כ״ז בטבת ה׳תשע״ז (January 25, 2017)

Bava Batra 3a-b: Demolishing a Synagogue

We commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple on Tisha B’Av and pray at the Western Wall, which is a remnant of the support wall holding up the plaza on which the Second Temple stood. It should be noted, however, that the plaza and the destroyed Temple were not built by Ezra and Nehemia who returned to Israel after the first exile, rather they were the creation of a later king – King Herod, whose building works still stand in Israel 2,000 years after they were built.

What led King Herod to replace the original Second Temple with a new edifice? The Gemara on today’s daf discusses this to segue from another halakha.

Rav Hisda teaches that a beit knesset – a synagogue – should not be taken down unless a new one is ready to replace it. Two reasons are suggested for this:

  1. mi-shum peshi’uta (due to potential negligence) – because the community may be irresponsible and not replace the synagogue after it was taken down
  2. mi-shum tzaluyei – because there will not be a place for prayer.

The Gemara offers a difference between these two ideas – in a situation where there is a different synagogue in the community that is available for prayer.  Even in this situation there is still a concern the new synagogue will never be built.

Another exception that is taught by the Gemara is when the first beit knesset is in disrepair – e.g. you can see cracks in the walls. In such a case it would be permissible to take down the synagogue in order to replace it.

Turning to a historical event, the Gemara asks how Bava ben Buta could have recommended to King Herod to dismantle the Second Temple in order to rebuild it. Shouldn’t the abovementioned rule apply, forbidding the destruction of a synagogue unless a replacement is already standing?

The Gemara offers two possible answers:

  1. The original building showed signs of disrepair, so it was permissible to take it down to replace it.
  2. A decision taken by the king has a different status than that taken by ordinary people, since the king will not abandon his plan.
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