The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Yeshivat Har Etzion
#83: Siman 150
Rav Asher Meir
The MB in s.k.
2 discusses the perennially upsetting question of breakaway
(III:472) was asked about a group of Spanish Jews in North Africa who originally
prayed together with the Ma'aravim (Western Jews - this usually refers to
Moroccans who for some inexplicable reason are today referred to as "Edot
HaMizrach" or Eastern Jews) but later decided to start their own minyan. The question was whether this was
permissible and desirable in and of itself, and furthermore if it would exempt
the members of the new minyan from paying taxes to the original
begins by pointing out that proper composure is a basic prerequisite for prayer,
and that it is impossible to pray if one is distracted and disturbed by personal
animosity. He also relates to the
special spiritual unity (ibbur) which is achieved by Jews who are on the same
spiritual "wavelength," and points out that this does not exist if, on the
contrary, people are at odds with each other. When our sages learned from the verse
(Mishlei 14:28) "Be-rov am hadrat melekh" - the King's glory is in the greatness
of the assembly - that our worship should preferably be in the largest possible
assembly, they were referring to the case when people are indeed assembled and
unified. But if the members of the
congregation are in a constant state of ill will, then there is certainly no
glory to the King in their assembly.
He also likens
the choice of a place of prayer to the choice of a place of Torah learning,
regarding which we learn, "A person can learn Torah only in a place which his
heart desires" (Avoda Zara 19a, YD 240:25).
he concludes that the break-aways are required to continue to pay community
taxes. It is unclear from the
responsum if taxes to support the Beit Knesset are
The MB also
refers to the Pitchei Teshuva on Choshen Mishpat 162 (laws of shared
courtyards). The Rema there (se'if
7) says in the name of the Ribash that not only is it permissible for a group of
congregants to establish their own minyan in a separate place, but we censure
anyone who tries to stop them. The
only exception, says the Ribash (siman 253) is if their departure will destroy
the first congregation. In this
case, he says, it is up to the community leaders to seek a way to maintain both
places of worship.
Teshuva cites the Magen Avraham (154:23) mentioned in the MB and many other
authorities who rule that the majority MAY prevent part of the congregation from
forming their own minyan. And even
if the majority permit, certainly the new minyan has no right to any of the
property of the existing congregation - such as the Torah scrolls and so
All this refers
to the case when the members of the new minyan have the possibility of remaining
in the old congregation but prefer to be on their own - as the Radbaz
discusses. If the existing shul is
just too small to hold a growing congregation and they are obliged to split into
two, then of course the two new shuls have to reach some kind of equitable
distribution of the property. The
Pitchei Teshuva mentions that items which were donated by a particular family
should remain in the minyan where that family will pray.
Avraham starts out with the "lenient" view of the Radbaz (lenient towards the
breakaways) but then closes with the stringent opinions - leaving the impression
that this is the conclusion; however, the MB first quotes the Magen Avraham and
then returns to cite the Radbaz, seemingly giving greater weight to the lenient
I obviously can
not give a ruling in this complicated area, but I would like to suggest the
following guidelines. The first
relates to the what MAY be done, the second to what SHOULD be
1. The responsa which refer to the ability
to prevent splitting off seem to be referring to an existing municipal
congregational structure - a kehilla.
The KEHILLA can, according to these opinions, impose on its members to
remain in the SYNAGOGUE of that kehilla.
But if there is no kehilla and only a beit knesset, then there is no
authority which could compel people to stay! Leaving the beit knesset is itself
leaving the congregation - comparable to moving out of town - and this in itself
removes the yoke of the congregation.
It seems to me that this is true even if leaving the congregation will
actually damage the existing shul.
A town can not compel me to stay just because my leaving will harm the
seems that there is no actual authority to prevent a breakaway minyan in any
community where there is no centralized kehilla structure - which is just about
anywhere in the United States. Of
course, people can be informed that they will cease to belong to whatever
congregational structure there is.
And the fact that no one can stop people from starting a breakaway minyan
does not mean that it is a good idea.
It would be responsible for those considering starting a new minyan to
internalize the considerations that the kehilla would weigh if such a
centralized authority existed.
2. While animosity can prevent a person
from concentrating in his prayers, removing the animosity is in general a better
solution than starting a new minyan - as the MB points out. Most breakaway minyans nowadays are
started over "frumkeit" (religiosity) situations - in both directions. It is extremely important to distinguish
between the "frumkeit" or "farfrumptkeit" (overly demonstrative religiosity) of
the BEIT KNESSET and that of the MEMBERS of the Beit Knesset.
