Today’s section returns to a discussion of the Mishnah–if one sells a synagogue the proceeds can be used to buy a Torah ark. This implies that the proceeds from the sale of the synagogue retain their holiness and cannot be put to a secular purpose.
Rava says that the Mishnah’s rule that if one sells a synagogue the proceeds remain holy refers only to a case where it was not sold by a group called “the seven good men of the town” in front of the town assembly. But if they sold the synagogue with the permission of the assembly, then the holiness leaves the money and the proceeds can be used for anything, even to buy a bar (you might not want to tell the board about this one). This seems to be a case where the will of the people trumps the inherent holiness of space. If the people wish to sell the synagogue, they have a right to do so.
This story illustrates what we learned above about selling the synagogue in front of the town assembly. In addition, it shows a real setting in which someone might want to sell the synagogue. In this story, the synagogue has already fallen apart and Ravina wants to use the land on which the synagogue once stood in order to plant a field. This contrasts with Rava’s abstract halakhah—one can sell the synagogue even to make it into a bar. Abstract halakhah takes principles to extremes, whereas real life tends to be more nuanced. In real life, a standing synagogue is not being sold in order to build a drinking hole; a field on which once stood a synagogue is merely being used to plant a field.
Hisda had said that one may not tear down one synagogue unless a new synagogue was built. Rami b. Abba, a later sage, wanted to know if that meant that it was prohibited to remove the building parts from one synagogue that was old and use them to build a new synagogue. He thought that perhaps as long as he was in the process of building a new synagogue he could use the bricks and beams from the old synagogue, because it is clear that he won’t be left for long without any synagogue. He asked his question in front of two authorities and both of them forbade him from doing so.
Rava says that one may sell or exchange a synagogue or its bricks for something that is not sacred (secular). However, one may not lend the synagogue out, rent it or pledge it to secure a loan. This is because a sale or exchange would mean that the synagogue is no longer holy. Therefore it could be used for secular purposes. But if the synagogue and its bricks remains a synagogue and it is just used for some secular purpose, then one is making secular use out of sacred space, which is prohibited.
However, this applies only to bricks that have been used already in building the synagogue. If, however, the bricks were merely designated for use in building a synagogue, they are not yet holy and secular use may be made of them. They remain raw material. This is not similar to one who weaves a shroud for a dead body. In that case, merely designating the shroud to be used for the dead body prohibits it from other use. In that case designation has force—it as if the item has already been used in the way that it is intended to be use. The bricks made to be used in the synagogue are more like a case of one who makes thread to use in making the cloth that will be used in making the shroud. The thread is still raw material and the intent to use it to make a shroud is not halakhically significant. So too these bricks are still raw material.
Aha and Ravina disagree over whether a synagogue that the townspeople gave to someone as a gift remains holy. According to one opinion, it does. This is different from a sale, for in a sale, the synagogue loses its holiness, but the money used to purchase it becomes holy. Thus the holiness has somewhere to go. But in a gift, there is nothing which can be used to take away the holiness from the synagogue. Its sanctity is not removed.
The other opinion holds that the giver receives satisfaction from giving the synagogue away and that satisfaction is enough to remove the holiness from the synagogue.
It is an interesting view because it says that an act of altruism (giving something away) is really like a sale—the giver benefits. It’s an interesting concept that appears in several places throughout the Talmud.
Today’s section discusses what religious items must be put away in a geniza when they are worn out, and which can be thrown away.
This baraita outlines what religious items may be thrown away and what must be stored away. The sukkah, lulav, shofar and tzitzit are items used to perform a mitzvah, but when the mitzvah is completed they are not inherently holy. They may be thrown away. However, anything used around a scroll of Scripture is holy and must be put in the geniza. As we shall see, holiness here is equated with the Torah scroll.
Rava thought that the stand on which a Sefer Torah is placed is not an “accessory of holiness” because a cloth is placed on it before the Torah is put down. This would mean that it could be thrown away when worn out, and that it has no inherent holiness. But then when he saw that they sometimes place the Torah directly on the stand, he decided it was an accessory of holiness and could not be thrown away.
This is similar to the above statement by Rava.
If a large Torah ark is falling apart one can use its parts to make a smaller ark because that is not a reduction in holiness. However, one cannot make a stand on which to place the Torah because that is a lessening in holiness.
The curtain in front of the ark is like a Torah mantle for the whole Torah. Therefore, if it wears out it can be used as a mantle for a full Torah scroll. But to make it a mantle for a single humash, one fifth of the Torah, is prohibited. It is interesting to note that in the Talmudic times they had Torah scrolls that were only in parts. This probably was slightly less expensive.
We might have thought that bags used to store humashim (actual scrolls, not books) and boxes for scrolls are not made out of respect for the scrolls. Rather, they are just there for protection, and therefore they are not “accessories of holiness” like Torah covers. Rava teaches us that this is not true—even boxes and bags made to hold Torah scrolls are considered accessories of holiness.
Some kohahim want to pray in a synagogue, but there was a room off the synagogue in which a dead body is found. The problem is that the defilement of the dead body leaves the room and goes through the synagogue. Rava suggests that they place the Torah stand in the opening for the Torah stand is made of wood and is meant to be stationary. It will block the defilement from entering the synagogue. The other rabbis tell Rava that sometimes the stand is moved even when a Torah scroll is on it, and therefore it is not meant to be stationary. Thus it will not block the defilement. The kohanim are out of luck and will have to wait till the dead body has been removed.
Someone can take the worn out covering of a Torah and use it as a shroud for a “met mitzvah” a body found without anyone to bury it. In addition burying it with the body constitutes its being placed in the geniza. The “met mitzvah” is being equated here with the Torah scroll, both the body and the Torah are powerful sources of holiness.
Rava says that when they bury a Torah scroll it should be buried next to a Torah scholar, even if he is a lesser scholar who can only repeat halakhot. This is clearly symbolic—the scroll is the written Torah and the human is the oral Torah.
Aha b. Yaakov says that the Torah scroll should be protected by being put into an earthenware vessel. This is what Jeremiah instructed to be done with the documents that he had written.
Today’s section contains a very interesting dispute over which is greater—the house of prayer or the house of study.
According to one opinion, it is permitted to convert a synagogue into a study hall for rabbis, but not the opposite. But according to another opinion it is permitted to turn a study hall into a synagogue, but not the opposite. This seems to be a dispute over which takes priority—the study of Torah or prayer. I find it interesting that both opinions are given voice, even if the first opinion is preferred. This is not an easy question and one can make arguments for both sides.