראשונה והקיפוה גזוזטרא, והתקינו שיהו נשים יושבות מלמעלה ואנשים מלמטה. תנו רבנן: בראשונה היו נשים מבפנים ואנשים מבחוץ, והיו באים לידי קלות ראש, התקינו שיהו נשים יושבות מבחוץ ואנשים מבפנים. ועדיין היו באין לידי קלות ראש. התקינו שיהו נשים יושבות מלמעלה ואנשים מלמטה.

We see from this suggyah that when men and women assembled as a group for a public event there was a mitzvah to for them to separate in order to prevent frivolous behavior.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and the Rav zt”l had different views on the nature of the obligation to put up a mechitzah. According to rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l there is a Torah-based obligation to put up a mechitzah. Even if the men and women are sitting separately a mechitzah is required דאורייתא. The Rav zt”l wrote that דאורייתא it is sufficient if the men and women are seated separately and the requirement for a מחיצה is דרבנן.

The nature and purpose of the mechitzah was the subject of disagreement between the rabbis of Hungarian descent and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. The Hungarian rabbis felt that the mechitzah needs to prevent the men from seeing the women in the synagogue. Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote ( and Rav Yechiel Weinberg zt”l in his work שו”ת שרידי אש agreed with this view) that the purpose of the mechitzah is to prevent conversations between men and women. It follow that the mechitzah demanded by the Hungarian rabbis would be much taller than what Rav Feinstein zt”l approved. Rav Feinstein zt”l wrote that a mechitzah of shoulder-height is sufficient (18 טפחים or about 5 feet).

Rav Feinstein zt’l acknowledged that a person may object to claiming that mechitzah is a Torah obligation based on the precedent of the בית המקדש. After all, synagogues, unlike the בית המקדש , are not Biblically ordained so how can we say that is required in the בית המקדש is required in the synagogue?

Rav Feinstein in answering this question makes what in my opinion a very important point. It is true that there is a special mitzvah to be in awe of the בית המקדש and to behave in an appropriate fashion there:

ויקרא פרק כו

(ב) אֶת שַׁבְּתֹתַי תִּשְׁמֹרוּ וּמִקְדָּשִׁי תִּירָאוּ אֲנִי ה’:

The synagogue does not have this mitzvah. However, whenever we are engaged in holy activities such as prayer and studying Torah the holiness of these activities demand that we perform them with the appropriate seriousness of attitude. It follows then that just as a mechitzah was put up in the בית המקדש in order to maintain the proper decorum, a mechitzah needs to be placed in the synagogue to ensure that the prayers are conducted with the proper reverence.

A mechitzah is only needed when there are large groups of men and women gathering together for a common purpose. We see in the story of חנה ועלי that an individual woman could pray in the courtyard of the משכן and no mechitzah was needed. Similarly women brought sacrifices in the בית המקדש and entered its main courtyard (the עזרה) where men were present as well.

Rav Feinstein zt”l  added another point regarding mechitzah. A mechitzah is only required when the area in question is open to the public. When there is a minyan in the home of a mourner ר”ל then men must pray in a room where there are no women because these minyanim are open to the community. On the other hand when there is a minyan in the home where a שבע ברכות is being celebrated the men can pray in one corner of the room while the women are in another corner of the same room.

During the shiur, Paul Terman asked if it is appropriate for men and women to sit together during a shiur.

It would seem to me that according to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l  it would be forbidden. Rav Moshe zt”l equated prayer and Torah study with regard to the necessity of engaging in both activities with awe and therefore both activities require a mechitzah.  The מרדכי ( a 14th century authority) takes it for granted that a mechitzah needs to be put up between the men and women at public shiurim:

מרדכי מסכת שבת פרק כירה רמז שיא

אבל מחיצה שעושה לצניעות בעלמא מותר כגון מחיצה שעושין בשעת הדרשה בין אנשים לנשים מותר לעשותה בשבת

However it has become the norm (at least in Israel) among the Modern Orthodox public not to insist on separate seating. Rav Yuval Sherlo who is a prominent Halachic authority in this circle has written on the subject and here is a link to what he wrote on this subject:



Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman


[1]  I am still getting used to writing that.

[2] Here is a link to an interesting article on this subject:


July 12, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 8
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we discussed the idea of having a particular נוסח תפילה. All the Jewish communities share a common “core” liturgy. That is to say that daily blessings of ברכות השחר, פסוקי זמרא, ברכות קריאת שמע ושמונה עשרה are basically the same in every version of the liturgy. The differences between the various נוסחאות are relatively minor. Nevertheless the נוסחאות are all important and the Poskim emphasize that a person should keep the נוסח of his or her parents and to pray according to the נוסח of the synagogue where he or she happens to be. The first Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., Rav Goren zt”l proposed a “unified nusach” to be used in the I.D.F. ( known as the נוסח אחיד) but it was never adopted and most soldiers pray according to the nusach of their families.

