Introduction To A Beit Knesset
Group Size: 5-30
Estimated Time: 90 minutes
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This is the place!
To introduce the topic of Beit Knesset and cover the basics of the shuls and its avrious functions and halachot.
Source sheet with following sources:
- Gemara in Megilah 29a (Mikdash Me'at)
- Gemara in Megilah 26b (Tashmishai Kedusha and Tashmishai Mitzva)
- Gemara ion Megilah 8b from The Ran (shul kedusha is derabanon level)
- Sefer Hamitzvot, mitzva number 65
By: Aviad Tabory
A shul is endowed with kedusha. We also know that there are certain halachot which apply to this kedusha, for example selling a shul or using it for purposes other than davening. Our shiurim will try to understand what are the implications of this kedusha. We will also discuss certain Halachot that have to do with shuls.
Does a Shul have Kedusha?
First of all, we must understand that kedusha has two meanings. One is a mystical meaning. We are not referring to this concept. When we talk about Kedushat Beit Knesset, we are talking about the second type which is a halachic kedusha. This kedusha is not created by Hashem but by human beings. This type of kedusha creates ramifications (Nafka Mina’s). What does kedusha mean? It means special, different, unique and designated for a specific purpose. If a shul has kedusha, how did this kedusha come about? (Discuss these questions with the chanichim: What does kedusha mean examples of kedusha, etc.)
The Gemara in Megilah 29a calls a shul a Mikdash Me’at .What does this mean? Is this comparison a halachic one? The Gemara (daf 26b) goes on to differentiate between Tashmishai Kedusha and Tashmishai Mitzva. Tashmishai Kedusha are objects which are holy, for example: a Sefer Torah and teffilin. Tashmishai mitzva are a luluv and tzizit. What is the status of a shul?
The Ran, on daf 8b, disagrees with the Ramban on this question. He holds that a Shul has kedusha on a derabanon level, while the Ramban holds that the Kedusha of a Shul is like a tashmish mitzva. The Rambam might have a third opinion. In the context of the Sefer Hamitzvot, mitzva number 65, the Rambam explains the issur to desecrate any part of the Beit Mikdash and this issur, according to him, includes desecrating shuls. This would mean that the Rambam holds that a shul has tashmishai kedusha on a bibical level.
What created this kedusha? Rav Soloveitchik explains that kedusha is brought down to this world through torah. This explains why a sefer torah, teffilin and mezuzza are different than a luluv and tzizit. (The ramification of this difference is that tashmishai kedusha have to be buried in the ground (Geniza). Therefore, explains Rav Soloveitchik, a Jew who dies has to be buried in the ground, for every Jew has a connection to a sefer torah.) The kedusha of a shul, according to this idea, is made by the sefer torah, which stands at the center of every Shul. The kedusha of the Beit Mikdash emanates, according to our principal, from the luchot.
The Level of Kedushat Beit Knesset
We will discuss a few issues that have to do with the sanctity of a shul.
The Gemorah in Succah discusses the “Takanah Gedolah” which was made in the time of the second
The Purpose of the Mechitza
There are two important sources brought in the works of the Rambam about the purpose of the mechitza. In hilchot luluv he explains that its purpose is so that men and women won't mix with one another. In his commentary on Tractate Succah, he explains that the purpose is for them not to see each other. Obviously, there is a great difference between the two reasons. According to the first reason, a mechitza does not have to extend fully from the ceiling to the floor. But, according to the second opinion the mechitza has to provide more than just a separation between the sexes.
These two opinions are a source of argument among the Poskim. Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted the first reason and therefore, required the mechitza to be 18 tefachim (60 inches). The late Rebbe of Satmar accepted the second reason mentioned in the Rambam.
When is one required to have a mechitza? The Gemara was talking about a party in the Beit Mikdash, not about prayer there. Rav Kook understood that the demand of having a mechitza in a shul is because of its resemblance to the Mikdash. The same way a shul has an ark, torah scrolls and a parochet, it has an ezrat nashim as did the Mikdash.
Why have a mechitza while davening? Rav Soloveitchik dealt with this question and offered a new way of thought. The Rav argued that the idea of a family praying together is taken from the Christian world. In our religion, prayer is not a family experience but rather a way of worshiping Hashem. This act of worship is done by each individual as they face Hashem. Prayer, according to the Rav, is a personal rendezvous with Hashem.
Usage of a Shul for Other Purposes
We will now discuss other ramifications which are a result of kedushat Beit Knesset.