Thursday, December 31, 2015

Gertrude Hirschler

"Gertrude Hirschler was a translator and editor of literary works, and was the leading translator of the works of the nineteenth century German rabbi, Samson Raphael Hirsch. The collection primarily consists of materials relating to Hirschler's publishing career, containing her publishing correspondence, as well as manuscripts, articles and miscellaneous writings by other authors that were sent to Hirschler for editing or translating. There is also a small amount of personal materials and original writings by Hirschler."  Papers at YU


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Linked Post: The Mistake of One-Stop Torah Shopping BY YITZCHOK ADLERSTEIN

"Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski penned an important observation about seeking guidance in meta-halachic and hashkafic areas in particular. They are preserved in a footnote to Shiurei Daas (of Rav Gifter zt”l), pg. 83. R. Chaim Ozer wa asked to comment about his own view on the dispute between R. Samson Raphael Hirsch and R. Selig Ber Bamburger regarding the proper stance to take to Reform Judaism. (R. Hirsch was the architect of austritt, the idea that traditional Jews were required to walk out of the until-then unified Jewish collective, after Reform had made it clear that it was cutting its umbilical chord with halacha. R. Bamburger strongly disagreed, maintaining that it was essential to keep a single strong Jewish front in its dealings with the non-Jewish world.) He first cautions the reader that the question is not a classic halachic one that is answered through the capable analysis of shas and poskim. Rather, the question could only be addressed by a clear perception of the situation and a sense of what methods would be most effective in facing the challenges to tradition. The positions of the the two German luminaries did not owe to their different understandings of established halacha, but to their different essential outlooks and their different personal approaches to avodas Hashem. The following is a free translation of the next lines:

"This outlook is most clear to the chacham who understands the local situation, and who lives in that region and kehilla. He knows the natures of the people of the community in all their details, and is connected to them on multiple levels. He who takes responsibility for supervising their ways has the penetrating eye to properly weigh the spiritual issues that confront them, and to anticipate the impact of developments upon the future. For this reason, it appears to me, they did not take this weighty question to the preeminent Torah luminaries of their day, recognized throughout the reaches of our community, sages like the Malbim, R. Yisrael Salanter, the Maharil Diskin, R. Yitzchak Elchanan, the gaonim of Israel and Galicia. This was not a question that would be best addressed through sources in Shas and poskim, but through proper analysis and an appropriate and clear perspective. Those distant from the location of the question could not involve themselves in the determination; they had to rely on the righteous rabbis at the local level…

"[Rav Gifter continues:] The words of our teacher are fundamental in understanding the difference between matters that require a precise halachic determination, and matters that require the clear perspective of Daas Torah. In our lowly generation we have moved away from this distinction. We suffer from internecine conflict and hatred whose root cause is the blurring of the distinction between these two areas of decision-making."

read full post

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Off Topic? The Economy and the Shrinking Middle Class

This may seem off topic but I think it's such important information that I'm going to post it. If there's a connection it's that Torah Im Derech Eretz is difficult to maintain without a dignified lifestyle. And the shrinking incomes and expanded work pressures make TIDE very difficult.

This is written by  for a really incredible economics blog by the former head of the President's budget office:

"The Pew Research Center’s recent report The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground: No longer the majority and falling behind financially made a media splash, as it reported that less than 50% of adults are members of the Great American Middle Class.
My analysis suggests that by more qualitative measures, no more than a third of U.S. households qualify as middle class: claiming 49% of the nation’s households are still middle class is a gross exaggeration."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Torah Im Derech Eretz Television: Meeting of Minds

Television is something of a bad word in the frum world. However, once upon a time there was some quality and uplifting programming. Evidence the show Meeting of Minds, description from Wikipedia:

"Meeting of Minds is a television series, created by Steve Allen, which aired on PBS from 1977 to 1981.
The show featured guests (played by actors) who played significant roles in world history. Guests would interact with each other and host Steve Allen, discussing philosophy, religion, history, science, and many other topics. It was conceptually quite similar to the Canadian television series Witness to Yesterday, created by Arthur Voronka, which preceded Meeting Of Minds to the air by three years.
The series was filmed at television station KCET in Hollywood, California. As nearly as was possible, the actual words of the historical figures were used. The show was fully scripted, yet the scripts were carefully crafted to give the appearance of spontaneous discussion among historic figures."

Guests included:PlatoSocratesAristotleThomas Aquinas, Marie AntoinetteFlorence NightingaleThomas PaineFrancis BaconThomas JeffersonVoltaireDaniel O'ConnellCatherine II, and Oliver Cromwell.[5]"
If there's such a thing as TIDE television, this is it.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tiferes Tzvi Newsleter

ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים שבע עשרה שנה ויהי ימי יעקב שני חייו שבע שנים וארבעים ומאת שנה .מז ,כח

"יעקב lived in the land of מצרים for seventeen years, and יעקב’s days, the years of his life, were one hundred and forty seven years. (47, 28) פרשת ויחי directly follows the proceeding, without the usual פרשה break. When we consider that the seventeen years mentioned here were יעקב’s only quiet, tranquil years and so can be regarded as the flowering of his whole life, we certainly would have expected to see the account of these years highlighted by a break, marking the opening of a new .פרשה

The absence of his break teaches us that, though these seventeen years were indeed integral part of יעקב’s life as an individual, nationally they were of lesser significance. Precisely his troubled, sad life – the time of testing when, in the midst of a -יעקב like existence, he had to earn the right to bear the name “ישראל” – those were the years that secured יעקב’s eternal national significance. The final seventeen years were merely the conclusion, years of personal happiness and reward.

This also explains the unique wording ויהי ימי. The picture of יעקב’s whole life was a unified one. שני חייו apparently serves to correct יעקב ’s modest comment regarding the substance of his life. His years were not really מגוריו, containing only a little חיים; rather, all the days of his sojourning on earth were years of true living. "

Tiferes Tzvi
A Student Torah Publication of YRSRH
Founded in 1984

posted with permission

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Are All German Jews Practitioners of Torah Im Derech Eretz

No, they are not. For example, R' Binyamin Hamburger shlita of bnei brak, the renowned expert in German minhagim is not a TIDE person even though he like everybody else has enormous respect for R' Hirsch and respects the TIDE derech.  R' Seligman Baer Bamberger, the great German posek with whom R' Hirsch tangled on the matter of Austritt, or separation of the Orthodox from the non-Orthodox community in Frankfurt, was not a TIDE person. I know of numerous WH people who "went Eastern European." I don't think that R' Naftoli Friedler the one time head of the Breuer's Kollel and Rav of KAJ in Monsey was a TIDE person, nor does it seem that the current Rav of KAJ is a TIDE person, even though I know that he respects it. 

I would guess that there are as many non-yekkes who practice elements of TIDE as there are yekkes because the yekke population hasn't been all that large in centuries and the Holocaust knocked it down even further. Most yeshivish schools have a meaningful secular curriculum even in Israel at the younger grades. But is that Torah Im Derech Eretz? I argue that it is not because even much of Eastern European world engaged in some limudei chol. In my mind TIDE has other components including a sense of involvement with host societies - tikun olam and a pursuit of decorum and order. You will find some of that in the "engaged yeshivish" as Professor Alan Brill  terms it but nowhere on the scale of Frankfurt TIDE.

So are there any German Jewish practitioners of TIDE? Yes. Rabbi Dr. Leo Levi, author of Shaarei Talmud Torah (translated under the title Torah Study and published by Feldheim) is a notable example. I know of several other individuals from the Heights and many others around the world.

The role switch between WH people who went Eastern European and Eastern Europeans like me who went German Orthodox is interesting. Of course, I'm not culturally Eastern European. I'm American and as I argue America is a Germanic country. That's why German Orthodoxy works so well for me and perhaps it's the same for you. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Words of a Faithful Man

"I thank Hashem for what he gave me and for what He didn't give me."

Mr. Jack Benjamin z"l, who passed away this November, was born in Germany, endured the Holocaust, and came to America and worked to build a life there. A resident of Washington Heights and the Breuer's kehilla, he was a fine Jew, a gentleman, and a baal emunah. The words I posted above are his.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Audio of Rav Breuer

Once again, I present to you with much joy material that took me years to find. A gracious TIDE Society reader digitized it from some tapes.

Audio of Rav Breuer from from the very first the concert of the KAJ Choir in 1955

Friday, December 18, 2015

Witness to Lincoln Assasination

from the 1954: I've Got a Secret

Film of Rav Breuer

"This film was produced by Manny Meyer Studios for the 1974 Breuer's dinner. Narration by Mr. Jacob Breuer a'h. Original rare footage of the Shul in Frankfurt ("Friedberger Anlage") from the home movies of Mr. Harry Levi (?). INVALUABLE AND RARE.copyright MSM Studios."

Rav Breuer at 8:36 - This is an incredible find. I looked for years for such footage and here it is.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Film Footage of Rav Breuer

I feel as though I might faint. Film of Rav Breuer. It's right at the start. I have been looking for this for years. Rav Schwab, whose footage baruch Hashem we have had for a while, is here too. With gratitude to the Almighty:

from the Breuers 2gether channel on youtube.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cantor Isachar Helman.

From Basel TV a special on Jewish life in Basel, Switzerland. This clip shows the Chanukah candle lighting with Cantor Isachar Helman.