If my BEIT
KNESSET is just not frum enough - the mechitza is not really kosher - or if it
is just too farfrumpt - they took down the mechitza and replaced it with a
steel-reinforced concrete wall and now the ladies can't follow the davening -
then there is a valid reason to weigh finding a more congenial prayer
But if my
fellow congregants are not so
frum (they read the paper during davening - I've actually seen this) or if they
are too farfrumpt (the gabbais ask everyone to put siddurim and chumashim back
after Shabbat davening, and someone complains to the Rav that this is "borer" -
forbidden sorting) the best thing to do is MYOB (mind your own business) and
remind yourself that some things you do probably also look ridiculous or
questionable. Furthermore, starting
a new minyan will not solve anything, because there is no limit to people's
judgmental side in these issues.
case is discussed in an interesting responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein (OC
I:46). Rav Moshe was asked about a
congregation which put U.S. and Israeli flags on the platform. This act disturbed some congregants so
much that they wanted to start a new minyan. The case is intermediate since it seems
that the congregants were only partially bothered by the flags themselves; they
were also partially bothered by the fact that they were davening together with
answer has two main points. First,
he asserts that even if it were forbidden to put the flags in the Beit Knesset,
and even if the people who put them there were transgressors (reshaim), the Beit
Knesset retains its sanctity and one should preferably pray there rather than
start a private minyan.
Second of all,
Rav Moshe asserts that there is no prohibition to have the flags on the
platform, since no one worships them.
However, he does make it clear that he thinks that it is completely
inappropriate ("hevel ve-shtut" - empty nonsense) to have them
Here is the
instructive closing of this responsum:
If it were
possible to peacefully remove them from the Beit Knesset that would be a good
thing, but it is forbidden to start a dispute over this. And if we had the power without dispute
to get rid of the entire subject of the flag, so that there would be no reminder
of the acts of the wicked, perhaps that would also be proper, but God forbid to
start a dispute over this. [I'm not
sure what this adds - perhaps he means to not have an Israeli flag even OUTSIDE
those who want to start a new minyan in another place because of this, and think
that they are doing a great thing by doing so, they are not acting considerately
(ein osim ke-hogen), and this is no more than politics coming from the evil
impulse and the Adversary (Satan), who owing to our many sins dances among us
until HaShem will have mercy and send us the righteous redeemer and pour out
upon us a spirit from on high, to go in the way of the Torah and the truth
without deflecting right or left.
THE READER'S PLATFORM
(Tefilla 11:3) writes, "We erect a platform [bima] in the middle of the beit
[knesset], so that the reader from the Torah, or the preacher, can ascend to it
and everyone will be able to hear."
The Rema also mentions this placement of the bima.
Mishneh explains that this is the prevalent custom, the reason being that when
the reader is in the middle everyone in the sanctuary can hear him. However, he also justifies the custom of
some smaller synagogues to place the platform at the END of the sanctuary -
meaning evidently at the front. The
Kesef Mishneh explains that the placement in the middle is not an obligation,
and in a small synagogue where everyone can easily hear the reader it is
attractive to have the bima in front.
What is the
source of this custom? We may
mention three possibilities:
1. It seems from the Kesef Mishneh that the
source is not textual but practical - the need for everyone to hear the
reader. This also seems to be
implicit in the Rambam.
2. The Chatam Sofer (OC 28) suggests that
the source is in the gemara Sukka 51b, which relates that the great synagogue in
Alexandria had a platform in the middle.
3. It seems to me that there is a source in
the same Tosefta which is the source for the seating arrangement mentioned in
the Rema - Megilla 3:21. This
Tosefta explains that the elders sit facing the people with their back towards
the ark - meaning that they are at the end of the sanctuary. Likewise, when the kohanim bless the
people, they face the people with their back to the ark. But regarding the
chazan (who stands beside the reader when the Torah is read), the Tosefta merely
states that he faces the ark, and that the congregation also faces the ark.
There seems to
be a double inference: since the Tosefta does NOT mention that the chazan has
his back to the people, we can assume that he is in their midst (after all,
regarding the elders, the teiva, and the kohanim the Tosefta orients their back
and their faces). Second of all, if
the chazan were in front there would be no reason to explain that the people
face the ark - where else could they face? But if the reader is in the middle,
then we might think that congregants between the bima and the ark should face
the bima; the Tosefta informs us, based on a Scriptural source, that everyone
should face the ark.
Halakha mentions the controversy that arose surrounding this ancient
custom. Early Reform temples placed
the platform at the front of the sanctuary. This imitated the prevalent non-Jewish
custom - where a clergyman performs the service on behalf of the congregation -
in form and function. This
naturally aroused the ire of traditionalists, both on account of it being an
innovation, and of course because of the symbolic significance of taking the
Torah out from amidst the people.
(This was also discussed in the shiur on siman 90.)