As I said, all the of the נוסחאות are basically identical. The main נוסחאות  are well known; nushach Ashkenaz and nusach Sephard. By “Sephard” I mean the nusach used by actual Sephardic Jews. The “nusach Sephard” used by Chassidic Jews is actually the nusach which arose from the circle of the Ari z”l, the great mystical teacher of the 16th century.

The history of נוסח אר”י  is quite interesting. It is the only time that large mass of Jews changed their נוסח התפילה. Eastern European Jews prayed with נוסח אשכנז. With the advent of the Chasidic movement the old nusach was abandoned in favor of נוסח אר”י to the puzzlement and consternation of the Poskim who did not look kindly on this change.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked a question about changing one’s nusach. A young man was educated in yeshivot where the prayers were in nusach Ashkenaz. The question was that since the young man’s parents prayed the nusach Sephard of the Chasidim, should he adopt his parents’ nusach?

Rav Moshe Feinstein answered that he should continue to pray nusach Ashkenaz. Rav Feinstein pointed out that the original nusach of the eastern European Jews was nusach Ashkenaz. It is not all clear by what right the leaders of the Chasidic movement adopted נוסח  אר”י but for this young man to utilize nusach Ashkenaz is not a change in nusach. Rather it is a return to his correct nusach.

Why did the Chasidim adopt נוסח אר”י? One of the early leaders of the Chasidic movement was Rav Elimelech of Lizhansk zt’l who is known by the title of the collection of his teachings, Noam Elimelech. The Noam Elimelech wrote a letter explaining the move to נוסח אר”י. He says that when he was young he did not understand נוסח אר”י but now that he is older and wiser he sees that  נוסח אר”י has indescribable spirituality. People who long for spiritual growth can be aided by praying according to .נוסח אר”י

The pre-eminent Ashkenazi Posek of the mid-19th century was Rav Moshe Sofer zt”l of Pressburg. He is known by the title of his works, Chatam Sofer. The Chatam  Sofer was raised in Frankfurt, Germany where of course the prayers were in nusach Ashkenaz. However, the Chatm Sofer’s two teachers were drawn to Kabbala and they conducted private minyanim where they (and only they) prayed according to נוסח אר”י. The Chatam Sofer did not look kindly on the Chasidim who abandoned nusach Ashkenaz. He quoted the Magen Avraham ( the standard commentary to שלחן ערוך אורח חיים) who wrote that all the נוסחאות תפילה are received in heaven. The Chatam Sofer says that since the Ari z”l was born in Egypt and prayed according to nusach Sephard he wrote a commentary explaining the mystical significance of nusach Sephard. This is no way should be understood as implying that nusach Ashkenaz lacks spiritual depth or mystical significance. It is simply an unfortunate fact that no great Kabbalists arose in the Ashkenazic community to do for the Ashkenazic siddur what the Ari z”l did for the Sephardic siddur.

As far as the Chatam Sofer was concerned, if a person has gained proficiency in Kabbala then it is appropriate for him to pray from the siddur of the Ari z”l. But for the non-mystics it is best to remain with the נוסח אשכנז and they can rest assured that their prayers are heard.

The Chasidic movement triumphed in large areas of Eastern Europe and נוסח אר”י was adopted in many communities. The result is that in most communities of Ashkenazic Jews one can find synagogues with different נוסחאות existing side-by-side ( and sometimes co-exisitng under the same roof).  What should a person do when she finds herself in a synagogue where the נוסח is not her own?

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l gave this advice. A person may not publicly deviate from the local custom. For the prayers which are said aloud a person must follow the nusach of the synagogue. So, for example, if a woman who normally prays נוסח אשכנז should be in a Chasidic synagogue when the congregation is saying קדושה she should say נעריצך ונקדישך and not נקדש את שמך. For the parts of the תפילה which are said quietly she may follow נוסח אשכנז but she must be careful not to pray aloud. So she may begin פסוקי דזמרא with ברוך שאמר (nusach Ashkenaz) and not with הודו (nusach Sephard).