Monday, December 14, 2015

More from Rabbi Soloveitchik on Strict Adherence to Merorah in Liturgy

"Adherence to the exact Mesorah (Tradition) of the congregation was emphasized by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l, who explained that the traditional musical nusach (rendition) provides the proper interpretation for the words of tefillah. Concerning the Yomim Nora’im, Rav Soloveitchik stated: “The Mesorah of the nefesh (soul), of experiencing God, is expressed in halachic terms by the Remo, who rules (אורח חיים תריט:א) that one may not alter the liturgy and tunes used by one’s congregation on the High Holidays. The liturgy and tunes employed by each community affect one’s emotional response to the High Holidays and constitute the Mesorah of the nefesh.“ (Nohoros HaRav, #13)

R' Avraham Gordimer

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rav Hirsch on Grammar, Gender, and Equality

In the word איש and אשה (man and a female man I.L.) lay the guarantee for the equality in rank and mutually complementing calling of Man and Woman. As long as man and woman were איש and אשה there was no need for man to be emancipated from woman nor woman from man, neither could make the other into a slave nor yet into a god or goddess. The first who altered this designation -­ as indeed our sages remark, in no other language are man and woman designated by words coming from the same root and so regarded from the same trend of thought -­ brought it about that one man would yoke his woman to the plough while the other would throw himself at her feet. (R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch, Genesis 11:58)

Note: I.L. is the editor Isaac Levy

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Shabbos Chanukah And The Birth Of The Bais Yaakov Movement - linked article from

By Moshe Pogrow

"One hundred years ago, on Shabbos Chanukah 1915, a single young woman, Sarah Schneirer, attended a Shabbos afternoon women’s shiur given by Rabbiner Flesch, a dayan of the Schiffshul, the main kehillah of Vienna, and he quoted some of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s ideas. Rav Hirsch’s words so impressed her that she began reading his writings, diligently studying Horeb and The Nineteen Letters. Feeling a need to carry the teachings of Rav Hirsch even further, she opened her school in Krakow in 1917, teaching her pupils Chumash with Rav Hirsch’s commentary and giving courses on The Nineteen Letters. In order for the girls to understand his writings without translation, she required them to learn the German language."

continue reading

Friday, December 11, 2015

Rosh B'nei Hagolah

Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky cited in a blog comment:

"In reality the success of Chinuch in United States is the active realization of TIDE. As I heard from R' Yaakov Kamenetzky ztz"l, who responded to an inquiry as to how R'SRH should be titled ,and R'Yaakov said the R'SRH should be called Rosh B'nei Hagolah, for even though in his life time his influence was limited primarily to Germany , "Adank R'SRH there is Yisddishkeit today " "

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A German-Jewish Chanukah in Upper Manhattan - linked article from

A German-Jewish Chanukah in Upper Manhattan by R' Avraham Gordimer

"One of the highlights of Chanukah in Washington Heights is the candlelighting at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ/”Breuer’s”) and the singing of Maoz Tzur by the KAJ choir between Mincha and Maariv. (Please click here and here to view more.) This event, aside from being inherently inspiring, undoubtedly arouses various thoughts and feelings on the part of all who attend."


Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Importance of Studying and Keeping Minhagim

Rabbi Yosef Kalinksy
Minhagim on Chanukah: Dreidel and Sufganiyo 
from from Chanuka to Go
"The students of the Maharil (Rabbi Yaakov Moelin, 1365-1427) offer a chilling story about their teacher in his collection of laws pertaining to Yom Kippur.2 The Maharil was once chazzan in the town of Regensburg during the Yomim Noraim, and decided to insert a piyyut into Mussaf composed by Rabbeinu Ephraim, who happened to be buried in Regensburg. Although the leaders of the town informed him that this was not their practice, he did not listen to them based upon his logic, saying that it would be an honor to Rabbeinu Ephraim to recite the piyyut. A few days later, on Yom Kippur, the Maharil’s daughter died. He understood that this was a punishment for changing the minhag hamakom (local tradition).3 This background provides a remarkable insight into why the Maharil emphasized the importance and centrality of minhagim, and how he became the single most influential and accepted codifier of Ashkenazi practices.

"Writing during the time of the sprouting of the Reform movement, the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839) was a strong advocate of keeping minhagim. He felt that unorthodox practice began by “simply” changing a few minhagim. As such, he called those that change minhagim “violators of the Torah.”4 This remark is based upon Tosfos, Menachos 20b (s.v. Nifsal) — “minhag avoteinu…Torah” — the tradition of our forefathers is considered Torah.

"Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explained that this phrase from Tosfos extends beyond the basic obligation to heed to the minhagim of one’s community. It also applies to the requirement to study and understand minhagim and their origins, just as one wrestles to understand each and every word and halacha mandated by the Torah to the best of one’s ability. It is based on this that the Rav dedicated much time from his shiurim teaching minhagim and their sources, with the same depth of methodology and rigor that he would use when teaching halachic concepts to his students."

read more Chanuka to Go

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Frisian words with obvious English equivalents

brea  (bread)
tsiis (cheese)
miel (mile)
see (sea)

Frisian is a Germanic language found in the North Sea islands, north of Hamburg. It is the closest language to English and that of the early Germanic invaders of England in the 5th century.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Tiferes Tzvi - Vayishlach

A Student Torah Publication of YRSRH
Founded in 1984

יעקב became very frightened, and it distressed him. So he divided the people with him, and the flocks, cattle, and camels into two camps. (32, 8)

"ויצר לו stems from יצר, not from צרר or , צור the usual verbs for denoting trouble or distress. יצר means: to form. Every act of formation entails compression of material into a form dictated by an aim. These concepts are so interrelated that we also find צור in the sense of “forming”: . ויצר אתו בחרט Thus also the noun .צורה Perhaps there is a distinction between צור and יצר in their denotation of “distress”. צר is external limitation of one’s sphere, with the result that one cannot move freely. This limitation does not affect one’s inner life. The opposite of צר is .מרחב ,יצר however, is such a total narrowing of circumstances that one feels powerless to resist, like mere material in the hand of one who forms it. 

That is how יעקב felt when he faced עשו, and that is a condition in which we, too, have found ourselves for centuries, facing the nations of .עשו It is the condition that, in the תוכחה, is called “חמת קרי”, “the fury of chance.” In this condition our welfare, our lives, and our happiness are not the guiding and determining factor; rather, they are dependent on the graces and aims of others, and we must suffice ourselves with the crumbs that
happen to fall from the tables of happiness of other nations. 

Accordingly, ויצר לו means: יעקב felt that he was entirely at the mercy of עשו, who was coming toward him at the head of an armed force. Hence, he divided the people with him into two camps, so that at least a remnant would escape."

posted with permission 
full publication: Tiferes Tzvi - Vayishlach

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tiferes Tzvi Vayishlach

Tiferes Tzvi
A Student Torah Publication of YRSRH
Founded in 1984

Tiferes Tzvi

posted with permission

יעקב sent messengers ahead of him to his brother עשו , to the land of שעיר , the field of אדום .
(22, 4)

"We have already seen why יעקב left his father’s house empty-handed and penniless. Now, upon his return as a man of means – and especially considering that עשו no longer lives at home – it is important that יעקב send messengers to inform עשו of his wealth and explain to him how he acquired it.

"In three words he reveals to עשו all the bitterness and adversity of his past. Being a stranger, without rights, is a difficult trial anywhere. Staying with לבן is likewise a difficult trial under any circumstances. But עם לבן גרתי – to stay as a stranger with לבן – is truly a bitter fate.

"ואחר עד עתה , and not because I was so comfortable there; rather, I was forced to stay there until now. I would have gladly returned earlier. But, until six years ago, I had only wives and children, but not a penny of my own. On this difficult, little to be envied course, through twenty years of hardship, I came to have all that I now possess. I consider it right to inform you of all of this, so that the long period of suffering may atone for the past, and so that my present wealth may be an intercessor for me with you. (R' Hirsch)"

Monday, November 23, 2015

Linked Article: Swaying During Prayer and Torah Study by Daniel Adler

Swaying During Prayer and Torah Study

"It is a well established custom to sway (shukel) during prayer (teffilah) and Torah study.  The following questions will be addressed on this topic:
§     Is shukeling only for teffilah or is it also for learning Torah?
§     What are the reasons to shukel?
§     What are the reasons not to shukel?
§     Assuming one is permitted to shukel, what type of shukeling is allowed?
§     What is the practical Halacha? [1]
Is shukeling only for teffilah or is it also for Torah learning? 
The consensus of the majority of opinions is that one may (or perhaps should) shukel during Torah learning and all parts of prayer (with the possible exception being that of Shemoneh Esrei).  Concerning Torah learning, the commentators say the following:
Ba’al ha-turim, Ex. 20:15, on the verse, “the people saw and trembled” comments, “Therefore we sway during Torah learning (limud ha-Torah), since the Torah was given with fear, terror, and shaking (b-aimah, reses, and zeiah).”

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Only at KAJ

The latest KAJ newsletter contains a devar Torah, a respectable list of chesed activities including those at the senior center, a list of community simchas, a report of the latest father-son learning, including a photo of men in black hats and white shirts, a report on some learning opportunities for women, and a sign-up sheet for a violin concert at the New York Philharmonic. The latter of course includes a bus ride to the concert, which, as a rehearsal, is only $20.

This combination of wonderfulness is only available at KAJ in Washington Heights. Torah Im Derech Eretz and the Frankfurt Kehilla spirit is alive and well.



