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By: Reb Avi Lebowitz
The Gemora says that one cannot destroy a synagogue until the replacement is rebuilt. The Gemora quotes two reasons for this prohibition:
1. Negligence – maybe an accident will occur (Rashi) that prevents the building of the new synagogue.
2. No place to pray – in the meantime there won’t be anywhere to pray.
The Shulchan Aruch (152) rules like the first reason, therefore it would be prohibited even if there was another place to pray.
The Mishnah Berurah (5) says that when there is another synagogue in town that can fit the entire congregation, the Taz permits its destruction, but the Magen Avraham is stringent.
The Biur Halachah explains that one can rely on the Taz since we are only dealing with a Rabbinical prohibition, and many Rishonim allow the synagogue to be destroyed, even according to the first reason, when there is an established synagogue to pray in; not just a place to pray (Tosfos). Based on this, a synagogue may be destroyed in order to rebuild, so long as there are other synagogues in the community that can hold all the members of the one that is rebuilding.
The Gemora says that the entire prohibition only applies when the synagogue is in good condition, but if it starting to decay and therefore not functional in its present state, one can destroy it to build another.
The Gemora also says that the only Bava ben Buta gave Hurdus advice to destroy the Beis Hamikash in order to rebuild it because they began to see cracks there.
The Mishnah Berurah (2) proves from here that even if the intent is to make a much nicer synagogue, it is forbidden, so long as the first one is still functional.
However, the Taz (quoted in M.B. 9) is liberal about the definition of “rotting.” The Taz holds that when the first synagogue is too far from where the community lives, such as outside the wall of the city, “there is no greater crack than this,” and it can be rebuilt in a more appropriate location. Similarly, Tosfos explains that a summer synagogue in winter or vice versa, can qualify as a “crack,” and it may be destroyed.
It is important to note that the entire issue of destroying a synagogue is only considered a Rabbinic prohibition because it is being done for constructive purposes, i.e. to rebuild another in its place or elsewhere. However, when the synagogue is being destroyed for a destructive purpose, it is a Biblical prohibition, at the Mishnah Berurah (11) points out that it is derived from the verse: One should not do this to Hashem, your G-d.
The Biur Halachah explains that this not only applies to items that are attached to the ground, but even destroying movable items, such as the bimah and amud are Biblical prohibitions.
The Maharam Padawa allows the removal of the tangible items from the synagogue, and it is not a violation of this prohibition, since it is not destroying the actual structure (unlike the removal of bricks).
Ariach and Levainah
By: Reb Binyomin Adler
The Gemora cites a Mishna, which states that the beam has to be wide enough to support an ariach, a half-brick. We find that the term ariach is used in other instances, i.e. by the Shiras Hayam, the Song sung by the Jewish People at the Red Sea. There the Gemara mentions that the Shirah is written ariach al gabei levainah, a half-brick on top of a full brick, which means that one line of the Song is written like a half-brick, and the line beneath it is a full brick. We can interpret the terms ariach and levainah homiletically. A half-brick symbolizes that a person’s heart should be contrite and broken, and by demonstrating sincere remorse for one’s transgressions, Hashem will grant him atonement, as the word levainah connotes atonement. The word lavan, which is closely associated to the word levainah, means white, and white reflects atonement.