“ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם”
The Zohar in Parshas Beshalach says that building a בית הכנסת is included in the mitzvah of ועשו לי מקדש. The סידור הרב adds that the הארה that was found in the בית המקדש is also with us in theגלות . It is spread out in the בתי כניסיות and בתי מדרשות to some degree.
The Rema (או”ח סימן ק”נ סעיף ה’) writes “ועושין בימה באמצע בית הכנסת שיעמוד עליו הקורא בתורה וישמעו כלם” – A Bimah is placed in the middle of the בית הכנסת where the Baal Koreh stands when he reads from the Torah. This way everyone can hear the Torah reading. The Rambam in Hilchos Teffilah adds another reason – so that everyone can hear when someone speaks דברי כבושין, words of rebuke. The Mishna Berurah brings from the Zohar that it should have no more than six steps.
The Gr”a says that the מנהג to place the Bimah in the middle of the shul is mentioned in the Gemara Sukkah נא: where it describes the shul in Alexandria. The ביאור הלכה says that today unfortunately many places have gone against this early minhag. They started putting the Bimah close to theארון קודש , to imitate the places of worship of the goyim.
The Chasam Sofer (תשובות או”ח סימן כ”ח) says another reason why the Bimah should be in the middle. The Bimah from where we lain the parshas hakorbanos is treated as a מזבח. It is for this reason as well that we circle the Bimah on Succos just like they circled the מזבח. Since the מזבח in the היכל was situated between the מנורה ושולחן exactly in the middle of the בית, therefore the Bimah as well should be in the middle of the בית הכנסת. The מכתב סופר compares it to the מזבח הנחושת which was situated exactly in the middle of the עזרה.
Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l (אגרות משה או”ח ח”א סימן מ”ב) explains that the Bimah does not have to be exactly in the middle of the בית הכנסת rather in middle of theמתפללים . The main reason it should be in the middle is so everyone can hear the Krias Hatorah. Since most בתי כנסיות are never completely full and most of the מתפללים are sitting towards the front, is better for the Bimah to be closer to the front in middle of the מתפללים.
Some Poskim say that it may be moved slightly to the מזרח or מערב if it makes a difference in the beauty of the בית הכנסת. Also many times the balcony of the Ezras Noshim ends far into the shul and if the Bimah was placed exactly in the center it would be directly underneath the Ezras Noshim and they would not be able to see and hear Krias Hatorah.
Reb Moshe zt’l says that even in places where the gabנaim do not allow the Bimah to be placed in the middle because it takes away too many seats, there should still be space between the Aron and Bimah in order that there is room to circle the Bimah. This is according to the reason of the Chasam Sofer mentioned above that the Bimah is like the מזבח which is the reason we circle it on Sukkos.
The מנחת יצחק writes that if the Bimah is right next to the ארון it is considered אביזרייהו דעבודה זרה. It is prohibited to enter such a בית הכנסת for any reason, even if it may cause the person a monetary loss. This applies to both Ashkenazim and Sefardim. Reb Ovadiah Yosef zt”l however says that according to the minhag of the Sefardim that the חזן davens from the Bimah, one can be lenient to have the Bimah in the back if everyone will be able to hear better by doing so. This is based on the כסף משנה in Hilchos Teffilah who says that for this reason many shuls had the מנהג to have the Bimah in the back.
The בן איש חי writes that even if the Bimah does not have steps, it still has a דין בימה for הקפות.[i]
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind
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[i] Sources פסקי תשובות,דרשו