Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Living above a Synagogue

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Not only is a synagogue a holy place which must be treated with great reverence, but the requirement to show this reverence often extends to areas above the synagogue, as well. There are a number of reasons as to why this is so. It is explained that the roof of a synagogue is comparable to the roof of the sanctuary in the Beit Hamikdash, which was sanctified along with the air space above it.[1] As such, although there are those who are lenient, most authorities rule that it is forbidden for one to live in an apartment above a synagogue.[2]

Click here to read moreAccording to even the most lenient authorities, one is certainly not permitted to use the floors or even the air space above a synagogue for any disrespectful use.[3] This is especially true for the space which is directly above the aron kodesh.[4] In fact, some authorities limit the prohibition against living above a synagogue exclusively to those areas which are directly above the aron kodesh.[5] Similarly, one who keeps a Torah in one's home should ensure that all the floors and areas above the Torah are not used for any unbecoming purposes.[6]

It goes without saying that the prohibition against living above a synagogue only applies when the synagogue was already constructed and in operation before it was decided to construct an apartment on the floors above it. If, however, a residential apartment building was established first and some time later tenants on lower floors decide to use their area for a synagogue, those living above need not have any reservations nor evacuate their apartments. Indeed, this is a frequent occurrence in Israel where residents of a building decide to establish a synagogue for the benefit of those in the building.

Furthermore, if a synagogue or other building was constructed with the express intention that the bottom floor would be used as a synagogue and the upper floors would be used for residences, then it is permitted to do so. Indeed, in many cases one may be permitted to use the floors above the synagogue for any purpose when such a condition is set from the very beginning.[7] However, one should never use the area above a synagogue for repulsive or undignified purposes. We are taught that one who disregards the reverence and sanctity owed to the space above a synagogue is responsible for the prayers recited there not to be accepted.[8] Some authorities rule that one can be lenient and allow the floors above a synagogue to be used for residential or mundane purposes if there is at least one floor which separates between the synagogue and such areas,[9] while others disagree.[10]

It is interesting to note that although according to halacha one is permitted to live above a synagogue when certain conditions are met, one is advised by the halachic authorities never to live above a synagogue regardless of the permissibility of doing so.[11] In fact, the Taz attributed the death of his son as a punishment for having lived above a synagogue.[12] Although in general the residents of a building are unable to prevent a neighbor from choosing to use his apartment as a synagogue, they can protest, however, if the arrangement of this newly established synagogue is such that they will be forced to live directly above the area of the aron kodesh.[13] There are no halachic concerns with designating areas below a synagogue for residential or even mundane uses and one may do so.[14] One should endeavor never to pray directly below a bathroom whether it is at home, synagogue, or any other venue.[15]


[1] Chatam Sofer O.C. 30
[2] Mordechai;Shabbat 228, Beit Yosef O.C. 151
[3] O.C. 151:12, Avnei Nezer 32
[4] Mishna Berura 151:40,42, Halichot Shlomo 19:3
[5] Birkei Yosef 151:10, Chaim Shaal 1:56
[6] Teshuvot V'hanhagot 2:531
[7] Rema O.C. 151:12, Taz O.C. 151:4
[8] Taz O.C. 151:4
[9] Shevet Halevi 5:18
[10] Avnei Nezer 32
[11] Magen Avraham 151:18
[12] Taz O.C. 151:4
[13] Piskei Teshuvot 151:28
[14] Emek Sheila 4, Imrei Yosher 2:169, Kinyan Torah 3:11
[15] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 5:4, Rivevot Ephraim 7:265

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