Saturday, November 21, 2015

Moving Story About Yekke Family

Chaim Walder's People Speak #3, chapter 15 has a moving story about a yekke family in Haifa at the Ahavas Torah, that lost a son in the war in Lebanon. The daughter in law remarried a man named Sachs that encouraged his step son to learn about his father, put a picture of the father by the son's bed, and even took him to the cemetery to say kaddish.

I don't have the time to scan or ocr but just want to let you know about it. It's a great example of yekke derech eretz.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Linked Article: Pinchas Frankel, "And Moshe Assembled"

Parshiyot VaYakhel/Pekudei/ HaChodesh - 5761 


"Va-Yakhel Moshe…,"  "And Moshe Assembled" 

"Parshat VaYakhel begins, "VaYakhel Moshe …," "And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel, and said unto them, 'These are the words that the L-rd has commanded:…" (Shemot 35:1)  The choice of word by the Torah, "VaYakhel…"  is, as always, precise.  It suggests that Moshe gathered the People into a "kehilla," a "community," before he introduced them to the Laws of Shabbat, which help define the community of Israel.         
"I'd like to discuss the meaning of the word "Kehilla" as understood and implemented by three "gedolim," giants of Israel, Rabbi Shimshon Rephoel Hirsch, who molded the Jews of Frankfurt-am-Mein into a "Kehilla," his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Shlomo Breuer and his son and successor, Rabbi Yoseph Breuer,  who in Washington Heights continued their legacy on the shores of the Hudson."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Guest Post: Daniel Adler: Yom Kippur at KAJ

I had the good fortune to daven at K’hal Adath Jeshurun (KAJ – ‘Breuer’s’) this past Yom Kippur (2013); since that time I have debated if I should put my experience in writing. An article in a local publication convinced me that sharing this experience may be worthwhile. Although when it comes to minhagim I personally follow Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger of Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz (MMA-, the differences between KAJ and MMA are minimal and generally nothing to be uptight over. 

Being of German-Jewish descent and involved with MMA, I have wanted to attend KAJ for Yom Kippur for many years and when the opportunity arose I was about as excited for Yom Kippur as one can be. 

As in a typical schul, the paroches, shulchan and sifrei Torah were covered in white. In addition to these characteristic features, the inside of the aron was also covered in white, as was the platform (duchan) in front of the aron and the steps leading up to the platform. Every shtender was covered with a white cloth that says l’shana Tovah. This sets the tone for a very royal configuration.

Supplementing this, most congregants (men, women and children) were dressed in white. For men, this minimally includes a white yarmulke (or kaepchen – a type of yarmulke that is larger than a contemporary yarmulke but smaller than the old Rabbinic yarmulkes) and tie. In addition, married men also wear a kittel (or sargenes – a type of kittel which is closed all around and is pulled over the head in the same manner as one would put on a T-Shirt) and a white-on-white tallis. Single men and boys wear their regular black striped tallis. Although the general rule in KAJ is that only the Rabbanim cover their heads with their talleisim, on Yomim Noraim this rule is relaxed. Some individuals cover their heads at various times while others do not. Hats are not worn in schul during these days. 

Since KAJ follows the old Ashkenaz messorah, teffilas Zakkah, a prayer instituted by the “Chayei Adam” (Rabbi Avraham Danzig, 1748–1820) is not officially recited (although one can certainly come earlier and say it). The prayers of Shema Koleinu (until Amareinu Ha’azinu) and Unesaneh Tokef are similarly not recited. The piyut (liturgical poem) Unesaneh Tokef was instituted for Rosh Hashanah and was never accepted among German Jewry for Yom Kippur.

Before Kol Nidrei, the congregation did not don their tallaisim until the Rav and Chazzan recited the blessing on their tallaisim aloud; the congregation followed suit quietly. A similar procedure was followed before Baruch Sheomar in the morning. 

The piyutim are generally recited according to the intention of the paytan and not according to the manner they are written in many machzorim. Portions set aside for the chazzan are recited aloud exclusively by him; those portions set aside for the congregation to respond with are said aloud exclusively by them. Many of the piyutim have their own melodies which sets the tone for the chazzan and tzibur for that particular piece. 

Most melodies used in KAJ are, of course, of Western European origin, although many of the melodies are extremely old. It is possible that some are derivatives from the time of the second temple. In general, the tunes of German Jewry were composed to the words of a piyut as opposed to using a random popular song. At times, the congregation would sing along with the chazzan, although this was not the rule. In other schuls, when the shliach tzibbur reaches the end of a piyut or various parts of Shemone Esrei, the tzibur will briefly sing to fill in the pause. This does not exist in KAJ. Of course many of the tunes were foreign to me, as can be expected. Many of the kaddaishim have their own special tunes. The chazzanus at KAJ is generally not operatic as some might imagine; these are skilled ba’alei teffilah who adhere faithfully to the messorah during davening and keep the teffilah moving along. 

Just about every piyut in the Machzor was recited, which of course takes time. Additionally, select selichos were recited at every teffilah, including Shacharis, Mussaf and Mincha. The selichos to be recited are chosen in advance; seven selichos are recited during each of these three teffilos. It is astounding that so few Ashkenazic congregations recite selichos as is done in KAJ (and elsewhere) which until about 200 years ago was fairly standard in Europe and still is among non-Ashkenazim. The theme of Yom Kippur is selicha and kapparah and is the day when the 13 Middos were first proclaimed – it is a shame to go through the day only reciting selichos during Maariv and Neilah. Due to this grueling schedule, from the time Shacharis begins on Yom Tov morning through Maariv on Motzaei Yom Tov, there is no break. I thought I would have a lot of trouble adjusting to a schul with no downtime, and I therefore made sure to take my own breaks during the day. This, and the fact that the Kehilla adheres to the printed schedule, allowed me to focus on the teffilah. 

The Kohanim went to the duchan three times; Shacharis, Mussaf and Neilah. Each time they sang a different tune relating to a different part of teffilah. The songs used by the Kohanim were different than anything I have ever heard and the tunes were obviously complicated. The singing was extensive even though Yom Kippur was on Shabbos. The tunes and effect of the birchas kohanim was particularly majestic and beautiful. 

Unlike other schuls, the Kohanim do not leave schul to wash their hands. Two carts are situated toward the front of the schul, each equipped with a silver pitcher and basin. The Kohanim line up to have their hands washed. 

The Shacharis laining was read with the Yomim Noraim tune which is almost identical to the one that is used in most Ashkenaz schuls. This is in contrast to Maftir which was chanted according to the ancient standard trop as practiced by German Jewry. 

The Torah, which during the year is wrapped in one wimpel, is wrapped with two wimpels on all Yomim Tovim. (A wimpel is a cloth used at a baby’s bris which is later decorated and wrapped around the Torah instead of the modern gartel. It is then donated to the schul. Chazal refer to the wimpel as a mitpachas. The mantel, a later innovation, is placed over the wimple. or is pronounced [vimpel] in IPA /vɪmpəl/). The first wimpel was wrapped facing outward so one looking can see some of the words written on it. The second wimpel does not have any words on it. In KAJ, the wimpels are wrapped from the top down rather than the more common custom of wrapping the wimpel from the bottom of the Torah to the top. 

During Mussaf, kor’im was done in a different manner than I was used to. The tzibbur recited the paragraph of V’hakohanim v’ha’am to themselves and everybody bowed upon reaching the appropriate words. The Chazzan then sang the entire paragraph after the congregation had completed their recitation. Before he began, two individuals approached the amud and pushed it away. These individuals then rolled out a white carpet in front of the Chazzan. The Chazzan (E. Lasdun) did not bow like many are used to seeing but rather, to the obvious delight of many, he performed a variation of pishut raglayim, while keeping his hands at his sides. During this time, he continued to sing, which is no doubt a difficult feat. This author does not know why full pishut yadayim v’raglayim is not performed. At the end of each teffilah, the congregation called out, unanimously and in a loud voice, “Yasher Koach!” 

At the end of Nelilah, the shaimos were recited differently than most congregations. The Rav recited HaShem hu haElokim, followed by the congregation. The Rav recited it the first time, followed by the congregation. This responsive recitation continued until the Rav and tzibur each recited the phrase seven times. Shema Yisroel was recited out loud one time by the Rav, followed by the congregation, and baruch shaim was said quietly. This was immediately followed by shofar (one tekiah) and v’hu rachum for Maariv. 

The choir in KAJ does not participate in the actual teffilah – ever, with the exception of Hallel. On Yom Kippur, the choir only sings after Maariv (Yigdal and Adon olam), and when the Torah is taken out and put away at Shacharis and Mincha. The choir adds to the majestic atmosphere of the davening and probably did not extend the service by more than a couple of minutes. 

Even though it was Yom Kippur, people were friendly and welcoming. 

Overall, the entire experience at KAJ had a different feel to it than your standard schul or yeshiva. In yeshiva, for example, the davening clearly centers around the idea of viduy. In KAJ, to this author at least, the davening reflected a certain kingliness, malchus, that is imbued with the ancient messorah of Ashkenaz. This was an experience that I hope to be able to participate in again.

The author would like to thank Rabbi Yisroel Strauss for reviewing and commenting on this article. 

Daniel Adler is the author of an ongoing lecture series on Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s, “The Nineteen Letters,” on OU Torah ( The author can be reached at

Monday, November 16, 2015

They were baalei seder.

