In my Yeshiva, the Bimah is somewhat central to the Beis Midrash: several rows of seating in front, then several more rows behind it, the entire column being directly behind the Aron. However, in my shul, the Bimah is much closer to the front of the shul. I've seen this pattern across many shuls: some have them toward the front, some toward the back, and some in the middle. In general, among the shuls I've been to, it seems that Ashkenazim have the Bimah more central or further forward, while Sefardim have it further back. the Romaniote schul in NYC has it against the back wall. Are there any restrictions on where in the shul the Bimah may be placed?

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The main source for this seems to be the Gemara in Sukkah 51b, which states that the shul of Alexandria, Egypt had a wooden bimah in its center. Based on this Gemara, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 11:3) writes:

וּמַעֲמִידִין בִּימָה בְּאֶמְצַע הַבַּיִת כְּדֵי שֶׁיַּעֲלֶה עָלֶיהָ הַקּוֹרֵא בַּתּוֹרָה אוֹ מִי אֲשֶׁר אוֹמֵר לָעָם דִּבְרֵי כִּבּוּשִׁין כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּשְׁמְעוּ כֻּלָּם. וּכְשֶׁמַּעֲמִידִין הַתֵּבָה שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהּ סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה מַעֲמִידִין אוֹתָהּ בָּאֶמְצַע וַאֲחוֹרֵי הַתֵּבָה כְּלַפֵּי הַהֵיכָל וּפָנֶיהָ כְּלַפֵּי הָעָם:

In the center of the building, a Bimah is erected, which the Reader of the Torah, or whoever exhorts the people, mounts, so that all the congregation may hear. The Bimah on which the Torah is placed is set up in the center, its back towards the Aron, its front facing the people.

R' Yosef Karo in his Kesef Mishneh there spends most of his time addressing the implication in the Rambam that there are two Bimos, one "which the Reader of the Torah, or whoever exhorts the people, mounts," and one "on which the Torah is placed," ultimately concluding that the latter is placed in the center on top of the former. Toward the end, he asks the following question:

ואל תשיבני מהבימות שבונים בימים האלו בקצת מקומות בסוף בה''כ ולא באמצע וכן התיבות שעליהם מניחים התורה שהם בסוף הבימות לא באמצע

Do not refute me from the Bimos which are built nowadays in some places in the back of the shul, and not in the middle, and likewise the Bimos on which they place the Torah which are placed on the back of the [first type of] Bimah and not the center...

And he answers:

כי העמדה באמצע אינו מהחיוב אך הכל לפי המקום והזמן שבאותם הזמנים שהיו בתי כנסיות גדולים עד מאד היו צריכים להעמיד הבימה באמצע כדי להשמיע לכל העם אבל בזמנים הללו שבעונותינו בתי כנסיות שלנו הם קטנים וכל העם שומעים יותר נוי הוא להיות לצד אחד מלהיות באמצע ואף ע''פ שעכשיו אין מעמידין הס''ת באמצע הבימה אפשר שנהגו כן לכבוד הזקנים וכבר כתבתי שלא הקפידה הברייתא על כך אלא הכל כפי המקומות

...because placing it in the center is not an obligation, but rather everything goes after the place and the time. In those days [of the Rambam] when the shuls were very big, they needed to put the Bimah in the center, so that everyone could hear. But nowadays, that in our sins our shuls are much smaller, and therefore people can hear better, it's a beauty that it be to a side, rather than being in the center. And even though now we don't put the Torah in the center of the Bimah, it's possible that they did this in the honor of the elders. But I have already written that the Braisa was not particular about this, but rather everything goes after the place.

R' Karo doesn't say anything further in either the Beis Yosef or the Shulchan Aruch.

The Tur in OC 150 says like the simple understanding of the Rambam:

ומעמידים בימה באמצע ב"ה לעמוד עליה הקורא בתורה כדי שישמעו כולם

And we place a Bimah in the middle of the shul to stand upon it the one who reads from the Torah, so that everyone can hear.

And the Rema in OC 150:5 as well:

ועושין בימה באמצע ב"ה שיעמוד עליה הקורא בתורה וישמעו כלם

And we make a Bimah in the middle of the shul, that the one reading from the Torah should stand over it, and everyone will hear.

