Project Genesis

Mitzvos (Commandments)


Communal Offerings and Synagogue Dedications

Question: In Numbers, ch.28, the laws of the Mussaf offerings [a form communal sacrifices] are discussed. How were the animals, flour, oil, and wine paid for? From Temple funds, or did people ‘bid’ on them, as many congregations do today for certain honors in the synagogue? [I know of a certain congregation that even had donations made for part of the electric bill each month, with the donor’s name posted!]

Answer: All of the communal sacrifices were purchased with communal funds. Every year, all Jewish males over the age of 20, from all over the world, had to donate half a shekel (a form of ancient currency) to the Temple. This money was used to purchase the mussaf offerings, as well as all other communal sacrifices, so that everyone would have an equal share in the Temple and its services. In fact, it was forbidden to bring a communal sacrifice from private funds because that would have disenfranchised the ‘common man’. In other words, bidding on sacrifices that were brought on behalf of everybody was not permitted. However, there were many other things in the Temple that were donated by individuals and were known by their name (the precursor of the modern plaque – “Donated by…”). For example, there was one gate in the Temple that was donated by the people of Shushan [a Persian city] and was called the “Shushan Gate.” Queen Helene donated a special, golden, sun reflector; and her son, Munbaz, paid to have the handles of some of the vessels made of gold. There are many other examples. So we see that donations, and giving credit to the donor, goes back at least to Temple times.

In more recent times (meaning several hundred years, rather than thousand), giving the money to pay for the lights in the synagogue or study hall was always an honor. By paying the electricity bill (or providing oil for the lamps, etc), the donor is providing the light that enables people to learn Torah. (This is especially apropos, as the Torah is likened to light – see Proverbs 6:23).

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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