Apr 3, 2008

changing a custom - the Paroches

Change. We don't like change too much (we prefer big bills, ha ha).

For example, the bima was always placed in the center of the shul. At some point in the mid-1800s, shortly after Reform Judaism opened its doors, they moved the bima to the front of the shul. the Rabbonim were always opposed to that move and fought it tooth and nail to ensure that Orthodox shuls would not adopt that style.

Very frequently no specific reason was given. just that we cannot change a custom that has been in place for so long. I think the Chasam Sofer gave a reason for insisting on the bima being in the center of the shul, being it is compared to the mizbe'ach, altar, in the Beis Hamikdash. the Noda B'Yehuda was also famously one of the Rabbonim who lead the fight against moving the bima and he said (as far as I know) that we cannot change what has become the custom in Israel.

Ostensibly, the reason is because once we allow change, even on what might be considered something small and possibly insignificant, we do not know where it will end up and what else will be changed. Case in point is that the Reform movement changed the location of the bima and many other time honored customs fell in its wake as well, and many things that were halchic in nature and not just custom (though I have no idea if the other customs were changed as a result of their success with moving the bima or if it was not connected).

I found another such custom that I had never before been aware of.

At Friday night dinner we generally read a couple paragraphs of a book on the Halachos of Shabbos. We are using the set of books called "the 39 Melachos", and I find that even though the author is generally very machmir in his psak, the background and information he gives in his explanation is very well elucidated and very thorough.

So we are currently learning the Halachos of Mocheik (erasing). He discusses an interesting question regarding the opening of a Paroches on the aron kodesh on Shabbos. Commonly the paroches is one piece of cloth that gets pulled open to one of the sides. However, there are shuls that use a Paroches made of two pieces of cloth, split down the middle. If there are words embroidered across the two pieces of cloth, thus splitting the words in two when the cloths are opened and separated, an interesting question is raised.

He quotes the Igros Moshe who suggests, if possible, to leave the paroches slightly ajar and not closed all the way, but if that was not possible or was not left like that, then one could be lenient and close (and open) the paroches on Shabbos.

The author explains this position and then he adds,
It should be noted that it is improper for a shul to have a Paroches that is designed to part at the center, because it deviates from the customary Paroches design (i.e. to be drawn open from one side) that has been the universally accepted tradition for generations. The synagogue should correct the impropriety by sewing the separate panels as one, or by installing a new Paroches made of a single curtain.
I was not aware there was a specific custom for the Paroches design. I am pretty sure I have seen shuls with one Paroches curtain, though I cannot think of any specific shul that I am aware of offhand. It could even be that the Paroches was always designed with one curtain so as not to have this problem of separating or joining letters that form words.


  1. acc. to the kesef mishnah, the reason the rambam writes that the bimah is in the middle is because the shuls in egypt were so large. not everyone could hear unless the bimah was in the middle. (iirc)

    hungarian "reform," aka neologue(which is where the location of the bimah was an issue and to which the hatam sofer was responding, iirc) was not what think of where we hear of reform. i could be wrong, but i'm not sure how out of place we would feel in a hungarian "reform" shul of the period.

    "even though the author is generally very machmir in his psak"

    that's a big problem (at least from my pespective) with all these types of practical halakhah books.

    (how come you don't use שמירת שבת כהלכתא)

  2. "Rabbonim were always opposed to that move and fought it tooth and nail "

    i think it was ruled assur to daven in a shul that has the bimah in the front.

    (i think the seride esh also has a teshuvah on this question)

  3. about the Bima, I saw somewhere that in a small shul, where the problem of hearing is not a problem, it might be ok according to some to move the bima. However most fought it for other reasons - basically no accepting change of a custom.

    I use Shmiras Shabbos a lot and have learned through it many times. I know it fairly well. But this book is a good read, broken down well, and the background he gives is really great. So for this purpose, I prefer to use this book.

  4. "Case in point is that the Reform movement changed the location of the bima and many other time honored customs fell in its wake as well, and many things that were halachic in nature and not just custom."

    There's one big flaw in this reasoning: The Reformers INTENDED on making Refrom "Judaism" as un-Jewish as possible. It was their INTENTION from the START.

  5. Since you all are pursuing the 'moving the shulhan' topic, I'll point out that Iggrot Moshe does not forbid it. Rav Gedaliah Rabinowitz explained the difference between the Hatam Sofer and Iggrot Moshe as likely stemming from their environments. Hatam Sofer saw this plainly as part of the reform occurring all around him. Rav Moshe Feinstein came from Russia, where there was no reform. People either adhered to Jewish law or they didn't; but there was no movement to redefine Judaism and Jewish practice. Those formative influences can have subtle effect n how a posek sees and judges a situation.

  6. that is an interesting differentiation... and I was not aware Rav Moshe permitted it. shkoyach!

  7. It's R' Moshe himself who makes the comment about the Paroches, not R' Ribiat.

  8. so, according to mordechai (above), Rav Moshe allowed the Bima to be moved, but insisted on the Paroches being one curtain? what is the difference?

  9. I'm not familiar with the R' Moshe that R' Scher references.

  10. I'll have to look for the tshuva in Igrot Moshe. I didn't say he *permits* it; I said he didn't *forbid* it. There is a subtle difference. ;-)

  11. Sorry this took me a little while. I still can't find my notes (from 20 years ago) from Rav G. Rabinowitz's shiur on this. Actually, it was a shiur about understanding the relevance of time and place in a tshuva.

    Anyway, see the Hatam Sofer Orah Haim siman 28; Igrot Moshe Orah Haim Beit, simanim 41 and 42. Rav Moshe relates there to his conjecture as to the Hungarian prohibition on davenning in a place where they moved the bimah.

  12. Rafi, the heter for a small shul with the bimah up front (or in back, for that matter)is based on the reading of the Rambam. Rav Moshe Feinstein relates to that.

    Ari, the Sridei Aish in siman 154 agrees with those forbidding moving the bimah from the middle (even though Maran Rav Yosef Karo clearly didn't hold that in the Kesef Mishnah or the Shulhan Aruch), but does not forbid 'leining' or davenning there. He says it is no fault of those who come to daven there, rather the fault of those who chose to build the place that way. Ayen sham.

  13. (r.?) mordechai:

    thanks. now i remember it. when i saw the seride esh i thought it was interesting in particular because i was leining in a shul that had the bimah in the front

  14. Well, I haven't made it as a talmid hacham; but I could have been a RRL (research reference librarian)! ;-)


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