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If Rome calls up the Ministry of Tradition in Israel and says they want to return the vessels they have from the Beit Hamikdash, including the Menorah, what would be the halachic considerations for the transfer and storage? Who can and should handle these vessels? Where can they be stored? What other relevant halachot would be involved?

Note: According to R' Shmuel Eliyahu, that's exactly what they just did. See here as well.

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    Maybe a silly thought, but can't we infer from Kesubos 111a and Tosfos (ד"ה "בבלה) that the Temple Vessels need to stay where they are until the coming of Moshiach?
    – Shmuel
    Oct 27, 2023 at 12:17
  • you could probably find some info on Machon HaMikdash. FWIU they have prepared the vessels necessary for when the Temple is rebuilt. Do you fix the old ones, or use the new ones...?
    – bondonk
    Oct 29, 2023 at 7:22
  • I would suspect it's the same as any other vessels that were in the hands of Goyim. Oct 29, 2023 at 11:07
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    The vessels in the second Temple that were taken by the Romans were replicas and were not kodesh. The biggest example of this is the actual image of the Menorah that was brought to Rome on the Arch Titus. Oct 30, 2023 at 15:46

2 Answers 2

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It depends whether they still retain their status of kedushah.

Whether or not captured Temple Vessels still retain their level of holiness depends on the interpretation of a passage in the Gemara. The Gemara (Nedarim 62a) writes that when Belshatzar used the vessels of the Mikdash, he desecrated their kedushah and they became mundane.

ומה בלשצר שנשתמש בכלי קודש שנעשו כלי חול, שנאמר (יחזקאל ז, כב) "ובאו בה פריצים וחיללוה", כיון שפרצום נעשו חול

This idea is echoed in Gemara (Avoda Zara 52b) [explaining how the vessels were prohibited due to Idol worship, disregarding the principle of אין אדם אוסר דבר שאינו שלו - one cannot prohibit an item one doesn't own]:

אמר רב פפא התם קרא אשכח ודרש דכתיב (יחזקאל ז, כב) ובאו בה פריצים וחללוה

Rashi explains that when the gentiles entered the Temple, the vessels lost their kedushah [which allowed the Gentiles to acquire them, and thus they were prohibited with the idol worship].

דכתיב ובאו בה פריצים וחללוה - מכיון שנכנסו עובדי כוכבים להיכל יצאו כליו לחולין וכיון דנפקי לחולין קנינהו בהפקירא והוו להו דידהו וכשנשתמשו בהן לעבודת כוכבים נאסרו:

This Gemara is the subject of a large dispute between Ramban (Milchamos Hashem, Avoda Zara) and Ba'al Hamaor. According to Baal Hamaor, the only way Temple Vessels are desecrated is through the process of meilah [loosely: the misuse of consecrated items, through which they become desecrated]. Accordingly, it would only be if used by Jews, and are subject to a list of criteria beyond the scope of this answer [See Rambam Hil. Meilah]. Notably, it would not apply to most Temple Vessels which had kedushas haguf.

The Ramban disagrees with Baal Hamaor - primarily because the Temple Vessels have kedushas haguf status, which is not subject to desecration through meilah; adittionally, desecration through meilah is specifically through inadvertent use; furthermore, the walls of the Temple itself are not subject to meilah, and they too were desecrated through the Temple invasion.

Ramban argues that 'באו פריצים וחללוה' is not through the process of meilah, but a totally separate halachic clause that when captured by gentiles, the Temple Vessels lose their kedushah.

אלא ודאי על ידי עובדי כוכבים יצאו לחולין, דקרא בעובדי כוכבים כתיב, שהרי נביא מתנבא על המקדש שיחרב, ואמר שיצא לחולין על ידם, וגזירת הכתוב היה הכל, אע"פ שאין מעילה בקרקעות ואע"פ שאינם בני מעילה, והיינו דכתיב נמי (יחזקאל ז, כא) 'ונתתיו ביד הזרים לבז ולרשעי הארץ לשלל וחללוהו', וכלים דאחז לא יצאו לחולין, דלא בישראל כתיב קרא

Accordingly, it would seem that Rashi and Ramban would consider the vessels captured by the Romans as devoid of any kedushah and therefore not subject to the general laws of consecrated Temple Vessels.

However, many commentators have posed numerous difficulties with the opinion of the Ramban*, and have been forced to suggest various alternative interpretations of the Ramban.

According to some**, the Ramban only proposes a temporary desecration - in the duration of the Vessels' captivity under Gentile authority, they lose their holiness. This holiness is automatically reinstated upon return to Jewish hands.


*For example, how after the Maccabean Revolt did the Temple regain it's kedusha. According to Ramban that the Temple itself is also subject to the desecration of ובאו פריצים וחללוה, it should have lost any kedusha with the conquest of the Greeks. See Sheilas David (OC 3), .

** Beis Yitzchak (OC 27), Afikei Mayim (R' Moshe Shapira, Chanuka pg 81)

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Regarding the lose of holiness, see below:

According to the Shita Mekubetzes (Bava Metzia 24b), if the vessels were taken by force, they would lose their status of kedusha (holiness). If an army took the vessels, e.g. the Greek or someone else, and it was considered "looting", the vessels would lose their holiness.

ובתשובת שאלה להרמב"ם כתוב וזה לשונו: מועתק מלשון ערבי. שאלת מי שקנו מן השוללים ספרי קדש לקצת בתי כנסיות שבמדינות אם נאמר שקנה או אם נכפהו על לקיחתו ממנו ואם נאמר שילקח ממנו בעל כרחו אם ינתן לו הסך שקנהו בו ואם יחזיר לאותו בית כנסת עצמה או לזולתו. תשובה אם ביזה זו היתה במצות המלך קנה ובטל דין הקדש ואפילו כלי המקדש כשנשללו בטלה קדושתן אמרו ובאו בה פריצים וחללוה. אמנם אם שללו בלי רשות המלך או נגנבו ישבע בנקיטת חפץ כמה הוציא ויטול ויחזור זה הספר למקומו כדין מי שנתברר לנו בו שנגנבו לו כליו וספריו. וכתב משמע עד כאן. ומה שכתב אמרו ובאו בה פריצים וחללוה הוא בעבודה זרה פרק רבי ישמעאל (עבודה זרה דף נב) ועיין לעיל בדבור המתחיל לא צריכא לאהדורי לצורבא מרבנן.

The vessels were taken from the Beis HaMikdash, without permission, so it could be considered stealing, and according to the Shita Mekubetzes, that is also a reason why vessels could lose their kedusha-status.

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