Sunday, 27 October 2013

Shekelim 10 a, b

Our rabbis examine the differences between donating toward offerings and donating toward items that are deemed preliminary to offerings, for example, the tunic worn by a Kohen who performs a ritual.  How can we determine which is which?  What is necessary and what is an accoutrement?  One of these arguments looks at wood for the fire used for offerings.  The proof for wood's importance is found through the actions of a family balancing the halachot of Shabbat, the offering, and the 9/10 of Av.  

We learn about the related concept of private vs. public funds.  When can there be a transfer from private to public?  The rabbis look at this question in depth.  One of their examples regards whether or not the flour used for the Omer can come from Suria, which was not part of Israel proper but was won by King David for political purposes long in the past.  Again, the question of Shabbat (and other) restrictions comes into play, in addition to what we are obliged to do and what we do by custom or for our convenience.  A complicated analysis involving a number of different opinions.

Further, we learn about how people are paid for the services that they render toward the offerings.  

In amud (b), the rabbis describe how money is spent on a rather disturbing ritual, that of the parah adamah.  A red strip of wool is tied to the head/horns of the animal that is led to a cliff and then thrown over the edge.  It costs money for the animal, the wool, the transport of the animal to the cliff, etc. etc.  That money is to come from the remainders (after the shekalim are removed on the Festivals) in the public treasury chamber.  

Rabbis assert that different ritual items are paid for with the remainders from different collections. They argue over which items are consecrated and which are not. Are decorations consecrated?  If they were alluded to in the Torah and they have something to do with the Temple, are they actually consecrated?  Without discussing the meaning of 'consecration', the rabbis argue case by case over the status of different items.

Again, the place of intention is notable.  What we intend to donate and for which purpose - this makes a difference.  In its essence, this discussion is about ethics.  When is it reasonable to break one's word?  And this issue will continue to be current.  If someone donates to the synagogue's Torah fund, meant to pay for the purchase of a new Torah, should that money be allowed to subsidize the purchase of a scroll cover for one of the existing scrolls?  Or for the purchase of a Tanach for a poor congregant who has requested that gift?  Or for the kiddush following a celebration?  How do we cope with competing needs?

It is wonderful to find a blueprint in the Talmud for how to walk through these dilemmas.  At the same time, I'm not sure that I would agree with every conclusion reached by our rabbis.  What exactly am I missing? Because I know that what's missing in my understanding is quite cavernous.

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