May One Eat in a Synagogue?


The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 151:1), based on the Gemara (Megila 28a), rules that one should not act in an air of frivolity in a synagogue. This ruling applies to eating and drinking as well, but the Shulhan Aruch (ibid:4) says that if congregants must meet in the synagogue for a communal matter or for a Mitzvah, then eating and drinking are permissible. Several rabbis, however, caution against eating a large meal. Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeZion 10:4) writes that the custom is to be lenient with regards to eating in the sanctuary. As such, one who needs to host a meal in the sanctuary, as long is it is for the purpose of a Mitzvah and is conducted respectfully, would be permitted to do so.
It is noteworthy that up until recently, the Moroccan custom was to not be lenient, and that gatherings such as the Kraya, where tea, cake etc. were commonly served, were held at congregants’ homes. Thus, there was no risk of sleeping or of idle chatter in the sanctuary. Nowadays, many synagogues function as Bate Midrash and therefore the custom is to be lenient and permit light refreshments.
Summary:    One may eat and drink in the sanctuary of a synagogue for the purpose of a Mitzvah, but one should maintain proper decorum at all times.