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The aron kodesh is one of the holiest components of a synagogue sanctuary. Some authorities rule that an aron kodesh acquires a status similar to that of a Torah scroll.1 We are taught that any item whose purpose is to honor a Torah scroll, especially if it comes into direct contact with it, has a status similar to a Torah scroll itself.2 An aron kodesh that has fallen into disuse should be dismantled and buried,3 though many authorities allow it to be sold and the proceeds used for other holy objects.4 If for some reason the aron kodesh cannot be opened on Shabbat, one is permitted to ask a non-Jew directly to break the lock or do whatever is necessary to gain access to the Torah scrolls.5

It is interesting to note that although an aron kodesh must certainly be treated with respect and reverence, a number of authorities rule that an aron kodesh is not awarded any inherent or exclusive sanctity. This is consistent with the view that an item whose primary purpose is to protect a Torah scroll does not necessarily become imbued with holiness itself.6 Most aronot kodesh these days are permanent and immovable structures intended primarily to protect the Torah from theft and damage.7 One will notice that in many synagogues in Israel the aron kodesh is an elaborately decorated bank safe! According to this approach, an aron kodesh has no sanctity and may be used for even a mundane purpose.8 The halacha, however, does not follow this view, and one must treat an aron kodesh as an object of inherent sanctity (in the category of tashmishei kedusha).


According to many authorities, one should not use the aron kodesh to store anything other than Torah scrolls. Using the aron kodesh to store other items is considered to be unbecoming the honor owed to it.9 It is permissible, however, to place other holy scrolls, such as a megilla, in an aron kodesh.10 Non-kosher Torah scrolls that a congregation prefers to keep rather than bury may be stored in the aron kodesh alongside the kosher ones.11 Some authorities have opposed this practice, however, arguing that this would be disrespectful to the kosher Torahs.12 Nevertheless, the halacha is not in accordance with this view. In support of the halacha, it is noted that the broken pieces of the first set of the Ten Commandments were stored in the aron kodesh alongside the second set.13

Although one is required to stand for a Torah whenever it is in motion,14 there is no obligation to stand when the aron kodesh is merely opened.15 This includes during Neilah, where many mistakenly believe that there is an obligation to stand for the entire service. It’s commendable, but not obligatory. It is not permitted to lean on an aron kodesh16 unless there are extenuating circumstances that warrant doing so.17

Some authorities express dismay at the popular custom of throwing one’s used hoshanot branches on top of the aron kodesh on Hoshana Rabbah, arguing that it is degrading to the aron kodesh. Indeed, in many congregations this custom is not practiced. Some suggest saving the hoshanot branches until Pesach and burning them with the chametz instead of throwing them on top of the aron kodesh. According to all opinions, however, the hoshanot branches should not linger on top of the aron kodesh for weeks or even months, as is common in many congregations.18

It has been suggested that the common practice of delivering sermons with one’s back to the aron kodesh is halachically problematic, as it shows a lack of respect for the Torah.19 Most authorities, however, dismiss any such concerns, especially once the Torah has been returned to the aron kodesh.20 It is also noted that the sermon is generally brief in nature and the speaker’s back is not constantly to the aron kodesh.21 The practice is further justified by the fact that the purpose of a sermon is to teach and inspire the congregation in the ways of the Torah. In this context, no allegation can be made that one is acting irreverently towards the Torah no matter where one is standing during such a sermon.22 It goes without saying, however, that one must never stand with one’s back towards an exposed Torah scroll.23



  1. Biur Halacha, OC 154.
  2. See Tzedaka U’mishpat 15:26, 27 for more on this.
  3. OC 154:3.
  4. Yalkut Yosef 154:5.
  5. Ibid., 307:59.
  6. Rema, OC 154:3.
  7. Mishna Berura 154:31; Shevet Halevi 7:23.
  8. Pri Megadim, OC 153:15.
  9. Mishna Berura 154:31; Sha’ar Hatziun 154:22.
  10. Rivevot Ephraim 1:118:2.
  11. Aruch Hashulchan, OC 154:11; Binyan Tzion 97; Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 154:4.
  12. Noda B’Yehuda, OC 9.
  13. Berachot 8b; Sefer Chassidim 534; Binyan Tzion 97; Noda B’Yehuda, OC 9; Rivevot Ephraim 2:48:94.
  14. YD 282:2.
  15. Aruch Hashulchan, YD 282:13; Igrot Moshe 5:38.
  16. Rivevot Ephraim 4:44:153.
  17. Yalkut Yosef, OC 154:5.
  18. Rivevot Ephraim 8:287.
  19. YD 282:1.
  20. Taz, YD 282:1.
  21. Pri Megadim, OC 150; Sha’ar Hatziun 150:13.
  22. Aruch Hashulchan, YD 282:20.
  23. YD 282:1; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 282:1.

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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: [email protected].