But before Moshe, the Am Yisroel were so good that even Bilaam, al corchei had to praise them. Now it states, Vayisa Bilaam es einav. Bilaam lifted up his eyes. Now he wasn't looking for good things in the Am Yisroel. You have to know that. If  Bilaam could have found faults, he would have pounced on it like a fly pounces on a speck on the rotten apple. He was looking for faults. Vayar es Yisroel shochain l'shvatim. He saw Yisroel dwelling according to their shevatim. Now this I'll say in passing although it's not our subject. He saw that they were orderly. That they didn't mix. Everything was done with a seder. Now that's off the subject.  Someday I'll talk about the importance of the orderliness of the ancient Jewish people. The ancient Jewish people were punctual in time. It's a mistake when you say Jewish time. It's a big lashon hara. There's a zman krias Shema and that's the time. You got to be punctual. No fooling around with that time. And other things in Halacha. Oh no, Jewish time is the most punctual, precise time. They were baalei seder.

Rabbi Avidor Miller, True Modesty, tape 412, 42:27.

KAJ in Washington Heights

Sunday, November 15, 2015

More from Quora,com: What Should I Not Do In Germany

"A few things come to mind that I have heard or experienced over the years (others can correct me if these are inaccurate):

Around a woman who is pregnant, do not mention the pregnancy or congratulate her on her pregnancy.  I am told (by a German) that unlike in American culture, Germans do not make a big deal of pregnancy itself, such as by having baby showers, etc., as we do in the States.  If I heard her correctly, it is almost considered rude to draw attention to the pregnancy or to give baby-related gifts or cards before the birth.  Others can correct me if I am wrong but I am just reporting what a German told me.

Also, I am told that Germans consider it rude -- quite unlike in the States -- for one to have one's free hand (i.e. the hand not holding the fork) underneath the table as one eats.  Germans keep both hands visible and above the table as they eat, is what I have been told.  Again, others can correct me if this is wrong.

Another point:  Often, in the States (or at least in the South), when we say "hey, how ya doing?", it is meant as no more than a hello.  We don't need or expect a full answer or even a short one.  But ask a German this question, and expect an answer.  This is most true perhaps when using their native greeting "Wie geht's?"  (literally, "how goes it?")  Germans will tell you how it is going.  They will look at you perplexed if you quickly walk by them saying "Wie geht's?" and walk off before hearing their reply (perhaps congratulating yourself for having given that German a nice hello).  In short, if you mean simply, "hello," then just say, "hello" or, in German, "Hallo.""  (Paul Le, Founder, and


I can't explain it but I completely relate to all of these. As I say often, America is largely a Germanic country and maybe it influenced me. And maybe you too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gerrer Rebbe

"Most interesting is the response of R. Avrohom Mordechai Alter, the Gerrer rebbe. The rebbe did not reply at first to R' Schwab's question, but R. Schwab had the opportunity to meet him personally and asked him the question directly. The rebbe then responded by saying:

כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ

R Schwab was understandably perplexed by the rebbe's response until the gabbi clarified matters for him by pointing out that שָׂרָה is an acronym for Shamshon Raphael Hirsch."

Rav Breuer, His Life and Legacy, Kranzler & Landesman, p. 185, footnote 12.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

From Are Germans content to earn 19% less than Americans in 2014?

Ravi Sharma, 5 years in Germany

Yes , I am content. I reach home around six pm and able to spend time with my son who will never be four years young again.

My manager don't expect me to answer any business call after 6 pm.

I enjoy the freedom of unlimited sick leaves and this saves me from lot of  stress.

My family is insured and any health issues are handled in cashless systematic way.

At work, I am motivated not by money but excellent colleagues who aim for efficiency, optimization, and a serious drive to improve the status quo.

I forgot to say, I am a foreigner here and haven't managed to pick up the language yet, but the system here ensured my integration and provided me with opportunities to do so.

It's not a perfect world, but Germany is focused on doing important things right."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Widsom from the gentiles: Dr. Seuss

"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose.

"You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go."

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

That we may become holy

"Before the person called to the Torah recites his own blessing, the entire congregation is reminded that the Law of God, the Holy One, was given us in order that we, too, may become holy, that it affords us instruction, wisdom, serenity, and enlightenment for all the concerns and desires of our souls, that it seeks to inure us against all temptation and that it is designed to cause us to dwell together in peace by teaching all of us to live in harmony with our God." Hirsch Siddur, p. 186.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Judaism never remained aloof from true civilisation

"We declare before heaven and earth that if our religion demanded that we should renounce what is called civilisation and progress we would obey unquestioningly, because our religion is for us truly religion, the word of God before which every other consideration has to give way. We declare, equally, that we would prefer to be branded as fools and do without all the honour and glory that civilisation and progress might confer on us rather than be guilty of the conceited mock-wisdom which the spokesman of a religion allied to progress here displays....

"There is, however, no such dilemma. Judaism never remained aloof from true civilisation and progress; in almost every era its adherents were fully abreast of contemporary learning and very often excelled their contemporaries. If in recent centuries German Jews remained more or less aloof from European civilisation the fault lay not in their religion but in the tyranny which confined them by force within the walls of their ghettoes and denied them intercourse with the outside world. And, thank goodness, even now our sons and daughters can compare favourably in cultural and moral worth with the children of those families who have forsaken the religion of their forefathers for the sake of imagined progress. They need not shun the light of publicity or the critical eye of their contemporaries. They have lost nothing in culture or refinement, even though they do not smoke their cigars on the Sabbath, even though they do not seek the pleasures of the table in foods forbidden by God, even though they do not desecrate the Sabbath for the sake of profit and enjoyment."

S. R. Hirsch: "Religion Allied to Progress

Monday, October 26, 2015

Linked Post: Succos in WH

"Sukkos is the one Yom Tov when things can get messy at shul. Leaves strewn on the floor, Arba’ah Minim left all over the place, hazards of running into others with the point of one’s lulav… At KAJ, this does not happen. The atmosphere of elevated dignity is retained for Sukkos, as is proper at all times for a shul, as a beis Hashem (house of God). This atmosphere of sanctified decorum also prevents the distraction during tefillah that untidy and disorderly surroundings can create."

A Very Urban Sukkos – A Very Special Sukkos

"Sukkos – for many, it’s summer’s last hurrah. Being outdoors, hopefully in green, lush and warm (or not too cold) surroundings. A pleasant return to nature before autumn really kicks in. A great time to spend away from home, perhaps in a rural environment. (Imagine spending Sukkos at a sleepaway camp or a bungalow colony…) Sukkos is the singular Yom Tov when getting out of the city is truly appealing and really seems like a must."


link from Andrew Schwartz

Thursday, October 22, 2015

YT and YH

Some thoughts from me:

The man without legs is a cripple and the one without a heart and mind is a bigger cripple.

Generally, the yetzer tov whispers and the yetzer hara shouts. If you are given to shouting, you likely are serving as a mouthpiece for the yetzer hara.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

300th post: Anthology of Hirsch's Writings

R' Hirsch published 1000s of pages of writings. If you don't have time to read them all but would like to spend some time on samples of the various types you might want to try the book Timeless Torah. This is an anthology that Jacob Breuer, Rav Joseph Breuer's son, put together in the 1950s. It contains choice excerpts in English of R' Hirsch's commentary on Chumash, Nach, and Tehillim and several essays from the Collected Writings, ie essays that originally appeared in the journal Jeshurun.

The hardcover edition is out of print, but you can buy some old copies on Amazon. However, paperback reprints (that I believe are new) are also available. I'm not sure who has been publishing these reprints - you'll find them also on the German Collected Writings and Pentateuch, but we are most happy to have them.

As a side note, I'd like to mention that this post is the blog's 300th. Now, I know that many of the posts here (mine in particular) are not nearly as substantive as those of many other blogs (On the Main Line, for example) but my goal is to collect all sorts of information about TIDE, Hirsch, and Germany Orthodoxy and to enjoy it and share it. In other words, R' Hirsch and other great German Jewish rabbanim already did all the hard work and great writing and I'm just putting it out there. I thank HaKodesh Baruch Hu for this opportunity.

Friday, October 16, 2015

let us consider how we shall read it

"Therefore, to the Torah! But, before we open it, let us consider how we shall read it. Not for the purpose of making philological or antiquarian investigations, nor to find support and corroboration for antediluvian or geological hypotheses, nor either in the expectation of unveiling supramundane mysteries, but we must read it as Jews - that is to say, looking upon it as a book given to us by God that we may learn from it to know ourselves - what we are, and what we should be in this earthly existence."

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch 19 Letters.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Video of Rav Schwab

Excerpt from "A Very Special Yeshiva," produced by Molly Resnick for the 1988 YRSRH dinner

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Photo Outside Frankfurt Yeshiva in 1936 - from US Holocaust Museum

from US Holocaust Museum

Two rabbis hold a conversation outside the Breuer Yeshiva in Frankfurt.

Dr. Posen, a dayan or religious judge and a teacher at the yeshiva is on the left.  Dr. Moses Breuer, brother of the head of the yeshiva, is on the right.
"Two rabbis hold a conversation outside the Breuer Yeshiva in Frankfurt.

Dr. Posen, a dayan or religious judge and a teacher at the yeshiva is on the left. Dr. Moses Breuer, brother of the head of the yeshiva, is on the right."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

R Miller on Secular Education


It’s a question of limudei chol (secular education).

