Siman 154 Ritual Items in the Synagogue

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #90: Siman 154


by Rav Asher Meir







The Re'em (siman 81) was consulted regarding a beit knesset in which the shamash committed a perversion.  The congregation was concerned that it might be forbidden to pray in a room where a severe sin was committed.


The Re'em says that this concern has no basis whatsoever.  His first proof is that we don't refrain from praying in private houses and apartments, even though prior tenants were non-Jews who certainly engaged there in pagan worship - the gravest sin of all.  He also points out that even in the Holy Temple the pagans erected an idol (this is one of the reasons we fast on the 17th of Tammuz - Mishna Taanit 26b), yet worship certainly resumed there!


And even though objects which were used for pagan worship are forbidden to use for a mitzva, this rule only applies if they are part of the mitzva object itself.  "Even though even the proceeds (of a sin) are forbidden for a mitzva, and for this reason it is prohibited to make a shawl from priests' vestments, that only refers to making a tallit of mitzva from them, to buy with (the proceeds) stones or planks to build a beit knesset which is itself made into the actual mitzva object.  But one wearing a shawl which was worn by priests as a vestment may enter the beit knesset to pray in it, since it itself is not a mitzva object."


The Magen Avraham (s.k. 17) cites this responsum, writing that there is no prohibition to pray in a room which was used on a regular basis for pagan worship.  The Pri Megadim, citing the Eliah Rabbah, points out that the Re'em never said that such a house could be used as a beit knesset, merely that it was permissible to pray there. 


The MB s.k. 45 cites the MA as permitting, on the basis of the Re'em's opinion, to make a synagogue out of a church.  This takes the Re'em's ruling two removes from its subject.  The Re'em referred to an ordinary house, not to a church; and he permitted praying there, not making a beit knesset out of it.  Furthermore, the Re'em says EXPLICITLY that stones and planks from a church may NOT be incorporated into a beit knesset!


Perhaps the lenient opinion understood that the Re'em's stringency applies only to stones and planks which were actually worshipped.  And the Re'em's main subject is an actual beit knesset, suggesting that his statement that one may "pray" where a sin took place means that one may also make a synagogue out of it. 


However, the comparison to a priest's vestments, which are not worshipped but are merely ornaments, suggests that the Re'em is referring also to stones and planks from a church, which likewise are "ornaments" or appurtenances to pagan worship.  From the plain sense of the Re'em, the impression is rather that making a shul is permissible if a transgression was performed inside, like a perversion or even idol-worship, but not if the actual building was dedicated to idolatry.


In BH d.h. "nerot," the BH proves that the Magen Avraham is lenient only if the chapel doesn't contain idols.  If the building contains idols, then the building itself enters the category of "meshamshei avoda zara" - appurtenances of idol worship - and thereby is forbidden.


We may point out that even idols which are NOT worshipped but are meant only to represent or recall a pagan deity are still forbidden to benefit from because they are meshamshim of the church.  However, we can only go so far.  A church makes such IDOLS forbidden, but they don't make the CHURCH forbidden!


It should follow that the lenient opinion is not affected by statues which are meant to recall the deity (small-d).  If these are found in a church, they don't make the church itself an appurtenance of the statues. 




On the one hand, it is accepted that Islam is not an idolatrous religion.  On the other hand, it is obvious that for a Jew, practicing this religion is as bad as practicing any other since an adherent of Islam denies the Torah.  This has lead to a difference of opinion as to whether a mosque has the same problematic status as a church.  Rav Waldenburg in Tzitz Eliear XIV:91 takes a stringent view.  Rav Ovadia Yosef in Yabia Omer VII OC 11 and 12 discusses the various opinions in his usual encyclopedic fashion.




The Rema in seif 11 mentions that we should not accept donations of candles from apostates (mumar leavoda zara).  The MB s.k. 48 explains that this is because the candles are likened to a sacrifice, and we don't accept sacrifices from apostates (though we do accept them from non-Jews).


The MB adds that a public Sabbath-breaker comes under the same category as an apostate.  This equation is made in all four sections of the SA (OC 385:3; YD 2:5; EHE 123:2; CM 266:2), and is mentioned many times in the MB.  Here, for a change, we learn that such a Jew is worse than a non-Jew.


There is an extensive literature discussing whether this equation is still valid in our day.  The Binyan Tzion (Chadashot 23) rules that "nowadays" (the responsum was written in 5621 Hebrew/1861 secular) those who go to work on Shabbat should not be considered like non-Jews.  He points out that many of these same Jews go to services on Shabbat and make kiddush, and then go off to work; and adds that they do not deny the tenets of our faith, but are merely ignorant of the laws of Shabbat. 


Likewise, Rav Moshe Feinstein writing a little over a hundred years later (Igrot Moshe YD IV:58) wrote that the reason for singling out Shabbat desecration from all the other transgressions is because it GENERALLY signifies apostasy.  But someone who we KNOW believes in the Torah - he goes to beit knesset, eats kosher and so on - but still goes to business on Shabbat, is judged like any other transgressor, and not like a non-Jew.


