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Congregation Beis Yisroel was arranged with rows of tables and chairs.

Parallel to the bimah there was a wide break between the rows. The people sitting at the front of the rear section benefited from easy access to their seats and a wide expanse in front of them.

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The community had become popular; all the shuls were burgeoning with new members. The rav and shul board convened and decided that to accommodate the new families they would have to consider enlarging the shul, and, for the moment, add seats somehow.

After reviewing the seating plan, they concluded that another row could be placed in the wide break near the bimah. This would add ten seats on each side of the shul for new members.

When word got out to the congregants about the proposed plan, Mr. Ackerman, who sat by the break, objected to the plan.

“By adding a row in front of me, you are impinging upon my use of the seat!” he argued. “Right now, I can get in or out of my seat easily, whether from the side, or by moving the table. For Shemoneh Esrei we push the table forward into the break so that we can take the three steps. The shul has been this way for years. You can’t change it and impinge on us!”

“Why not?” replied the shul president. “You pay the same for your seats as any other member. Some people have easy access and others less. You have no special right to the break between the rows!”

Mr. Ackerman and the shul president came before Rabbi Dayan, and asked:

“Can Mr. Ackerman object to adding a row in front of him?”

“Rivash (#253), cited by Rama, addressed a similar question about 650 years ago,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “He rules that those affected can protest that adding seats will impinge upon their access.

“Rivash bases his responsa on a Tosefta (B.M. 11:9) cited by the Rif and others that members of an alley cannot force an individual to help construct a door to the alley, since he can claim that he wants to be able to enter freely with his package on his shoulder. Rishonim understand that he can even protest their constructing a door for this reason.

“Similarly, a person who has seats in a certain area in shul can claim that he doesn’t want his access route narrowed. Although the access area is not his, once the people sitting there established it for their use, it cannot be taken away from them” (B.B. 60b; C.M. 162:7, 417:2).

“Mas’as Binyamin (#4), however, rejects the proofs of the Rivash. A shul is not like an alley, since a person receives extra merit for additional steps or crowding. Furthermore, an alley is meant also for usage, not just walking. Moreover, only a pathway that the public possessed cannot be retaken, not one that individuals possessed.

Tzemach Tzedek (#94) also wrestled with this question about 400 years ago. He differentiates, though, that in his case there were not enough seats available for the congregants, unlike the case of the Rivash. Hence, only when the alley members cannot force the person to make a door can he protest, but when there aren’t sufficient seats and people can be forced to enlarge the shul, they cannot protest about impinging upon their access. Furthermore, the people in the front row encroached on a public area when moving their shtenders or tables out, which was wrong in the first place, but the shul had no need to protest at that point” (Pischei Teshuvah 162:5).

“Despite the ruling of the Rama,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “the consensus of Acharonim is like the Mas’as Binyamin, that the community can add rows, especially when needed, unless there is a practice otherwise” (Aruch HaShulchan 162:11; Shevet Halevi 9:302:9).

Verdict: The shul can add a row in the break, even though it will impinge on the access of those who formerly sat in front, especially if extra seats are needed.

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.