Question: Does a shul require a mezuzah? What about a privately-owned shtiebel?
Short Answer: While a privately-owned shtiebel requires a mezuzah, a jointly-owned shul without living quarters does not. Nevertheless, our shuls likely have a mezuzah, put up without a brachah, because our shuls also function as a beis midrash, which requires a mezuzah.
I.Shuls Are the Exception
The Gemara in Yoma (11b) states that a shul with living quarters for the chazan requires a mezuzah, while a shul without living quarters is a machlokes. Rabbi Meir holds that the shul still requires a mezuzah, but the Rabbanan hold that it does not require a mezuzah.
Indeed, the Gemara compares mezuzah to tzaraas: Both do not apply to a shul because the pasuk states “beisecha” – your house, excluding a shul, which is not designated to one person.
II. Reason for the Exception
Tosafos (Megillah 26a, Yoma 11b) explains that the reason why a shul is exempt from mezuzah is as the Gemara explained: because the pasuk states “beisecha” – your house, excluding a shul, which is not designated to one person. Accordingly, Tosafos rules that a shul that is privately owned by one individual, such as a shtiebel, does require a mezuzah.
On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Mezuzah 6:6) lists places that are exempt from mezuzah, and includes the Beis HaMikdash, as well as a shul without living quarters, and explains that the reason is because these places are holy. Indeed, the Sefer HaChinuch (423), Yerei’im, and the BeHaG give similar explanations. According to these poskim, a shul that is privately owned by one individual, such as a shtiebel, would not require a mezuzah. See K’vius Mezuzah K’Hilchasah (Milu’im 8).
III. Opinion of the Shulchan Aruch
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 286:3) paskens that a shul with living quarters is obligated to put up a mezuzah, implying that a shul without living quarters is exempt from mezuzah. The Rama (ibid) clarifies that if the shul’s living quarters are in the azarah next to the sanctuary, only the azarah requires a mezuzah, but not the door to the sanctuary itself. Yet, neither the Shulchan Aruch nor the Rama explain the reason for this ruling, nor rule whether a private shtiebel needs a mezuzah.
Nevertheless, the Pischei T’shuvah (Yoreh Dei’ah 286:9) appears to adopt the ruling of Tosafos and rules that a privately owned shul requires a mezuzah.
IV. Our Shuls
The upshot appears to be that only privately owned shtiebel require a mezuzah, and regular jointly owned shuls are exempt. So why do our shuls have a mezuzah?
The simple answer is that our shuls also function as a beis midrash, a place where we learn Torah. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 286:10) concludes that a beis midrash requires a mezuzah. The Shach (ibid. 19) explains that a beis midrash is different from a shul, because a beis midrash has more people studying there throughout the day and is thus similar to a house.
Nevertheless, the sefer Otzar Shimon (pg. 528) notes that we do not make a brachah when putting up a mezuzah in a shul, because perhaps it is not used to the extent required for a mezuzah. Similarly, Rav Chaim Eisen (in the Ohr Yisrael Journal – Vol. 65, pg. 141) also explains that no brachah should be made, because presumably our shuls are not populated throughout the day.
V. Ashkenazi/Sefardi Divide
There is an interesting application of this halachah brought in the sefer Vayomer Shmuel (Rav S. B. Genut, siman 21) in the case where Ashkenazim and Sefardim jointly own and use a building. One group learns there, and the other group davens there. Although Ashkenazim and Sefardim use slightly different script styles for the mezuzah, Rav Genut ruled that the mezuzah should contain the script of the group that learns there. He based his ruling on the fact the building only requires a mezuzah because of the group that learns there, as seen by the above-mentioned Shulchan Aruch and Shach. Rav Genut concludes that Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita agreed to this ruling.
VI. Private Study Room
What about a room in a person’s house that functions as a private beis midrash? The K’vius Mezuzah K’Hilchasah (perek 5, fn. 43) cites Rav Nissim Karelitz that a mezuzah would be required and a brachah would be made when putting it up.
Next Week’s Topic: Should your mezuzah be affixed on an angle or standing up straight?
Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email EphraimGlatt@gmail.com.