If a person is the שליח צבור he must say his “quiet” שמונה עשרה according to the nusach of the synagogue, even though no one can hear this שמונה עשרה. The reason is that he says the quiet שמונה עשרה  in order to prepare for חזרת הש”ץ . It follows then that the quiet שמונה עשרה must be the same nusach as חזרת הש”ץ.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

July 19, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 9
Class description

When  שלמה המלך dedicated the Beit Hamikdash he said the following prayer:

מלכים א פרק ח

(מח) וְשָׁבוּ אֵלֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבָם וּבְכָל נַפְשָׁם בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר שָׁבוּ אֹתָם וְהִתְפַּלְלוּ אֵלֶיךָ דֶּרֶךְ אַרְצָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה לַאֲבוֹתָם הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר בָּחַרְתָּ וְהַבַּיִת אֲשֶׁר  בָּנִיתִי לִשְׁמֶךָ:

Shlomo Hamelech’s prayer was incorporated into the law. When we pray, we pray towards Israel.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ל עמוד א

היה עומד בחוץ לארץ – יכוין את לבו כנגד ארץ ישראל

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תפלה סימן צד

סעיף א

בקומו להתפלל, אם היה עומד בח”ל, יחזיר פניו כנגד ארץ ישראל ויכוין גם לירושלים ולמקדש ולבית קדשי הקדשים; היה עומד בא”י, יחזיר פניו כנגד ירושלים ויכוין גם למקדש ולבית קה”ק; היה עומד בירושלים, יחזיר פניו למקדש ויכוין ג”כ לבית קדשי הקדשים; היה עומד אחורי הכפורת, מחזיר פניו לכפורת.

This rule is rather straightforward and seems to have been followed throughout our early history.

The process of urbanization with its accompanying crowding and the regulation of the building process made it difficult to follow this law. The orientation of the available plots often dictated that a synagogue would need to be oriented on a north-south axis and not east-west.[1]  The Jewish residents of a city were not always free to build their synagogues facing Israel. The Aruch Hashulchan   (who was a late 19th century authority in Lithuania) wrote:

אך אין בידינו לבנות כרצונינו כי הבנינים נעשים ע”פ רשיון הממשלה:

The Poskim for the most part frowned upon synagogues which did not face Israel. Appeals for leniency based on architectural expediency or other needs were usually answered with a “no.” In Haifa in the early 20th century the synagogues were oriented towards Mount Carmel which was not really in the direction of Jerusalem. When a new synagogue was planned the architect offered to orient it towards Jerusalem, but then its orientation would be different from that of the other synagogues. The rabbi of Haifa asked Rav Kook zt”l if the new synagogue should also be built towards Mount Carmel, since to do otherwise would give the impression that the new synagogue is part of a schismatic movement.

Rav Kook replied that indeed everyone in Haifa should pray in the same direction. However in this instance when the orientation towards Jerusalem can be determined accurately there is no reason not to pray in that direction. This deviation from the norm in Haifa is easily understood and therefore cannot be viewed as being caused by some dark heretical tendency.

The Aruch Hashulchan wrote his great halachic work with an eye towards justifying as much as he could contemporary practice where it appeared to be in violation of the Halacha. Many synagogues did not face Israel. He noted that this was due to circumstances over which the Jews had no control, and he tried to explain how their synagogues and prayers met the requirements of the Halacha.

The Aruch Hashulchan noted that the Gemarah and the Shulchan Aruch describe the obligation of praying towards Israel differently. The Gemarah in masechet Brachot says:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף ל עמוד א

היה עומד בחוץ לארץ – יכוין את לבו כנגד ארץ ישראל

The Shulchan Aruch says:

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תפלה סימן צד

סעיף א

בקומו להתפלל, אם היה עומד בח”ל, יחזיר פניו כנגד ארץ ישראל

So the Gemarah says that we need to “think about” Israel when we stand up to pray while it is the Shulchan Aruch that says we need to physically turn towards Israel during prayer. The Aruch Hashulchan concluded (based on a passage from Baba Batra) that it is sufficient to face slightly towards Israel even if one is not completely turned in that direction. That is why, he explains, that it was acceptable for the synagogues in Lithuania to face east even though Israel is to the south-east of Lithuania.

A second halacha which we studied yesterday dealt with apartments built on top of synagogues. The Halacha relates to various types of apartments. Sometimes a synagogue may be built with second and third stories. In this case the use of the upper floors as dwelling places is problematic because this use is disrespectful to the synagogue. If the building is only being used temporarily as a synagogue (or if the building is rented out as a synagogue) there is more room for leniency.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l was asked the following question. People bought apartments in a building and after they bought their apartments the ground floor apartment was converted into a synagogue. They asked Rav Ovadiah zt”l if there is a problem with their living on top of the synagogue.

