Parashat Terumah 5770/ February 20, 2010
the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
From Crisis to Tabernacle:
“Make Me a Sanctuary”
The Synagogue in Franco-Germany
Dr. Geoffrey Wolf
Department of Talmud
This week’s reading begins with the command to build the
Tabernacle: “And let them make Me a
sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8).
The Sages viewed the synagogue as an
extension of the
Although the plain sense of this verse is that the Lord
will be a diminished sanctity for the people of Israel, i.e., His presence will
be felt amongst them,
nevertheless the expression mikdash
me`at came to be interpreted in the writings of the
Sages as synonymous with the synagogue, based on the Aramaic translation of that
verse in Ezekiel: “I gave them
synagogues instead of my Temple.” This idea
is expressed with more detail in the Babylonian Talmud, “I have become to
them a diminished sanctity: Rabbi
Isaac said: this refers to the
synagogues and houses of study in
What did the words mikdash
me`at, "a miniature
The Jews of Franco-Germany (900-
This special attitude towards the synagogue found
expression in halakhic norms, and even more so in the customs of the Jewish
communities of Franco-Germany. For one,
the idea that the synagogue participated in the holiness of the
More than anything else, the view that the synagogue had sanctity commensurate with that of the Temple found expression in customs based on the assumption that the Divine Presence dwelled in the synagogue as it had in the Temple. We shall make do with three examples:
(1) Upon entering the synagogue, people would bow, as had
been the practice in the
A person cleaning the synagogue floor and taking the dirt outside does not have to bow, for it says, “Bow down to the Lord in majestic holiness” (Ps. 96:9). But after he has already taken out the dirt he should bow… And as he leaves the synagogue walking backwards he must bow at the doorway, for it is written, “He shall then bow low … on sabbaths and new moons at the entrance of the same gate” (Ezek. 46:3). 
The innovation introduced by Judah Hassid was to exempt the
person cleaning the synagogue floor from the obligation of bowing.
His remarks accord with the established
custom of bowing upon entering and leaving the synagogue.
He alludes to a verse from Ezekiel as
providing the basis for this custom. The
same verse is cited in Pirkei de-Rabbi
Eliezer (a midrashic work much
used in Franco-Germany) in order to explain why one had to bow at the gates of
Rabbi Judah says that on the new moons and sabbaths Israel would sit there and see the doors opening of their own accord, and they would know that the Divine Presence was there, for it says, “because the Lord, the G-d of Israel, has entered by it” (Ezek. 44:2). Forthwith they would bow and prostrate themselves before the Almighty. Thus it was in the past and shall be in the future, as it is written, “he shall bow low … on sabbaths and new moons at the entrance of the same gate” (Ezek. 46:3).
(2) Shekhina in the Synagoge
The Mishnah (Megillah
24b) states: “A priest whose hands have
blemishes may not raise his hands [for the priestly blessing].
Rashi, however, interpreted this
quite differently: “Because the
people would gaze at him – it says in Hagigah
(16.1): ‘Whoever looks at the priests
when they are lifting up their hands loses his eyesight, since the Divine
Presence rests on their hands.”
Rashi apparently assumed that the Divine Presence itself
actually hovered over the priests’ hands, both in the synagogue and in the
3) Sefer Maharil (by Jacob ben Moses Moellin), speaking of mourning customs, says:
Also Austrian Jews
sit with him [the mourner] in the synagogue courtyard, just as the Jews of the
This custom, too, originates from Pirkei
de-Rabbi Eliezer (end of ch.
17), and was noted by Ra'avyah.
Hence it can be assumed to have been in
existence at least since the early 12th century.
It, too, is based on the assumption that the
Divine Presence dwells in the synagogue.
Substantiation for this conclusion comes from the fact that Germany
Jewry used the same phrase to console mourners as was used in the
Such a strong sense of Divine immanence in their midst gave
the Jews of Franco-Germany a special experience when they gathered to spend
time in their houses of prayer. Their deep
and sincere faith that “wherever they were exiled, the Divine Presence was with
them” (Megillah 29a) contributed greatly to
the strength of this religious community to withstand times of trouble and
everyday tribulations. The query we saw
above addressed by the Jews of Austria to Maharash of
Neustadt in the second half of the 14th century
(“What does ‘He who caused His Name to dwell’ have to do with our synagogue?”)
marks a decline in this belief, in the wake of the great hardships experienced
by the Jews of Germany in those days, as the Jewish population shifted
eastward. Nevertheless, regarding the
diminution of the idea that the synagogue was actually the
 See Radak, loc. sit.
 This is
treated in my article, “Beit ha-Knesset be-
Knishta, 2 (2002), pp. 9-30.
Also see Y. Ta-Shma,
ha-Mugashim li-Khvod Prof.
Ezra Fleischer, ed. S. Elitzur et al.,
 Compare Maimonides’ remarks in Hilkhot Temidin u- Musafin 3.7; 17.
Sefer Hassidim, ed. J. Wistinetzki
and J Freiman
(Frankfurt am Main) par.
492. Current scholarship generally agrees
that many sections of
Sefer Hassidim reflect accepted norms
among the Jews of Franco-Germany and are not necessarily innovations introduced
 Cf. Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 4.8 (75c), and Tosfot, Hagigah 16a, s.v. ba-Cohanim.
 Cf. A.
Grossman, Emunot ve-De`ot
Rashi’s interpretation caused so much disquiet that an
addition was made to his commentary with the aim of limiting his remarks to the
 Ra'avyah, Part III, pp. 549-550.