To switch over to the more modern-day Poskim, the Bi'ur Halacha there argues vehemently against placing the Bimah anywhere but the center:

ובעו"ה באיזה מקומות פרצו מנהג קדומים זה והתחילו לעשות הבימות סמוך לארון הקודש מפני שרצו לילך בדרכי העו"ג כמו שעושין בהיכלות שלהן [שקורין טעמפיל] ויש לקרוא עליהן וישכח ישראל עושהו ויבן היכלות

But in our many sins, many places have broken with this earlier custom and have begun placing the Aron closer to the Aron Kodesh, because they want to go in the ways of those who serve idols, as they do in their sanctuaries (which they call a "temple"). There is room to apply to those [who follow this practice the verse (Hoshea 8:14)] "And Yisrael forgot its maker, and he built [idolatrous] sanctuaries."

R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 1:42)1 writes:

בדבר הבימה אין קפידא שיהיה באמצע בית הכנסת ממש, וכמעט שעוד עדיף שיהיה קרוב יותר לפנים, דברוב פעמים אין המתפללין ממלאין כל ביהכ״נ ועומדים רובם יותר קרוב לפנים וממילא צריכה הבימה להיות באמצע עמידת המתפללין כיון שעיקר הטעם הוא כדי שישמעו העם קה״ת.

Regarding the Bimah: We aren’t particular that it should be literally in the middle of the shul, and if anything, it’s better that it should be closer to the front, since many times the congregants don’t fill the entire shul, and the majority of them stand toward the front, and it comes out that the Bimah needs to be in the middle of where the congregants are standing, since the main reason is that the congregation can hear the reading of the Torah.

While I don’t know that the logic of R’ Moshe would apply to every shul that it should be toward the front rather than the back, the underlying logic would remain: wherever congregants tend to stand when the shul is only partially full, the center should be where the Bimah should go. I'm unclear on what defines the "center" according to this definition, and I've asked that separately.

My Dirshu Mishnah Berurah (note 38 to OC 150, printed in the appendix on page 12), as well as the above R’ Moshe, quote the responsa of the Chazon Ish (OC 28), that since the Bimah is like the Mizbeiach, and therefore we circle it on Sukkos, as they did in the Beis HaMikdash, it should be placed in the center of the shul, as the Mizbeiach was in the Beis HaMikdash.2 R’ Moshe says that for this reason, while the Bimah may be closer to the front to allow the congregation to hear better, there should be enough of a gap that Hakafos may be done properly.

In summary:

According to the Rambam, Tur, and Rema, the Bimah must be precisely in the center of the shul. The Bi’ur Halacha takes a step further and says that doing otherwise is to mimic idolatrous temples. The Chazon Ish says that it should be done this way in order to mimic the location of the Mizbeiach in the Beis HaMikdash.

According to the Kesef Mishneh, the Bimah must be wherever is appropriate for the congregation to hear it. This is the opinion followed by R’ Moshe Feinstein.

1I do not have an online link to this R' Moshe. I've transcribed this from my copy of Igros Moshe. If someone has an online link to this, please feel free to include it, in the same format as all of the other links in this post.

2I do not have a copy of this Chazon Ish. If someone has an online link to it and/or a physical copy which they are willing to transcribe, please feel free to include the link and/or quote in the post above.

  • There are Sephardic Poskim who argue against your final conclusions. I have an answer about this somewhere else. In fact, im surprised this question isnt a duplicate?
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 2:43
  • 1
    @Aaron My final conclusions were only according to those poskim of which I’m aware. If you have more to say, please feel free to add an answer of your own!
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 2:52
  • @Aaron I see now. This is partially discussed in judaism.stackexchange.com/q/44839/9682, where I see you posted the accepted (and only) answer. I don’t know if that makes this close-worthy or not, since it’s only partial.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 2:53
  • In many American schuls, where women sit parallel to men, aside a mechitzah, the bimah is to the side, rather than directly centred Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 15:13
  • 1
    hebrewbooks.org/… חזון איש
    – MDjava
    Commented Jun 10, 2018 at 5:16

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