Rav Ovadiah zt”l explained the subject in depth. The building itself was not constructed to be a synagogue and when these people purchased their apartments they had every right to do so. The dedication of the ground floor as a synagogue cannot limit their property rights based on the rule of “.אין אדם אוסר דבר שאינו שלו”

Rav Ovadiah then presents a different reason for being lenient. The Rambam is one of our greatest authorities in Halacha. Besides his great work of Halacha, the משנה תורה he wrote many responsa to Jewish communities all over the Mediterranean world. Unfortunately his responsa were never assembled by him in a definitive collection so they were for the most part lost. Various collections of תשובות הרמב”ם have been assembled over the years but they were never seen by Rav Yosef Karo zt”l and therefore did not enter into his great works, the בית יוסף and שלחן ערוך. With regard to living in apartment above a synagogue, the Shulchan Aruch forbids it, and this ruling is based primarily on Ashkenazic custom. As it happens the Rambam wrote a teshuvah in which he permits living in an apartment on top of a synagogue, as long as the people in the apartment avoid using the space above the ארון הקודש.

Rav Ovadiah zt”l asserted that if this opinion of the Rambam would have been known to Rav Yosef Karo zt”l when he wrote the Shulchan Aruch he certainly would have ruled like the Rambam on this issue. Therefore it is permitted to live in the apartments above the synagogue (as long as the space above the ארון הקודש is not used).

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Stuart Fischman

[1]  I have seen this in New York.

July 26, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 10
Class description

Hello Everyone,

Anyone who has visited former Jewish neighborhoods in urban areas around the United States will have seen buildings which used to house synagogues now functioning as churches. These sites raise the question of under what circumstances a synagogue may be sold, and if it can be sold what if any limits are placed on the sale.

The Gemarah discusses the sale of synagogues in masechet Megillah. Synagogues can be sold either by the parishioners acting on their own, the trustees[1] acting on their own, or by the two groups acting in unison.  In the first two cases the money received in exchange for the synagogue acquire the sanctity of the synagogue. The money can only be used to acquire an object of equal or greater holiness than the synagogue. If however the synagogue is sold by both parties ( the parishioners acting with the trustees) the money can be used for any purpose, even for, as the Gemarah says, beer. There is another point to be made about the sale of a synagogue. When a synagogue is sold it cannot be used for a debasing purpose. The Mishnah states that a synagogue cannot be sold if it will be used as a tannery, a bathhouse, a latrine or a mikveh. If however the synagogue is sold by the parishioners acting with the trustees the synagogue can be used for any purpose after its sale.

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l was the pre-eminent authority on Halacha in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. This period of history witnessed the movement of American Jews from the cities to the suburbs. The painful  question of how to sell synagogues whose congregations have left was sadly relevant.

Rav Feinstein zt”l had to deal with three basic issues:

  1. a) when can a synagogue be sold?
  2. b) when can the limitations placed by the Gemarah on the sale of urban synagogues be set aside?
  3.   c) can a synagogue be sold to be used a s a church?

Rav Feinstein zt”l addressed these issues in a series of teshuvot.

He held that as long as there are regular prayers held in the synagogue, even though most of the synagogue’s members have left the neighborhood it should not be sold. However if the synagogue is no longer being used it can be sold even if it is located in a city. The Gemarah says that urban synagogues cannot be sold. Two reasons are given for this rule. One reason is that urban synagogues are built with the intention that they will be used by travelers and visitors to the city. Therefore it is impossible to invite all of the concerned parties to a meeting at which the sale of the synagogue will be discussed. A second reason is that urban synagogues are built with donations from people who come from far away and the synagogue cannot be sold without hearing the opinion of these donors. However the 16th century authority המבי”ט  ruled that a synagogue which has fallen into disuse can be sold even if it is located in a city. This opinion was accepted as law by the מגן אברהם and Rav Feinstein zt”l applied it in the cases brought for his ruling. Rav Feinstein added that we cannot ignore the fact that synagogues have unavoidable operating costs. If the remaining members of the synagogue cannot afford to keep it open, then they can sell it.

The most difficult issue is whether the synagogue can sold to be used as a church. Bearing in mind that the Shulchan Aruch rules that a synagogue sold by the members and the trustees can be converted to any use, then presumably it could be sold to be used as a church. However Rav Feinstein had two reservations about permitting such a sale. One is that the ביאור הלכה quotes a series of significant authorities who disagree with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and forbid such a degradation of the synagogue. The second objection was that in his opinion the use of a synagogue as a church is even more degrading than the uses permitted by the Shulchan Aruch.