In Frankurt-am-Main they taught limudei chol in the school of the frum Jews. A man who went there told me once that he learned more Yiras Shamayim (fear of Heaven) from his science teacher there than he learned from his rebbe, because...the science teacher utilized all the lessons to talk about Yiras Shamayim. It’s possible for a teacher to inject now and then certain thoughts in the minds of students that will give them more benefit than what they heard in the mesivta where the rebbe was teaching Gemara and Halacha (Jewish law).

If you’re learned already—you know Mussar, you learn Halacha —and you want an encyclopedia in order to use it to help other people become frum using the information that you might pick up, go ahead and do it. Otherwise forget about it, because you’re not capable of dealing with the Apikorsus (heresy) in these books.

I personally think limudei chol are a good thing if they’re done in a kosher way, because limudei chol leads you to Yiras Hashem if it’s done right. If you’re capable of distinguishing, then it’s alright, but most people shouldn’t bother bringing any other books in their houses, because they’re not capable. Children will read them and they’ll make a wrong impression.

A man once brought me some books. I put them in my bathroom and I keep them there. I get benefit out of them, but he wouldn’t get any benefit from them. (#E-083, Learning to Live Successfully)"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Guest Post - Daniel Adler: Should one Pray from the Bima or the Amud?

Should one Pray from the Bima or the Amud?

