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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What is a Shul?

"Any location that is populated by ten Jews is obligated to appropriate a house where they can congregate for prayer whenever it is time to pray. This place is called a Beis Hakneses.” (Rambam, Mishna Torah, Laws of Prayer, Chapter 12)

Residents may force each other to build a shul and (according to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch) fine them if they do not help make the Minyan.

The main criteria for Beis Hakneses is community involvement.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Each Jew needed to donate at least half a Shekel to the building of the Mishkan, and these half-shekels were melted down to create the Adanim – the Base of the Mishkan. The strength of the Beis hamikdash came from it’s status as Tel Piyos – The Mountain toward which everyone prayed, and the daily Tamid needed to be financed by the Jewish people as a group. If a city was late in submitting it’s share of the Machazis Hashekel, the Bais Hamikdosh would put out money. The show could not go on without them.

To be sure many special men (and women) have single-handedly built shuls. Some of the most beautiful minyanim I have attended have been in private homes. Many Tzadikim daven at minyanim in their homes and today’s Kiruv movement is all about one community building a shul for another. But those shuls need to be sure that they have the cooperation and “$18” support of all of their congregants too – otherwise they are just a Minyan and not a “Beis Haknesses”. (Mishna Berura in OC 687)

Reb Yehuda Hanasi, author of the Mishna, had a yeshiva with hundreds of students. When Purim came he would close his Yeshiva and direct all of his students to the local shul where they could hear the Megilla. In Geonic times when many people would gather a Minyan in their homes on Purim and read the Megila for their friends and family, the Hagahos Ashri cited Rebi’s practice: If Reb Yehuda Hanasi left his Yeshiva to go to shul, we should certainly leave the coziness of our homes to hear the Megila in a Beis Hakneses.

I love walking into Shuls that were built during the Depression. Where did they find the money to build those buildings? And what about the immigrants from Europe after World War II - How did they manage to put up those shuls that we pass every day? To paraphrase Rabbi Berel Wein, they understood that they needed a Beis Haknesses and not a Base-ment.

“Any location that is populated by ten Jews is obligated to prepare a house where they can congregate for prayer whenever it is time to pray. This place is called a Beis Hakneses.”

(Note: I have been to several shuls lately. They were all great. With the exception of one gathering of snowed-in tzadikim on a Friday night , they were all bona fide Batei Knesios, Kein Yirbu)

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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at