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Recently, my congregation moved into a temporary space while a new building is under construction. This space is essentially a single large room into which all the various elements of the old building have been moved: a sitting area, a kitchen, a classroom, and a synagogue. The classroom in the old building had pictures of gedolim, but now they are obviously in the single gigantic room that constitutes the synagogue's space. The pictures are not on the wall that the aron kodesh is on, but if you are in the women's side, then you are facing one such picture, and on the men's side a few pictures are behind you. This would appear to not be permissible, but when I asked the rabbi about it, he said that "the shul only extends to here" (gesturing to an invisible line on the floor).

This is clearly a case of oneis and the particulars would have to be examined by a rav, but in general, is the halakha that one can make such a declaration and obviate the halakha or possibly minhag to not have pictures of humans or animals in the room where one prays? Does the oneis matter in this case?

  • Similar: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/31486 – msh210 May 21 '14 at 20:49
  • I attended a synagogue where I seem to recall a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe hung in the Bais HaMedresh with an Aron Kodesh only feet away. The rabbi made a point of saying that if a person left the room temporarily during davening, he could not be counted towards the minyan and if we just had a minyan, we'd have to wait for him to return. This may be different than the OP's situation since the Bais Medresh was a distinct room with doors. Interestingly, the main sanctuary had light boxes depicting the Jewish months and zodiac which the rabbi personally told me he was none too happy about.. – JJLL May 25 '14 at 2:11
  • ...but it didn't stop us from praying. The point I am trying to get across is that there appears to be circumstances that a picture of a person or even the zodiac does not prevent one from prayer but if a person leaves the prayer area but is still in the building is not counted as a part of the minyan. Having a single open space as is the case of the OP suggests that the hanging pictures should be less of a problem since it's in a mixed use space. In addition, anyone within the area, even if eating a meal let's say in the dining area would still be counted as part of the minyan. – JJLL May 25 '14 at 2:18
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If I understood the sugya correctly, the way a shul becomes 'kadosh' is by the action of designating it a shul (similar to other kinds of hekdesh, where there is a mekadash), it doesn't happen automatically (which is why we can have something like 'the shuls of bavel are kodesh al t'nai' [paraphrasing a halacha which says that the shuls in bavel, meaning out of Eretz Yisroel, are kodesh on condition that when they cease to be a shul (or get destroyed, I forget the exact case) the hekdesh ends and they are no longer holy]). If this is correct, that it becomes a shul by your actions, and not automatically, and it is also true that you can even make tenoim (conditions) about it, then I think it would follow that you can limit it and say it is only kodesh until here and not further.

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