Halachot of the Building of the Shul

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Building a Shul

  1. The local Jewish community may force its members to pay for the building of a Shul and to buy a Tanach.[1] Nowadays, the community can even force its members to pay for buying other sefarim such as mishna and shulchan aruch.[2]
  2. The Shul should be built at a high elevation in the town. Additionally, it should be the tallest building in the town with the exception of buildings that are not used as dwelling spaces. [3]
  3. The Aron should be built in the direction in which the congregation will pray Shemona Esreh. [4]Additionally, the doorway should be built facing the Aron, so that when a person enters they can bow towards the Aron. For example, if the Aron faces east as it does in American Shuls, then the doorway should be in the west. [5]

Pictures in a Shul

  1. It isn't appropriate for a shul to have drawings or artwork in the front of a shul at eye level since it is distracting. If they do one should close one's eyes when one davens there[6] or keep one's eyes in the siddur completely[7].
  2. Similarly, siddurim should not have pictures in them because they are distracting.[8]
  3. It is even more serious to have pictures of lions, oxen, eagles, sun, moon, stars, or constellations in a shul.[9]
  4. Pictures of people including gedolim pictures should certainly be avoided from being hung in the shul.[10]
  5. It is forbidden to daven in front of a mirror even if one closes one's eyes.[11]

Selling a Bet Knesset

  1. In general, it is prohibited to sell the bet knesset of a city. However, it is permissible to sell the bet knesset of a village. [12]

Activities Appropriate for a Shul

See Respecting_the_Sanctity_of_the_Shul

Dismantling a Bet Knesset

  1. It is prohibited to demolish a Bet Knesset in order to build a new one. Rather, a new Bet Knesset must be built and then the old one can be taken down. [13]
  2. The same law applies regarding a Bet Midrash, and it does not make a difference whether the ownership is a public or private one. [14]
  3. It also does not matter if a more beautiful Bet Knesset will be built as a result of demolishing the current one. [15]

Sources

  1. Shulchan Aruch 150:1
  2. Aruch HaShulchan 150:1
  3. Shulchan Aruch 150:2
  4. Mishna Brurah 150:11
  5. Shulchan Aruch 150:5, Mishna Brurah 150:10
  6. Teshuvat HaRambam (Friedman Edition 20) writes that having fancy designed cloths hanging on the walls in the shul isn't forbidden but isn't appropriate since it distracts one from davening. This is cited and codified by Shulchan Aruch OC 90:23.
  7. Yalkut Yosef 90:43, Piskei Teshuvot 90:29
  8. Rama 90:23, Mishna Brurah 90:71, Aruch Hashulchan 90:28
  9. Mordechai (A"z no. 840) cites a dispute between Rabbenu Yoel and Rabbi Elyakim whether it is a problem to have pictures of animals in front of the shul. Darkei Moshe 90:4 cites this. Taz YD 141:14 rules like Rabbi Elyakim who held that it was forbidden. Aruch Hashulchan 90:28 writes that there should be no picture of any animal or people on the walls of the shul.
  10. Shach YD 141, Piskei Teshuvot 90:29, Yalkut Yosef 90:43
  11. Mishna Brurah 90:71
  12. Gemara Megillah 26a, Rambam (Tefillah 11:16)
  13. Shulchan Aruch 152:1
  14. Mishna Brurah 152:1
  15. Mishna Brurah 152:2