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Synagoge to hotel


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Tevet 27, 5770
I heard from my friend in Poland - that they want to change building of former synagoge into hotel - or blow it up and built there new hotel... Synagoge in Poznan was one of the most beautiful synagoges in Europe. During the war Nazis rebuilt it into swimming-pool. After the war some preyers had place there (the last mincha had place there in january 2009)... even for short time there was sefer Torah... but now... now it is still swimming-pool. Apart from sentimental issues (members of jewish community doesn’t want this horrible change - they want to renew the synagoge) is it ok - from halachic point of view to put hotel in building or place of former synagoge... The reason of this building plans are only the money - because first they had a plan to renew synagoge, and because of lack of financial support chief of jewish community in Poznan changed the plan for opening the hotel... Thank you for quick answer... kol tuv
Before answering your question I felt that beyond sentiments for the remnants of Polish Jewry, the question is not just a technical one dealing with the changing of the status of a synagogue building, but it has ramifications on the remnants of other Jewish communities and their Synagogues desecrated in the holocaust. I therefore forwarded your question to our Director Rabbi Zalman MelamedShlit"a, who wrote in our Hebrew site that the selling of a synagogue is permissible under certain circumstances. However he also wrote as I felt that there are many variables which only a Rabbi familiar with all the details can answer. Since Rabbi Shudrich is the acting Chief Rabbi of Poland and he can fully appreciate the circumstances once given all the details in regard to your question, I feel the question should be addressed to him. However, in order not to leave you totally unanswered, I would say based on your information that indeed the desire of the community is to preserve the building as a Synagogue as it has been used recently, and the desire is to continue to use it as such and not to turn in to a hotel then it is forbidden to turn into a hotel. The reasons are as follows: There are two issues in selling a Bet Knesset. One is the removing of its holiness which can be resolved when the "Seven Elders of the city" entrusted by the people of the city can remove the Kedusha by selling it. (ר"ן ,מגילה כו). The other problem is the abolishing of a place to pray which can not be solved unless there is another place to pray. So if there is another place to pray a Synagogue it should be able to be sold by the seven elders. However, there is another issue with a Synagogue "of the city." If the Synagogue has the status of a Synagogue of the city, then even if there is another Synagogue it can't be sold. This is because a Synagogue of the city is considered the property of the entire Jewish community world wide and if one Jew opposes the sale, it can't be done. ( Magen Avraham on Shulchan Aruch 15:12) It should be said that even if the Synagogue is defined as a Synagogue of a village which under certain conditions can be sold, it can never be sold as a bath house (pool) since it is a desecration of what was a Bet Knesset. (משנה מגילה כז ב; רמב"ם פי"א הי"ז; טוש"ע קנג ט.) There is the opinion of the Mabit = Moshe b. Yosef Trani (1500 Saloniki -1580 Tzefat, Israel (( המבי"ט בח"ב סי' כ"ח that a Synagogue that is no longer prayed in may be sold. However, the Chatam Sofer (( חת"ס או"ח סי' ל"א differs with his conclusion and forbids the sale of a Synagogue even if it is no longer prayed in. Rav Yechiel Weinberg zt"l in Sridei Esh ( שו"ת שרידי אש חלק א סימן יח עמוד מז ) feared the opinion of the Chatam Sofer and because of his opinion did not allow the selling of a Synagogue in the case referred to him without the agreement of a very prominent Rabbi of his time. The Chatam Sofer writes among other reasons, that sometimes even if circumstances exist which should technically allow the sale of a Synagogue, there are cases in which the mere sale of it will constitute a desecration of G-d's name, since even gentiles respect their place of worship in its destruction. In my humble opinion, this consideration in wake of the holocaust carries tremendous weight. In the case you're mentioning, people are actually still praying there so even if we would not adhere to the concerns of the Chatam Sofer, it would still be forbidden to be turned into a hotel because of all the above mentioned reasons. However, as I began the question should be discussed with all the details with the Chief Rabbi of Poland.
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