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Friday, 8 August 2014

Megashuls vs. Shtiebels

Megillah 27

There’s a classic story of the fellow who is finally found on a desert island years after he has gone missing at sea.  One man, one island, but two synagogues.
“Why two synagogues, mate?” they ask him.
“One that I pray at,” he replies, “and the other’s the break-away shul that I wouldn’t step foot in.”

Thank G-d today we have an educated Jewish laity like never before, which for the most part is wonderful.  One of the not-so-wonderful effects of an educated laity, however, has been what has been dubbed the 'Shtiebelization of Orthodoxy'.  

Why go to the big shul when you can just start your own on your block?  We all know how to daven (lead services).   We all know how to layn (read Torah).  Who needs big shuls anymore?

The previous Mishnah taught that one may not sell a synagogue and use the funds to purchase a less holy public institution, such as a town hall.

Our Mishnah states: We may not sell a public synagogue to a private individual, because that would decrease its holiness – this is the opinion of Rabbi Meir.  They said to him, “If that’s the case, we should likewise not be permitted to sell from a large city to a small city!”

The Gemara exclaims, “The Rabbis make a good point to Rabbi Meir!”
Rabbi Meir, however, would answer, “The difference is if you transfer a synagogue from a large city to a small city, it was originally sanctified, and now it is still sanctified.  But transferring it from the public to a private individual would remove its sanctity!”
To this remark, the Rabbis would respond, “If you are going to be concerned about reducing its sanctity, then you should also be concerned for the words of King Solomon, “With a multitude of people, the King is glorified” – the more people that pray together, the more we honour the King of kings.

The plethora of options when it comes to prayer is unparalleled in recent history. And you should daven where you feel most inspired.  But we shouldn’t just be opening up shuls and shtiebels (little shuls) on a whim.  We add to G-d’s glory when we pray altogether.  The more people you pray with, the more you glorify Him. 

You might not be best friends with everyone in the shul.  You might have different opinions with the vast majority of people.  But if you want to honour the Almighty, put those differences aside and find the “multitude of people” to pray with!  Ultimately, we yearn for the day when we can all pray together in the third and final Holy Temple in Jerusalem!

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