We should admit that such Jews, who are common 140 years ago and even 40 years ago, are pretty rare today.  The force of tradition is less and the pressure to work on Saturday far less.  These responsa are a weak basis for leniency with regard to the average non-religious Jew of our day.


We may also point out that both Rav Ettlinger and Rav Feinstein explicitly recommended being stringent (in each case the question was with regard to wine handled by a Shabbat breaker), while pointing out that there is a firm basis for leniency.


These few words are not meant to be a substitute for a thorough and balanced discussion of the issue.  There is also room to make a distinction among the various areas of halakha: inclusion in a minyan, handling of wine, testimony, and so on.  I did want to make clear that the most renowned responsa relate to a situation which is not the norm today.




The Beit Yosef cites a responsum of Rav Yitzchak bar Yuda (appears in Teshuvot Maimoniot Mishpatim 18), who discusses the case of townspeople who bought a Torah scroll together, and made a condition that if anyone left town he would be able to get back "his share." This condition seems fair according to what we explained at the beginning of siman 153 that according to many authorities a Beit Knesset is considered a partnership. 


When someone actually DID leave town, he demanded a share of the CURRENT value of the scroll - which was greater than the amount that had been paid.  Rav Yitzchak bar Yuda's conclusion was not based on precedent but rather on his understanding of the intention of the parties as expressed in the wording of the condition.  Since the stipulation did not mention an assessment, Rav Yitzchak inferred that they did not intend to make one.  He adds that even if it were doubtful if they intended to make an assessment, the departing member would still not be able to get the higher amount, since he is considered to be the "motzi" - the plaintiff - and bears the burden of proof.


There is an important difference between the two cases - the case where there is clearly no intention to make an assessment, and the case where the intention is doubtful.  It is brought down in MB s.k. 58.




At the beginning of siman 153, we mentioned a difference of opinion in the Acharonim regarding ownership of a shul.  The Magen Avraham writes that an object lost in Beit Knesset is not acquired by the Beit Knesset because a shul is an instance of "hekdesh" and the mere domain of hekdesh can not effect an acquisition (kinyan).  The Ketzot objects, asserting that a synagogue is not hekdesh at all, but rather a partnership.  We added that even according to the Ketzot, we need to recognize that the partners intended to dedicate their property for a mitzva purpose.


The Mishna Berura s.k. 58 cites this Magen Avraham; then he refers us to Rabbi Akiva Eiger.  Let us continue the discussion we began two simanim back.


The Mishna in Meila (13a) rules that if someone dedicated a cistern, someone who uses the cistern is guilty of "meila" (misappropriating the property of hekdesh), but someone who uses the water which gathers inside is not.  The Tosafot there (d.h. "aval") cite the reason for the distinction of "ein yad lehekdesh."  The fact that a person's domain can effect an acquisition is because it is considered an extension of his hand; yet hekdesh has no hand to "extend."  The result is that the water remains ownerless.


It follows that a Beit Knesset, even though it IS an instance of "hekdesh" according to the Agudah cited in the Magen Avraham (and MB), it cannot acquire objects lost there.  Rather, "finders keepers" applies.


Rabbi Akiva Eiger points out that the Ramban (Bava Batra 79a) gives a different explanation.  The Ramban first gives Rashbam's explanation (identical to that of the Tosafot) and then writes, "And we could say that it DOES effect an acquisition, and even so there is no meila in taking it."  This is the view brought by the Ketzot which argues with the Aguda on the Aguda's own territory: even if a shul IS a kind of hekdesh, we need to distinguish between the PROPERTY of hekdesh (which acquires through its domain) and the SANCTITY of hekdesh (which requires an intention to make something holy). 


As we mentioned, the Ketzot then goes on to prove that a beit knesset is not hekdesh anyway.


Since the MB there (153:33) relates BOTH to the dedication of the shul ("If it is clear to us that it was built only with the townspeople in mind") and ALSO to the ownership ("and also that others [from out of town] did not aid them"), we concluded that the MB concurs that a shul is a partnership.  Otherwise, what difference does it make if someone else aided them?  It must be that this someone is also a partner! (The Shaar HaTziun emphasizes that the case of "someone else aided them" is specifically when there was an explicit condition that the shul was built with only the town in mind.)


Our siman gives a different impression.  The Magen Avraham and Rabbi Akiva Eiger both assume that a Beit Knesset is a kind of hekdesh; their only disagreement is if hekdesh can acquire through "chatzer" - domain.  The MB gives the impression that he concurs.  (I am sure the MB was familiar with the Ketzot.)


Perhaps the MB only mentioned "that others did not aid them" for the sake of argument (leravcha demilta): IF out-of-towners did not aid them, then the shul is definitely a mere town shul.  It may also be true that even if someone from out of town DID aid them it is considered a town shul, because a shul is not a partnership; but the MB did not want to decide this issue.