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Taking Center Stage: The Proper Place of the Bimah

Adapted from a shiur by Rav Yehoshua Grunwald on Parshas Tetzaveh

(ועשית מזבח מקטר קטורת… ונתת אותו לפני הפרכת אשר על ארון העדות (שמות ל:א,ו

The Rambam (Tefilla 11:13) rules that we place the bima in the middle of the shul so that everyone can hear the baal korei read the Torah.

Can you ever place the bima on the side?

  • Kesef Mishneh — If the shul is built in a way where all can hear, it’s permitted.
  • Chasam Sofer (28) and Meshiv Davar (15) – The bima must always be in the center:
    • The bima is in place of the mizbeach (altar) since we read the parshiyos of korbanos there.
    • We circle the bima on Sukkos with our lulav the same way as they circled the mizbeach in the Beis Hamikdash.
    • The mizbeach hapenimi (inner altar) was situated in the center of the Kodesh, directly opposite the Aron Kodesh in the Kodesh Kodashim, so our bima should also be in the center.
  • Igros Moshe (O.C. 1:42, O.C. 2:41-42) – Disagrees in principle with the Chasam Sofer
    • Most korbanos were offered on the mizbeach hachitzon (the outer one) in the azara (courtyard), not the penimi.
    • They circled the mizbeach hachitzon with the lulav, not the penimi.
    • Main issue is that everyone should be able to hear the Torah read, and if they can, it is permitted to place it off-center.
    • But he says if possible, comply with the Chasam Sofer even if we don’t understand him, but close to the center is acceptable.
    • One may daven in a shul that has an off-center mechitza, but if there are two shuls, it is preferable to go to the other.   
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