So even though Rav Feinstein zt”l personally objected to selling a synagogue if it will be used as a church, since the Shulchan Aruch does not specifically forbid it he advised those who sought his guidance not to block such a sale.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Bye, Stuart Fischman

[1]  Known as  ז’ טובי העיר.

August 2, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The Sacred Synagogue: Lesson 11
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In yesterday’s shiur we studied the laws regarding the proper decorum for a synagogue.

We saw in our first shiur in this series that our synagogues are מקדשי מעט. This idea teaches us that they need to be treated with reverence that we treated the בית המקדש. Idle speech and frivolous behavior are not permitted in a synagogue. The   סמ”ק (a 13th century authority) wrote that synagogues which are not treated respectfully are doomed to end up as churches.

The Aruch Hashulchan is an important work of Halacha composed at the end of the 19th  century.  Its author was Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein zt”l and in his work he endeavors to defend the behavior of his fellow Jews when their actions seem to violate the Halacha. In his discussion of the laws of the synagogue he addresses the fact that people do engage in idle speech in the synagogue after the prayers are over.[1] The Aruch Hashulchan quotes a Gemarah from masechet Megillah:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת מגילה דף כח עמוד ב

“…בתי כנסיות שבבבל על תנאי הן עשויין….”

The synagogues outside the of Israel have only a conditional holiness and can be used for necessary purposes unconnected with prayer. The Aruch Hashulchan writes that people have a need to speak with each other so it is permitted to do so in the synagogue when the services have ended. The Aruch Hashulchan adds that smoking is an act of great disrespect and one may never smoke in a synagogue.

The requirement to treat synagogues with respect and to maintain a minimal level of decorum within them raises the question if synagogues can be used as social halls and be used to host festive meals. This question is especially important in small communities which lack the resources to build both a synagogue and a social hall.[2]

The rabbi of the community כפר אדומים Rabbi Gavriel Goldman, wrote an essay on this subject in תחומין. When כפר אדומים was first being built the residents of the new community lacked the funds to build a synagogue. The people thought of building  a multi-purpose structure. This structure would be both a synagogue and a social hall. The rental fee that would be collected for using the building to host parties would cover the costs of building and maintaining the structure.

Rabbi Goldman discusses in his essay all of the opinions regarding the construction of a “conditional synagogue.”  While there are significant authorities who permit building a “conditional synagogue” this would not allow us to behave in this synagogue in a frivolus manner.

Rabbi Goldman preferred that the synagogue be constructed as a large room. At one end of the room would be the ארון קודש and the בימה and holy books. Folding doors would be placed  towards this end of the room. When people would wish to use the room as a social hall the folding doors would be opened up and this would separate the synagogue portion of the room from the “social hall.” By doing this the sanctity of the synagogue would be maintained.

Another question regarding the use of a synagogue for a secular purpose arose in Nazi Germany. The Nazis ימ”ש forbade German Jews from entering theaters, concert halls and other such public buildings. This ban , together with the other acts of oppression to which they were subjected did much to crush their spirits. Rav Yechiel Weinberg zt”l was  the head of the Beit Midrash in Berlin and the leading Halachic authority in Germany. He was asked if lectures and concerts could be held inside synagogues since those were the only places where the Jews could assemble.

Rav Weinberg zt”l wrote that there is a great need to lift the morale of the Jews in Germany.   He ruled that if the Halacha permits feeding and lodging wayfarers in synagogues this is sufficient precedent to allow giving secular lectures inside synagogues.

However, he added that he could not permit holding concerts of secular music inside synagogues. The Halacha frowns on listening to concerts as part of our mourning for the Temple.[3] He acknowledged that observant Jews in Germany were in the habit of attending concerts. He said that perhaps they rely on certain lenient opinions who only forbid listening to music during meals or for other reasons. But be that as it may it is impossible to permit the hosting of concerts of secular music inside a synagogue.

What Rav Weinberg was willing to consider was the hosting of concerts of Jewsih music in the synagogue. While he himself objected to this as well he wrote that if someone would wish to allow it  they may.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiurim and may we all be זוכה to see the גאולה במהרה בימינו. Stuart Fischman

[1]  Synagogues must be treated as holy places even after the prayers are over. The Aruch Hashulchan would never seek to explain talking during the prayers. He can only seek an excuse for speaking in the synagogue when the prayers have concluded.

[2]  See שלחן ערוך חושן משפט קסג-ג that every community must build  a hall ( בית חתנות) for hosting weddings.

[3] שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב ושאר תעניות סימן תקס

סעיף ג

וכן גזרו שלא לנגן בכלי שיר וכל מיני זמר וכל משמיעי קול של שיר לשמח בהם…..

Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.