By: Daniel Adler

Over the past number of years it has become increasingly more common to find the shliach tzibur (prayer leader) praying from the bima rather than from the amud. This article will focus on the differences between the bima and amud, their specific functions and locations, which prayer services are meant to be recited from which location, and will examine various responsa on the topic.
It should be noted at the outset that this discussion pertains to Ashkenazic Jewry who have both an amud and bima in their synagogues (schuls). Sefardim [1] have a different layout in their schuls in that they only have a bima. This point will also be examined in this article.
Definition of the Bima
The bima is located in the middle of the schul. Beside for bima it has alternative names including ‘almemar [2]’ and ‘migdal’. The bima is generally higher than the ground level of the schul (hence the name migdal or bima, both of which denote height). The main use of the bima is to read the Torah from this location. In, “A World in Ruins” [3], Hermann Schwab (1946, p. 101) briefly discusses the bima:
In the centre of the synagogue stood the Almemar. The origin of the word is disputed. Some derive it from the Arabic Alminbar (pulpit of a mosque), but it is popularly traced to memorieren, and signifies a place for the reading of the Holy Scriptures. The Almemar was a raised dais, in most cases roofed over or flanked by pillars. Of ancient origin, it was carved in wood, hewn of stone or wrought of iron.
In “Makom Shenohagu” [4], a book about the customs of Bechhofen, Germany, the authors (Katanka & Doerfer, p. 44, 2011) describe the bima as follows:
In Ashkenaz, the bima was commonly referred to by two names, each of which was used during different periods. During the Middle Ages and up to the seventeenth century it was known as a migdal, and from about that time right up to the present day (amongst German Jews and their descendents) it is known as the almemar (or almemor, almemra etc.). It is thought that almemar is a corrupted form of the Arabic word al-minbar (the pulpit in a mosque), but this explanation of its etymology has yet to be accurately proven.
The almemar in Bechhofen was typical of its period, the eighteenth century. It stood in the middle of the synagogue, as prescribed by Jewish Law [5]…
This last point, that the bima must be located in the middle of the schul, follows standard Ashkenaz custom. How this differs from Sefardic custom will be touched on below.
Definition of the Amud
The amud [6] (lectern) is located in the front of the schul. It is situated either in front of the aron (ark which holds the Torah) or off to the side of the aron [7]. The amud is the dedicated location from where the shliach tzibur represents the congregation. It was common in the past (and one can find examples of this in modern schuls as well) that the amud was lower than the floor of the schul (i.e., down a step or more). Alternatively, the entire schul floor was situated somewhat lower than street level [8]. The former represents the Polish custom while the latter represents the German custom.
Both of these customs have similar rationales. Having the amud lower than the floor of the schul gives meaning to the verse in Psalms (130:1) “מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה - Out of the depths have I called You, O Lord”. This meaning is represented by the shliach tzibur who is standing in the lower location. Schuls that have the floor lower than ground level (i.e., one takes a step down to enter the sanctuary) are giving meaning to the same verse for the entire congregation - everyone should call out to HaShem from the depths.
Many German schuls, such as the Barn Schul in Bechhofen, had the floor lower than the street. A number of schuls that followed the Polish custom, such as the Altneuschul in Prague, had the amud lower than the schul floor [9].
The Polish custom follows the opinion of Magen Avraham as quoted by the Mishna Berurah (O.C. 90:1:5):
The Magen Avraham writes that today we are accustomed to have the location of the shliach tzibur at a deeper level than the rest of the synagogue. This is based on the verse מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה. [One can find an allusion to this custom in the Talmudic phrase] that states that one must go down in front of the aron [10].”
Regarding the German custom, Hermann Schwab (p. 101, 1946) writes that,
Not far from the Ark stood the reader in a depression in the floor, thus literally realizing the Psalmist’s phrase: “Out of the depths have I called Thee”; unless, indeed, it was preferred to site the whole structure below street level.”
Makom Shenohagu is clearer in this regard (Katanka & Doerfer, p. 44, 2011). While describing the Barn Schul in Bechhofen, the author’s state as follows:
From the vestibule there was one small step (of approximately 8cm [about 3in]) leading down into the synagogue. The custom of going down into the synagogue is based upon the Talmudic dictum: ‘Do not stand on a high place to pray, rather from a lowly place, as it is written: From the depths I call to you God’. In Ashkenaz, the “depths” were symbolised by going down into the main synagogue. This differs from the view of the Magen Avraham that the Chazzan [11] should stand in a specially lowered part of the synagogue floor.”
Height of the Bima
Why should the bima be higher than the floor of the schul? Rav Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger [12] gives ten rationales to explain this phenomenon:
1. One must be oleh l’torah - a person receives an aliyah. The word aliyah, beside for denoting a ‘spiritual lift’, also has a physical representation in that the individual must walk up to the platform where the Torah is read from.
2. The Torah was given on Mount Sinai which was above the nation. Reading the Torah in schul is considered a reenactment of the Sinai experience. We therefore read the Torah from a high location.
3. When Zechariah spoke to the nation, he stood on a high platform so all the people would be able to hear.
4. When Ezra read the Torah to the people in the street, it says he stood on a ‘migdal’.
5. When fulfilling the commandment of Hakhel [13], they would make a bima and the King would read from on top of the bima.
6. In the schul that was located in Alexandria, Egypt, the Talmud states that a bima was in the middle of it so that the person standing on it could be seen by the congregation [14].
7. Rambam states (Hilchos Teffilah, 11) that a bima should be placed in the middle of the schul for two reasons. One is for reading the Torah. The second reason given is that when the rabbi gives his speech, all will be able to hear him since he is in a high location. Furthermore, he is surrounded by mechitzos, walls. These walls, according to Jewish Law, make it that the rabbi is considered to be in a separate domain so that his back is not to the ark. It is considered an affront to the ark to have one’s back turned toward it [15].
8. Kabbalistically, according to Magen Avraham, one may not have more than six steps leading up to the bima. Although this statement is unclear to the author, clearly the bima is on a higher level than the schul floor.
9. Many of the early commentators refer to the bima as a ‘migdal’, which implies a high location.
10. Reading the Torah is compared to bringing a sacrifice on the altar. Just like the altar was high, a schul should have a high bima (Chasam Sofer).
If a schul does not have a high bima, it is still ‘kosher’ [16]. It is clear, however, that it is proper to have a high bima.
Why One May Not Pray From the Bima
The shliach tzibur should not pray from the bima, as praying from a high place is considered arrogant. This is one of the reasons why there is a designated location for the shliach tzibur to pray from, and why the location of the amud, or the schul floor, is often lower. Mechaber, in Hilchos Teffilah (O.C. 90:1) states that, “One who is praying should not stand on...any high location [17].” Mishnah Berurah (ibid, 3) commenting on this says that, “[The reason that one may not pray from a high location is because] there is no haughtiness before God, as the verse states, ‘from the depths I call out to God’.”
Bima Location - Middle vs. Front
A topic that is related to this discussion in an ancillary manner is the argument that existed between Reform and Orthodox Judaism as to the placement of the bima. In short, the Reform movement wanted the bima moved to the front of the schul instead of the center; the Orthodox strongly and sharply rejected such an idea for various reasons. A discussion on this topic is beyond the scope of this essay[18]. One source on this topic however, deserves examination as it is related to the current discussion.
Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger (1798 - 1871), known for his books, Aruch Laner, described that there are separate and distinct places for the chazzan and for reading the Torah. He does this from a philosophical/polemical viewpoint which will further expand on some ideas as to why the amud and bima are separate.
Rav Ettlinger says [19] that a schul has three functions, and each one of these functions is represented by something specific in schul.
A schul is meant to sanctify the human spirit. This is represented by the aron, which is located in the east side of the schul. The eastern side of the schul (facing toward Israel), along with the aron kodesh (holy ark), shows the earthly manifestation of the Divine.
The second purpose of a schul is for prayer. This is represented by the location [amud] where the chazzan stands to lead the congregation in prayer.
The third purpose of a schul is spiritual enlightenment and instruction. These ideas are represented by the bima. The bima should be in the middle of the schul the same way that a seed is embedded in the core of a fruit, as the heart is in the center of the body, as rays emanate from a central pinpoint of light, so to the luchos and Torah were located in the middle of the encampment in the desert. In our schuls, this idea is represented by the bima, where we read the Torah, which is located in the middle of schul. This teaches us the centrality of Torah in the life of a Jew; the center represents equality - all of Israel has an equal share in Torah. All Jews are reminded by this to guard the Torah. In a battle, there is a flag that must be protected; in the same way Israel has its banner that we rally around and must protect - the Torah.
The above is a short summary of what Rav Ettlinger says. All of the ideas described will only work for the bima and Torah which are read from this center location. It is clear that prayer, as he points out, has its own unique location in the synagogue.
Sefardic Custom
As mentioned, Sefardim only have a bima. The entire service is done from this location. The bima itself, which according to Ashkenazim must be in the middle of the schul, will not necessarily be in the center according to the Sefardic custom. In Makom Shenohagu, the authors describe how according to the Ashkenaz custom the bima is in the middle. The authors then add that,
Rabbi Yosef Karo does not bring this Law, since in his own commentary on the Rambam, Kesef Mishnah, he brings a reason for placing the almemar at the western end of the synagogue (a Spanish practice which is seen in the Esnoga in Amsterdam and at its smaller sister congregation in Bevis Marks in London, and typically found in many Italian congregations)” (Katanka & Doerfer, p. 44, 2011).
Both of these schuls follow Spanish-Portuguese minhagim. Since Rambam says the bima must be in the middle, and Rav Karo disagrees, this is bound to cause divergent customs among Spanish Jewry.
Responsum Relating to Praying from the Amud
Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyomin Sofer (1815-1871) in his work K’sav Sofer (O.C. 19) discusses the issue of praying from the bima versus the amud in great detail. The following is a translation/paraphrase of some portions of his responsum.
You (the questioner) describe a schul where the Sha”tz stands on the bima to represent the congregation. However, you are concerned that this is an incorrect practice considering that the Magen Avraham writes that the shliach tzibur should stand at a lower location than the rest of the schul
You should know that the Magen Avraham finds a reference to the custom of the shliach tzibur standing at a lower location from a common phrase used in the Talmud. The phrase is that one should go down before the ark. The implication of this saying is that the shliach tzibur is standing in a physically lower location in front of the ark than the rest of the schul.
