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Why Is the Torah Podium in the Center of the Synagogue?

Why Is the Torah Podium in the Center of the Synagogue?

The placement of the Shul Bimah

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Question:

I just attended a synagogue for a bar mitzvah, and I was surprised to see that the podium where the Torah is read is in the center of the sanctuary. In the synagogue where I grew up, it was in the front. Does it make a difference?

Response:

The traditional place of the podium, known as the bimah, is indeed in the center of the sanctuary. Maimonides1 codifies this practice and supplies a practical reason: When the reader is in the center, everyone is able to hear the Torah reading clearly and easily.

In addition, Rabbi Moses Sofer,2 known as the Chatam Sofer, explains that the bimah in the synagogue is representative of the altar that was in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Just like the altar was positioned in the center of the Temple courtyard, we position the bimah in the center of the synagogue. He cites the Talmudic3 description of the great synagogue of Alexandria, which had such a bimah in the center of the synagogue, as evidence that the center of the synagogue has been the home of the bimah since antiquity.

For these reasons, tradition mandates that the bimah should be at the center of the synagogue, or at least behind a row of seats.4

(I should point out that the above is regarding the place from where the Torah is read. On the other hand, the Ashkenazic custom is that the cantor, chazan, who leads the prayers stands on floor level in the front of the sanctuary, and should not stand on a raised platform unless that is the only way that his voice will be heard.5)

Footnotes
1.

Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefillah u-Nesi’at Kapayim 11:3. See Yerushalmi, Sukkah 5:1.

2.

Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, vol. 1, resp. 28.

3.

Sukkah 51b.

4.

See Shaarei Halachah u-Minhag, vol. 1, p. 197.

5.

Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim, 90:1.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Menachem Posner for Chabad.org February 11, 2011

To Sonny: Yitzchak is correct. The practice that has become the norm in many Modern Orthodox synagogues is a break from Ashkenazic tradition. Reply

sonny kosky Southend-on-Sea, UK February 10, 2011

The placement of the Shul Bimah I am confused - In all the Shuls I have attended the Reader/Rabbi leads the prayers from the Bimah. The Amud is used by the Rabbi for his sermon and announcements are also made from the Amud. Reply

Yitzchak Kolakowski Richmond, VA February 10, 2011

re: The placement of the Shul Bimah yes - you are correct that the Bimah is in the center - the text in parenthesis is not talking about the Bimah but the "Amud" - Bimah is for Torah reading and Amud is for the leading of prayer - in many Sefardic synagogues, the prayers are recited from the Bimah, while in Ashkenazic synagogues, the Torah is read from the Bimah and the prayers are lead from the Amud. The Bimah is in the center and the Amud is in the front.

According to Nusach Ashkenaz, Kabbalas Shabbosi is said from the Bimah, but according to the Hassidic custom (known as Nusach Sfard or Nusach Ari) Kabbalas Shabbos is also said from the Amud. Reply

Sonny Kosky Southend-on-Sea, UK February 9, 2011

The placement of the Shul Bimah Am I misreading the comments in parentheses at the end of the article. In all the Ashkenazic Shuls I have attended in the UK the Bimah is in the centre. Reply

Yitzchak Kolakowski Richmond, VA February 7, 2011

Satmar Rebbe The Satmar Rebbe, zy"a, said that it is such an important thing to have the bimah in the center of the shul, that he said it is forbidden to even walk into a shul with the bimah in front on a stage, even if it is an orthodox shul Reply

izzy January 19, 2011

thank you I love these clear straight to the point answers!

keep up the amazing work! Reply

Nehama Hendel Athens, Greece January 19, 2011

Romaniote custom The custom of the Romaniote Jews (greek Jews) is to have the Bima in the back of the synagogue, and I think it's the case for the Italian Jews as well. Reply

A synagogue is a place of Jewish worship. In addition to housing a sanctuary for services, synagogues (most notably Chabad centers) serve as the centerpoint of Jewish life.
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