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The Mishnah in Taanis 2 (1) refers to the practice of taking the Ark out of the synagogue into the the town square on the more serious fasts for rain and putting ashes on the ark:

סדר תענייות כיצד:: מוציאין את התיבה לרחובה של עיר; ונותנין אפר מקלה על גבי התיבה

Modern arks come in at least two forms. One is a movable ark and the other is built into the structure of the synagogue.

I do not know of a widespread custom to take the Ark out of the synagogue into the the town square any more. Would it nevertheless be preferable to have a movable ark to remain in touch with the practice described in the Mishnah?

  • I don't recall ever seeing a movable ark in a building designed and built as a shul. – Scimonster Nov 24 '15 at 20:42
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    This sounds like an opinion poll, but I'm sure that's not how you meant it. Perhaps it could be worded so others don't get the impression that it is an opinion poll. – msh210 Nov 24 '15 at 23:12
  • @Scimonster I have, fwiw. – msh210 Nov 24 '15 at 23:12
  • The closest idea I can think of that resembles the "town square" might be what the army does (esp. Israeli army, though, a former U.S. army chaplain told me he did this for U.S. troops esp. during "Desert Storm") where they carry a portable ark to various locations where a few troops can gather to hear the Torah read. I'm unaware that a portable ark would be needed for "regular" use these days, as the Mishnah described. Other than protest rallies, how often do you see Jews gathering at the town square (or "commons")? – DanF Nov 25 '15 at 14:28
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I have seen a moveable ark that a synagogue used in its "chapel" (small room used for daily minyanim). It was on wheels so that they could roll it into other rooms on occasion (like the library) for extra minyanim when there were overflow crowds. I don't think they were harkening back to the practice that you are referring too; it seemed like it was for purely practical considerations.

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I've heard that a immovable ark makes a room or structure into a synagogue. There are limitations on what you can do with a room or structure that is a synagogue. For example, selling or demolishing the structure are problematic. A moveable ark does not make a room or structure into a synagogue.

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