I, in my humbleness, have also found a reference to this custom based on the Talmud in Brachos… The Talmud states that, “one should not stand in a high location to pray, but rather one should stand in a low location to pray”. This Talmudic saying is troublesome. Why should the Talmud have to tell us both statements? The Talmud did not need to write that one should stand in a low location as it has already told us not to pray from a high location!
I believe the answer is as follows. If the Talmud would have only written not to stand in a high location to pray, I would have thought that there is no specific rule that states that I must pray from a low location. The Talmud therefore had to spell out for us that one should pray from a low location. This is important as when one is praying it is insufficient to only show that he is not haughty by making sure not to pray from a high location. Rather, a person should actively show that he has extra lowliness before God…
Why doesn’t the Talmud just state that a person should pray from a low location? There is a distinction between these two injunctions. The fact that one may not pray from a high location - this is an actual Law as there is no haughtiness before God. The statement, however, that one should pray from a low location is not a Law - rather it is a nice gesture to show extra lowliness before God.
This is why the Talmud writes the statement twice, “One may not pray from a high location,” this is the Law. “One should pray from a low location,” this is a nice thing to do but is not a binding injunction…
According to our understanding of the Magen Avraham’s custom, we must ask why this idea only applies to the shliach tzibur. In reality, every individual should pray from a low location to show his own humbleness [20]. The reason that we are not careful for this is that it is simply not practical to have a schul that has a tiered floor; every place would need to have a higher and lower location next to it [21]. However, we are careful that the shliach tzibur should be in a low location. The effect of this is that the tzibur now sees their representative is showing his personal humbleness and humility which will in turn cause the congregation to have humbleness and humility during prayer [22]...
If one was standing on the bima prior to praying, even if he never intended to pray in a high location, he should come down from the bima for davening. Certainly one should not purposely go to the bima to pray. (It is possible that this rule of not praying in high location would even apply to a place which is just slightly higher than the floor [23]). One can certainly extrapolate from this situation using a fortiori argument to show that it is wrong for the shliach tzibur to specifically go to the bima intentionally to daven from there. A person who specifically goes to a high location to pray is showing the absolute height of haughtiness – and in a public manner!
If a schul is very large, Bais Yosef is of the opinion that, for acoustical reasons, the schliach tzibur may daven from the bima. According to Bais Yosef, this is only true in a situation where it would otherwise be impossible to hear the shliach tzibur if not for his standing in a high location. If it is possible to hear his voice from the amud, but his voice would be stronger and more easily heard from the bima, even Bais Yosef would not permit the chazzan to stand on the bima [24]. The Talmud is Succah (51b) records [25] that the schul in Alexandria, Egypt placed the schul chazzan [26] on the bima to wave a flag. The purpose of this was to let the congregation know that it was time to answer amen. Rashi states that the shliach tzibur was standing at the amud. Due to the size of the schul, many were not able to hear the shliach tzibur and they did not know when to answer amen. One sees from here that they never even considered placing the shliach tzibur on the bima. It is difficult to say that if the shliach tzibur would have been on the bima that his voice still would not have been heard. Those that were closer to the shliach tzibur heard his blessing and the amen would travel back through the schul… Both Rashi and Tosefos are of the opinion that they never wanted to place the shliach tzibur on a high position so the congregants would be able to hear the blessings of the shliach tzibur [27]. Certainly in the situation that you (the questioner) are describing, one should not place the shliach tzibur on the bima just so his voice is louder and more powerful…
Those that Say One May Pray from the Bima
Are there opinions that allow one to pray from the bima? As quoted above, Bais Yosef permits one to daven from the bima in a situation where it would otherwise be impossible to hear the shliach tzibur in various schul locations.
Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich in his book, “Contemporary Halakhic Problems,” [28] (Volume 1, p. 65-67) discusses various possibilities. Avudraham quoting the Jerusalem Talmud [29] states as follows,
From this incident in the Jerusalem Talmud we are accustomed to have the shliach tzibur stand [on the bima [30] in order that the congregation should be able to hear and to allow those who are uneducated to fulfill their [prayer] obligations with the shliach tzibur. Even though the Rabbi’s said that one should not stand in a high location to pray, this custom is good, for otherwise they would not hear on account of the multitudes which assemble in the synagogue [31].”
Two caveats to this. First, Avudraham is also dealing with a situation where there is no other possibility to hear the shliach tzibur. Second, Avudraham and Bais Yosef are both Sefardim. It has already been pointed out that Sefardim only daven and read the Torah from one location. This point, as mentioned in the footnotes above, is particularly confusing. It seems clear that the schul in Egypt had both a bima and amud (at the very least according to Rashi’s opinion. One could argue that this is the basic implication of the Talmud). Perhaps Avudraham refers to the location of the bima. As mentioned, Rambam says the bima must be in the middle of the schul. Bais Yosef disagrees. It is possible that the structure of Sefardic synagogues have changed over time [32].
Another possible leniency discussed by Rav Bleich is related to Rambam’s opinion that was quoted above. Rambam states that the bima is high and surrounded by mechitzos (walls). Since the bima is surrounded, by Jewish Law it is considered its own domain and not a “high place”. There is no doubt that this is halchically true and it would also explain how Sefardim daven from the bima. This explanation would also provide some justification to those Ashkenazim that daven from the bima. However, it most certainly does not fit in with the spirit of the law; one still needs to walk up and the congregation sees their representative in a high location. Many of the reasons given as to why the bima is supposed to be high are not compatible with this explanation. It would appear that Ashkenazi poskim do not accept this view.
The best source that Ashkenazim have to pray from the bima is from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986). In two separate responsa in his work Igros Moshe (O.C. 2:28 and 3:10) Rabbi Feinstein permits one to daven from the bima, albeit that it must fulfill the same conditions laid out by Avudraham and Bais Yosef - it must be that it is impossible to hear the shliach tzibur from the amud. What makes Rabbi Feinstein’s responsa unique is that he takes a decidedly more lenient approach to the entire issue. Rabbi Feinstein states at the end of the second responsa,
...Therefore, I rule that the main place for the shliach tzibur to stand at is before the amud. However, when a large crowd is in schul, and due to this crowd it is impossible to hear the shliach tzibur throughout the entire schul, it is permissible for the shliach tzibur to daven from the bima. This will allow the entire congregation to hear without difficulty [33]. Even in [Eastern] Europe this practice was followed in many large synagogues.”
What May be Recited at the Bima
Which aspects of davening, according to everybody, may be recited at the bima? In short, anything that is not considered actual praying is specifically done on the bima in order to show that it is not part of davening. The following list includes some examples of permissible recitations from the bima.
In some congregations the chazzan either recites everything up to Yishtabach from his seat or from the bima. The reason for this is that from the point of Yishtabach and forward is considered the main part of davening. One source for this can be found in Divrei Kehillos, written by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Geiger [34] (1792-1878),
From the beginning of teffilah until the [end of Yishtabach] the shliach tzibur stands at his seat (literally, ‘stands in his place’). He does not stand before the ark (i.e., at the amud) as one does not go down to the ark until reaching the blessing of Yishtabach. [The reason for this is that] the kaddish after Yishtabach and Borchu, through the remainder of davening, is considered the main portion of the service” (Geiger, 1868).
There are many different variations as to the exact juncture that the shliach tzibur approaches the amud. While most readers are most probably unfamiliar with any of these practices [35] and their various combinations, one aspect of this is probably familiar to many of Eastern European descent. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is common that the shliach tzibur for Shacharis stays at his seat until he says the word, “Hamelech”, from his location, in a loud voice. Only thereafter does he approach the amud.
More familiar to readers is the common custom that in most schuls Kabbolas Shabbos, the service recited to welcome the Shabbos, is recited from the bima. After this portion of the service concludes, the shliach tzibur proceeds to the amud for Borchu. The reason for this is that Kabbolas Shabbos, is not part of davening per se. In schul, we explicitly show this by reciting Kabbolas Shabbos from the bima. Maariv, which is an actual prayer, must be recited from its proper location. This is why the shliach tzibur approaches the amud before Borchu. Some sources to show this follow below:
1. Divrei Kehillos (p. 62) mentions that in Frankfurt, Kabbolas Shabbos was not initially accepted [36] for the entire congregation. When L’cha Dodi was recited [37], it was only on condition that there would be certain restrictions; it was recited from the bima to show that it is not part of teffilah, and the chazzan would not wear a Tallis. This specific method mentioned in Divrei Kehillos is uncommon; just about every synagogue today has the chazzan wear a tallis for Kabbolas Shabbos [38]. Further, there is a custom that the chazzan only stands on the bima for L’cha Dodi, as mentioned by Divrei Kehillos, and the remainder of Kabbolas Shabbos is recited from the amud. This custom is practiced among German congregations [39].
2. Rabbi Dr. Elie Munk in his book, “The World of Prayer,” [40] explicitly states as follows (p. 4):
It was pointed out that this festive inauguration of the Sabbath (i.e., Kabbolas Shabbos) was not part of the actual Divine service and it was therefore decided that this group of psalms, ending with מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד, would be recited by the Reader not from the regular Reader’s stand, but from the Bima”.
3. “The Commentators’ Shabbos Prayers,” [41] (p. 27) has a similar comment:
These prayers before Ma’ariv are to be viewed as an integral part of the ceremony of welcoming Shabbos. They are not to be considered part of the Ma’ariv service, which is clear from the fact that they are chanted by the Chazzan not from the regular reader’s stand but rather from the Bima, the table set in the center of the synagogue” (Sender, 2005).
In conclusion, based on the sources quoted, it seems clear that Ashkenazim have two separate locations in schul; an amud for the chazzan, and a bima for reading the Torah and other non-davening parts of the liturgy. In a schul where it is impossible to hear the shliach tzibur without him standing on the bima, Ashkenazim have the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein to rely on. In most typical situations where one can hear the shliach tzibbur, even when difficult, it appears that the Ashkenaz consensus is not to allow davening anywhere beside the amud. Although many synagogues currently pray from the bima, based on the quoted sources, it would appear that this is something that should possibly be reevaluated [42].
The author would like to express his thanks to Rabbis Shlomo Katanka and Mordechai Doerfer (authors of Makom Shenohagu) for their invaluable insights and assistance with this article. The author can be reached at

