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Parsha Mitzvot: Pekudei: Enforced Synagogue Attendance

The 27th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Shaul (ben Aryeh Leibush) HaLevi Nathanson (1810-1875 or 1878 [Yated]). Born in Brezhan, Galicia, he was married at the age of 16. His father was a descendant of the Chacham Tzvi, the Maharsha, the Rema, the Bach, and Rashi. Reb Yosef Shaul became very close to his brother-in-law, Rav Mordechai Zev Ettinger, and together they authored several sefarim including Mefarshei Hayam and Magen Giborim on Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Ma’asei Ilfas on the Rif, Sheves Achim (responsa), Me’iras Eynayim on hilchos bedikas hareiah, and Ner
Maaravi on the Yerushalmi.

Many years before he became Rav, he founded a yeshiva in Lvov whose purpose was to train dayanim and rabbanim. In 1856, he was appointed Rav in Lvov, a position he held for almost 20 years. Sadly, his Rebbetzen was niftar in 1857. He married one year later but was never zocheh to have children with either wife.

He founded a communal kitchen, and he himself would walk around town collecting tzedaka from the city gevirim. For this tzedaka, he wanted to take an active role.

He is most famous for his sefer Shoel Umaishiv, but he authored many other sefarim, including Divrei Shaul on the Hagadadah, Divrei Shaul Yosef Daas, Yodos Nedarim, Divrei Shaul al Hatorah, and Divrei Shaul al Aggados haShas. He also authored a kuntres entitled Bitul Modaa, in which he argued that machine-made matzos are more mehudar than hand matzos.

The question with which he deals in this response some is a new and rather modern form of an ancient problem in Jewish religious life, namely, how to encourage attendance at public worship.

From one point of view the task was more difficult in Judaism, not because Jews were less prayerful, but for the opposite reason. The obligation to pray three times a day was deep-rooted in Jewish life, but there was a strong feeling that one did not necessarily need synagogue attendance in order to pray.

In the Talmud (Berachot 8a) there is an illuminating difference of opinion continuing among rabbis of a number of generations, as to whether or not it was indispensable to go to the synagogue in order to pray. One Rabbi says that if there is a synagogue in the town and one does not enter into it for worship, he must be looked upon as a bad neighbor. Another rabbi says that although there are 12 synagogues in Tiberius, he prays only in the place where he studies. The law is, also, that workmen engaged in their work could prey on the job, even at the top of a tree.

There were, of course, certain elements in worship which could not be carried out without a congregation of a minimum of 10, such as the reading of the Torah in public, the public kiddusha, and the like. To overcome this difficulty many of the scholars would gather a Minyan in their own homes, where they studied, and would conduct, therefore, what might be described as a private public worship.

Essentially the situation was this: Many scholars considered their study their primary duty; the duty to pray three times a day was incumbent upon all; as a personal obligation it could be conducted anywhere, but since certain parts of the prayer required public worship, scholars often gathered a minyan of their own.

On the other hand, there was concern about maintaining communal worship against these centrifugal motivations. All these mixed moods are reflected in the law as found in the Shulchan Aruch 90:9: “A man should strive to pray in the synagogue with the congregation him and. If he cannot come, let him endeavor to pray at the hour when the congregation is pretty.” To which the Rema adds: ; let the q So with people who live in small settlements where there is no minyan; let them pray at the hour when a congregation prays.”

The old problem of strengthening the public synagogue worship became a little more difficult in modern times, as Jewish occupations in work and in business became more demanding and less in harmony with the normal schedule of the isolated Jewish community. Now, not only scholars, but also businessmen would tend to pray at home, or perhaps a group of them would have a Minyan in a house in their own neighborhood. These changing social conditions are reflected in this responsum of Rabbi Nathanson.

The former rabbi of a certain town had issued a ban forbidding private groups to worship and insisting that worship take place in the synagogue. The question is asked by the incumbent rabbi of the town, who wants to know whether his predecessor’s ban is valid, and whether he can void it.

While the question came to Rabbi Nathanson from a small town, he states that he knows that the situation is similar in large cities too.

Of course, as is generally the case in response, social conditions are revealed almost inadvertently. The main discussion is a technical, legal one, namely, may the Rabbi issue such a Cherem.


Peace to the learned Rabbi Zvi Lippa, rabbi in Grodyczicka:

Your letter reached me yesterday. Your question deals with the fact that your predecessor once issued a decree on the Sabbath during the Third Meal.   Joined within were 10 men, who were not the actual leaders of the city but some teachers of children and young people who were not scholars.  the ban was that no one should pray except in the synagogue or in the public house of study. The purpose of this was that public worship in the synagogue and house of study may not cease.

Many of the members of the community were not in favor of this action, but they were overawed by the Rabbi and they accepted the decree.
Now, since there are men who have not been called up to the Torah more than once every half year because the president dislikes them, therefore, says Rabbi Nathanson, you, the present Rabbi wish to rescind the Cherem.


Now as to what you have said, that the Rabbi could not decree for the future, I do not know why he cannot do so. As for your quotation from the Nodeh BiYehudah (volume 1, Yoreh Deah 68), he, Rabbi Landau, “preaches directly by inspiration,” and I do not know his reason. For if a rabbi sees that he needs to erect a “protective fence” for the Torah and the Commandments, just as in our case here, in order that public prayer should not lapse, since this is a small town, why should he not be able to decree a Cherem which will be obligatory upon the coming generations?

But in our case here, when without the ban the regular service in the study house or in the synagogue would cease, a situation which we observed even in the large cities, and all the more in the small cities whose inhabitants are few, the ban is all the more valid.

As to your statement that your predecessor’s Cherem does not apply on the Shabbat an d holidays because certainly there will be a minyan on Shabbat and holidays in the synagogue and in the house of study, this is not a good argument. For if people will pray in their private public groups on Shabbat and holidays, relying on the fact that there will be a Minyan without them in the communal synagogue, there will be a diminution of the income of the Cantor and other employees of the synagogue, since the people will donate in the house where they pray. In this way, ultimately, the study house and the synagogue will fade away. For from where will they get what they need for their income?

Therefore, your desire that they read the Torah in your house, that too, is not right; for thereby the synagogue and study house worship will lapse, and I myself know this.

But, of course, all this applies if the intent of your predecessor was really a worthy one and in order to prevent neglect of services in the synagogue and in the study house. In that case it was a true “fence” to protect the Torah and it is impossible to annul. If it were not for selfless intent, it is possible to say that it is not valid. But who can know secret motives?

Therefore, please take care not to void the Cherem, for you have not the power to do this.

I am also willing to participate in this matter, namely, that if the entire congregation will tell your predecessor that they all desire that his Cherem be voided, then it can be done through “opening and regret”. If, also, the members of the community will take upon themselves not to allow the services in the synagogue in the study house to lapse and if, also, you will cease quarreling on the subject of who is called up to the Torah, then certainly your predecessor will void this Cherem.

May He who makes peace, grant you peace.

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