BIMAH (Heb. בִּימָה; "elevated place"), platform in the synagogue on which stands the desk from which the Torah is read. Occasionally, the rabbi delivers his sermon from the bimah, and on Rosh Ha-Shanah the shofar is blown there. In Sephardi synagogues, the ḥazzan conducts most of the service from the bimah. In some Ashkenazi synagogues, the ḥazzan has a separate reading stand immediately in front of and facing the ark from which he conducts the service. Alternative names are almemar (from the Arabic al-minbar, "platform") or, among Sephardi Jews, tevah ("box"). The use of the bimah as a pulpit for reading the Torah in public was known as early as the times of Nehemiah (Neh. 8:4). Raised platforms were also known to have existed in the times of the Second Temple (Sot. 7:8). The Talmud mentions a wooden pulpit in the center of the synagogue of Alexandria in Egypt (Suk. 51b). In Orthodox synagogues of the Ashkenazi rite, the bimah is often in the center, with some intervening seats between the bimah and the ark (based upon the opinion of Maimonides, in Yad, Tefillah, 11: 3; Tur., OH 150, and Rema, OḤ 150: 5). In Sephardi and Oriental synagogues, the bimah is placed in the middle of the room opposite the ark and without intervening seats. The location of the bimah close to the western wall in Sephardi synagogues was permitted by
. In his commentary Kesef Mishneh (to Maimonides, loc. cit.), he wrote: "It is not essential to place the bimah in the center; all depends upon the place and time." A heated dispute, however, resulted from moving the bimah from the center toward the ark in Liberal synagogues after the Reform movement started. The most vehement antagonists of this innovation were
(Ḥatam Sofer, OḤ 28), and
Mahadura Tinyana, OḤ 18). Their protest led to a proclamation by 100 rabbis prohibiting worship in a synagogue that does not have the bimah in its center (see Sedei Ḥemed, Assefat Dinim, Bet ha-Keneset no. 13). Almost all modern Reform and Conservative synagogues combine the bimah with the ark.
Forms of the Bimah
Examples of the bimah surviving from early times are simple in form and built close to the ground. For instance, the bimah at the synagogue at Bet Alfa (sixth century) is one step high. In medieval Spain the bimah was a wooden platform raised high above the ground on columns. It was sometimes surmounted by a canopy and reached by an attached stairway. Until the Renaissance the bimah, which was placed in the center of the synagogue, had a more dominant position than the ark. In Italy from the 16th century, they were given equal emphasis by being placed at opposite sides in the center of the hall. The ark in the synagogue at Worms, Germany (1175), was placed on the central axis between the two main columns. This became the usual arrangement among Ashkenazi Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. In this area, a new form of bimah came into being in the late 17th century. The four central pillars which supported the vaulted ceiling of a synagogue were used as the framework of the bimah which thus became a roofed structure. The bimah assumed curved, circular, octagonal, and other forms, and was made of many materials such as stone, wood, bronze, marble, and wrought iron. In Eastern Europe from the 16th century it could be found enclosed by a wrought iron cage.
Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 473ff.; EJ, 2 (1928), 371–84; S. Freehof, Reform Jewish Practice, 2 (1952), 16–20; ET, 3 (1951), 112–3.
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