[1] This article originally had information regarding Teimanim that was gathered from those Teimanim that this author is fortunate to know. It was pointed out to the author by Rabbi Dr. Seth Mandel, that some of this information is not accurate. A future version of this article will attempt to clarify and fix these errors. In the interim, most references to Teimanim have been removed. This author is indebted to Rabbi Dr. Mandel for his information on this subject.
[2] <almemar> is pronounced [alMEmar], or in IPA, /ˌælˈmɛmɑɚ/.
[3] Schwab, H. (1946). A world in ruins: History, life and work of german jewry. (English ed.). London, England: Edward Goldstone Publishing Company.
[4] Katanka, S., & Doerfer, M. (2011). Makom shenohagu: Minhag bechhofen. London, England: Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz.
[5] Rama in Orach Chaim 150:5, based on Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 11:3.
[6] Rav Mordechai Doerfer told this author that in Ashkenaz, no “amud”, per-se, existed until the 19th century and the term is inaccurate. The Shliach tzibbur would use a regular shtender. The term is used here as this is what most are familiar with.
[7] This variation is dependent on custom. Having the amud in front of the aron appears to be the more prevalent minhag (custom). Rav Doerfer mentioned that the more prevalent custom until the 19th century was to have the amud off to the side, although still opposite the aron.
[8] This does not necessarily mean that the floor of the schul was always lower than the street. The point is that when one walks into the main sanctuary, one must take a step down.
[9] These are just examples. Many other schuls can be found that followed both customs. It was pointed out to the author by Rav Doerfer that some schuls had both a lower floor and an even lower location for the shliach tzibur.
[10] The exact phrase is יורד לפני התבה.
[11] Prayer leader.
[12] Director of Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz ( This summary is taken from an audio lecture given in England, February 20, 2007 (
[13] When portions of the Torah were publicly read by the king. This took place once every seven years.
[14] This statement by the Talmud will be examined in more detail below.
[15] See for example, Yechezkel 8:16 and Rabbi Dr. Elie Munk’s, The World of Prayer, vol 2, p. 7. for some examples of this. In short, Rav Munk discusses turning toward the aron after bowing at the end of L’cha Dodi. Another example is that Kohanim always kiss the ark after blessing the people. The concept of not having ones back to the aron was so obvious to previous generations that Conor Cruise O’Brien, in his book, “The Siege - The Saga of Israel and Zionism” (1986), relates the following incident with regard to one of Herzl’s first public speeches (p. 73): “On his way back, Herzl addressed the congregation in the synagogue at Sofia (June 30, 1896). As his diary records: ‘I stood on the altar platform. When I was not quite sure how to face the congregation, without turning my back to the Holy of Holies, someone cried: ‘It’s all right for you to turn your back on the Ark, you are holier than the Torah.’” It is well known that Theodor Herzl was from an assimilated family and knew little about Judaism - yet this concept was even obvious to him! It is astounding that there are few congregations that are concerned for this today. According to Rav B.S. Hamburger, Polish Jewry was generally lax with regard to having ones back to the aron.
[16] It is especially common that a small schul or bais medrash will only have a shulchan, a table in the center of the room used for reading the Torah.
[17] This is difficult. Sefardic custom is specifically to daven from the bima, which is a high location! Some answers to this difficulty will be offered below.
[18] Many responsa have been written on this topic. See for example: Chassam Sofer O.C. v. 1, 28; Seridei Aish v. 2, 154 (Mosad HaRav Kook); Igros Moshe O.C. v. 2, 41-42.
[19] The following consists of both a partial paraphrase and direct quotations from Dr. Judith Bleich’s book on Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger, Jacob Ettlinger, his Life and Works. The Emergence of Modern Orthodoxy in Germany (1974) p. 154.
[20] This is the German custom.
[21] Such a possibility would exist in a schul built like a stadium - each level is progressively lower than the level that precedes it. A floor like this is sometimes found in the women’s section if it is a balcony. Rav M. Doerfer, in an article in Yerushaseinu, v. 7 (השתלשלות מנהגי סדרי הישיבה בבתי כנסת: מישיבה לארבע קצוות ביהכ"נ עד ישיבה שורה לפני שורה), points out that such a setup was found in ancient schuls in Israel.
[22] As pointed out earlier, much of this is a paraphrase and not an exact translation. K’sav Sofer is railing on the German custom. To explain the two customs: according to the German custom, everybody is standing at a low level. However, this is only recognizable when one enters the sanctuary. Once inside, there is no distinction between the congregation and their representative. The positive of this is that every individual is physically in a lower place. The negative is that when the congregation is praying, it is no longer recognizable. According to the Polish custom, only the representative of the congregation stands in a low location. The positive is that everybody is always cognizant that their representative is in a low location. The negative is that the tzibur is never physically on a lower level. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim.
[23] Usually something under three tefachim in height is considered part of the floor. K’sav Sofer says that this is not necessarily the case by teffilah.
[24] Again, considering that Sefardic custom is only to daven from the bima, this is difficult. Answers to this difficulty will be proposed later.
[25] This schul was exceptionally large. In order to give an idea as to how large this schul was, the Talmud relates that it sometimes had, “double the amount of individuals who left Egypt inside at one time.” (Presumably, this is a hyperbole as that number would have been several million individuals). This story is recorded in three different locations; the Babylonian Talmud, Jerusalem Talmud and the Toseftah. The Babylonian edition relates that a wooden bima was in the middle of the schul and the chazzan of the schul would stand on it. When ‘he’ would reach amen, the chazzan would wave his flag and the congregation would answer amen. This was done due to the schul’s size; not everybody was able to hear the shliach tzibur. There is an argument among the commentators as to who the ‘he’ is referring to. According to Rashi, the chazzan was the shamash (sexton) and the ‘he’ refers to the shliach tzibur who was standing at the amud in the front of the schul. Tosefos HaRosh quotes Aruch in the name of Rabbeinu Nissim that the ‘he’ and the chazzan are one and the same - but the case has nothing to do with praying. Rather, they were reading from the Torah. Tosefos HaRosh also quotes Rabbeinu Shemuel who seems to understand the Talmud in line with Rashi. The Jerusalem Talmud clearly records that the incident revolved around Torah reading.
[26] The word ‘chazzan’ has multiple meanings. It often refers to the shliach tzibur. It can refer to someone in charge of something. In this case, according to K’sav Sofer’s understanding, the word ‘chazzan’ refers to the schul shamash.
[27] It is difficult to know if K’sav Sofer intends this as a proof for or against Bais Yosef’s position. In the beginning, it appears that he is citing this incident as a proof. His conclusion however, seems to say that one should not even be able to move to the bima in a situation where parts of the congregation can not hear at all.
[28] Bleich, J. D. (1976). Contemporary halakhic problems: Library of jewish law and ethics. (Vol. 1). Ktav Pub Inc.
[29] As mentioned above, the Jerusalem Talmud records that this incident revolved around Torah reading - not prayer.
[30] Actually, the Hebrew word used is תבה which makes this confusing. The taivah generally refers to the ark.
[31] This last part is an exact quote from Rav Bleich’s book. One can find the original statement of Avudraham in the two volume set of his works, volume 1, p. 126.
[32] This question was posed to Rav Shlomo Katanka in an email (August, 2013). Rav Katanka responded as follows: “The Teimani Schul of Al-Sharabi had a movable Bima/Amud which is placed in front of the Aron Kodesh for Tefilla. It is then moved to the middle of the schul for Leining. It is then moved back again for davening. Apparently this was the original Minhag in Yemen but more recently a permanent fixed bima was built in Schuls preventing this practice. This is still done in the Temani Shul in Kiryat Sefer. This seems to make it understandable why the Rambam talks about the Amud but the Sefardim do not use one at all! They may have had a movable Amud/Bima.” This theory, posed by Rav Katanka to the author, if true, would answer this difficult question. However, one may still need to assume that there was an amud and bima - i.e., two separate heights. (Of course Sefardim and Teimanim have divergent customs. Furthermore, ‘Shar‘abim’ are not necessarily looked at as ‘typical’ Teimanim).
[33] Rabbi Feinstein’s responsa must be studied to determine if he is only allowing his leniency when it is impossible to hear the shliach tzibur, or if he even allows it if it is to allow the congregation to hear without difficulty. Obviously, one has more leeway if he means the latter.
[34] Dayan in Frankfurt.
[35] Today, it is common to find the shliach tzibur standing at the amud from Birchas HaShachar, the very beginning of the prayer service.
[36] Rav S.R. Hirsch instituted Kabbolas Shabbos in Frankfurt. Until he instituted it, only select members of the congregation would recite Kabbolas Shabbos. Arguments for and against its implementation existed until WWII ended these arguments. It might not be far to say that it is due to Rav Hirsch’s great influence and esteem that Kabbolas Shabbos is now recited by all Jews of German descent.
[37] It is unclear if this refers to the time period when the congregation recited Kabbolas Shabbos, or it is still referring to the time period before it was accepted by the entire congregation.
[38] A notable exception to this rule is Adass Yeshurun of Manchester, England. The original custom is followed that the chazzan does not wear a tallis for Kabbolas Shabbos. (Heard from Rav S. Katanka).
[39] The rationale is that the verses in Kabbolas Shabbos are recited in an alternating manner, akin to the recitation of Psalms. It is therefore considered more in line with praying than L’cha Dodi since Psalms are generally said from the amud; however the alternating fashion tends to set it off from regular praying and thus nobody would assume that this was instituted miyyamim kadmonim, from earlier times. (Heard from Rav Yisroel Strauss).
[40] Munk, E. The world of prayer. (Vol. 2,). Israel: Feldheim Publishers, Ltd.
[41] Sender, Y. (2005). The commentators’ shabbos prayers. Feldman Publishers, Ltd.
[42] How is it that so many synagogues pray from the bima? A number of possibilities exist, although all are far from certain. It is possible that Sefardic minhagim have influenced the Ashkenazi understanding of this issue. Perhaps the Reform movement, who pray from a bima in the front, have influenced some Ashkenazim to always pray from the bima, even when it is not in the front. Another possibility is that architects have been designing synagogues unaware of the Ashkenaz custom on the matter. The most compelling possibility is as Rabbi Feinstein writes. Since large congregations in Eastern Europe were known to pray from the bima, it is possible that many erroneously believe that this is the Ashkenaz custom. Rav Katanka, in an email to this author (October, 2013), said the following as a possible approach as to how so many Ashkenazim pray from the bima: “In London, circa 1725, when the Hambro' Schul began, the chazzan always prayed from the bima. The Great Synagogue (Dukes Place, London – opened in 1791) also davened from the bima. Most other schuls in the United Kingdom (and perhaps even in the United States) followed and copied the Great Schul in London, which was extremely influential; it was even called the most important schul in the world by Cecil Roth in his, “History of the Great Synagogue”, London, 1950. This included both schuls that were large and small. This practice is still standard in the "Englisher" Schul's in United Kingdom. Great rabbonim davened in these schuls. For example, Rav Meshulem Zalman son of Yaavetz (at the Hambro Schul), Rav Dovid Tevle Schiff (at the Great Synagogue), Rav Nosson Adler of London at the Great Synagogue), Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky (at the New Synagogue in Stamford Hill) etc. The list is endless. Even if one could claim that these rabbonim could not change the established custom, they were not against it enough to say anything negative about the chazzan davening from the bima.” This author still stands by his conclusion that the topic should be reevaluated, at the very least in the United States where, as of now, this is in no way a universal practice.
An interesting notion was posed to this author. Perhaps many congregations pray from the bima on Shabbos and Yom Tov since the injunction of מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה, praying to God from the depths, should not apply on these special days. Although such an idea may provide some justification to those who pray from the bima, one must contend with the following facts. None of the sources mentioned in this article state such an idea. (Although it is certainly possible that other sources mention such an idea elsewhere and this author is unaware of it). Furthermore, three sources were quoted above that specifically show that one should go down to the amud - on Friday night! It would seem that none of the above sources would support such an idea.
When this article was sent to Rav Mordechai Doerfer for review (email, October 2013), he sent back numerous points, both directly and indirectly related to this topic. His main comments are included here:
כמה הערות והארות כלליות:”
המאמר מתייחס בעיקר לשאלה מדוע הש"ץ לא יעמוד על הבימה. אבל צריך גם לבאר, מה עניין בזה לעמוד לפני ארון הקודש? ועוד, מה הם הסיבות להעמיד את הש"ץ באמצע? שגם למנהג זה [בלי להתייחס לבעיה שהבימה גבוה] יש מקור, והחשוב בינהים הרמב"מ פ"ט הל' תפילה. ובעניין חשיבות האמצע עי' גם במאמארי בירושתינו. פשוט לי שבמניין מזדמן במקום שאין ארון הקודש [מצוי במניינים בחתונות וכדו'] על הש"ץ לעמוד באמצע, שאם אין ארון הקודש, למה יעמוד במזרח? אבל עדיין לא מצאתי לזה מקור מפורש, ועינינו רואות שאין זה מנהג העולם.
אנסה לתאר בקיצור נמרץ התפתחות עניין מקום הש"ץ בבית כנסת. בבתי כנסת הישנים, בתקופת המשנה, לא מצאנו לא אלממור ואפי' לא ארון הקודש. מסביב לקירות היו שורות מדורגות, כך שאמצעיתו של בית הכנסת היה יותר נמוך, ולשם ירד הש"ץ לפני התיבה – כעין ארון קודש קטן נייד שהכניסו רק בשעת התפילה. בתקופת האמוראים כבר מצאנו ארון קודש קבוע, אבל מלבד זה לא השתנה שום דבר. ארון הקודש ובית הכנסת כולה לא היו דווקא מכוונים לכיון ירושלים, כך שאין סיבה לחשוב שמקום הש"ץ עבר שינוי. בתקופת הסבוראים וגאונים אין לנו מידע ברורה. מה שברור שבתי כנסת של תקופת ראשונים היו נראים כבר אחרת, אבל אין הוכחה מתי שינוי זה חל. בתקופת הראשונים בתי הכנסת פיתחו את הצורה שמקובלת (מלבד השינויים של מאה ה-19 וה- 20) עד היום, כולל החלוקה בין מנהג הספרדים ואשכנזים בעניינו.
עדיין אין הדבר ברור אצלי, אבל יש לי כמה סיבות לשאר שגם בבתי כנסת הראשונים באשכנז הש"ץ עמד על האלממור: ראשית, צורת הישיבה לד' קצוות שגורמת למרכזיות מוחלטת. שנית, שבכל בתי כנסת מימי הראשונים באשכנז שנחרבו אין שום זכר למקום מיוחד לש"ץ מול ארון הקודש אבל יש כעין תיבה מאבן בפינה מזרח-דרום של האלממור [יש בתי כנסת מימי הראשונים כמו וורמיישא ופרג שהיו בשימוש גם בתקופה החדשה ועברו שינויים רבים. מאידך, יש בתי כנסת שנחרבו ונשארו במצבם האחרון עד שנתגלו שוב בימינו, כמו רגנסבורג, שפירא, ארפורט, קלן]. ועי' בפיוט במוסף ר"ה [היה עם פיפיות]: גשים מול ארון הקודש באימה לשכך כעס וחימה ועמך מסובבים אותם כחומה...וקשה לפרש פיוט זה גם כמנהג אשכנז וגם כמנהג ספרד, אבל אם באמת כמו שאמרנו שהש”ץ עומד על האלממור מול ארון הקודש ואין ספסל בינו לבין ארון הקודש שמפריד (אולי מלבד ספסל אחד מחובר לאלממור ששם מקום הרב, כך היה בוורמיישא) אולי לא קשה. כל זה כמובן לא אומר שעלינו לחזור למנהג של ימי הראשונים, היות וכבר נהגו לפחות יותר מ- 400 שנה בחלוקה מוחלטת בין אלממור לבין מקום הש"ץ."