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Many synagogues have the practice of selling kibbudim (i.e. aliyot, haftorah, opening the ark, etc.) on major holidays, usually via auction. I've been to some shuls where this is done every Shabbat.

A related practice is "pledge drives", where after the Rabbi's speech on a major holiday, the floor is open for people to pledge donations to the shul.

How is this allowed on Shabbat and holidays? Isn't this essentially masah umatan or at least too closely related to matters of money or business?

  • 1
    Great question. I've wondered about this practice for years and never found an answer that feels right. We rule out other behaviors that might be technically ok but violate the spirit of Shabbat, so even with a legal work-around I have trouble understanding this one. – Monica Cellio Jul 6 '11 at 16:12
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The Gemara (Shabbos 150a) points out that we are restricted on Shabbos ממצוא חפצך, from looking after our personal business affairs - but that this implies that חפצי שמים מותרין, Divine business affairs are okay.

Based on this, it lists several categories of things that are permitted on Shabbos under this heading, one of which is פוסקין צדקה לעניים - making assessments of tzedakah for the needy. (Some of the other things listed there are familiar from the Shabbos zemer Mah Yedidus.)

This is codified in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:6. Rema there writes that "some say that in places where it is customary to recite a Mi Shebeirach for one who reads from the Torah, and he makes a pledge for tzedakah or for the chazzan, that it is prohibited on Shabbos to spell out how much he intends to give; but the custom is to be lenient, since it is permitted לפסוק צדקה."

Mishnah Berurah there (:27) explains that this can't be considered buying and selling (מקח וממכר), since nothing is actually changing hands. Further on (:33) he adds that there is a dispute whether it is permitted to "sell" mitzvos on Shabbos, with some authorities forbidding it and others saying it's fine because no actual object is being bought, "so in places where they are customarily lenient on this, one should not object against them."

  • to see more info go to: baishavaad.com/library/vayikra/?p=18 – Shmuel Brin Jul 6 '11 at 18:54
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    Very interesting. Halacha's view of the non-saleability of intangibles would seem to have ramifications on the sale of intellectual property. But that's for another question. – Ariel Allon Jul 6 '11 at 20:50
  • One shul I attend sells Simcat Torah honors (*Ata Har'eita, etc.) in exchange for learning blat Gemarra. I think this adds more of a leniency and is even better b/c it can start to be paid off immediately after services. – DanF Nov 29 '17 at 19:51
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When I was stumbled by this practice and addressed this question to a Rabbi in Ba'abad shul in Jerusalem, he reminded me of the Halachah in Yoma 85a:

חלל עליו שבת אחת כדי שישמור שבתות הרבה

I thought he was joking at first, but he explained seriously that if it is Halachicly allowed to override Deorayso prohibition to save a single life, it would be allowed to override some Rabbinical prohibitions on Shabbos in order to revive a whole congregation/community.

He added a famous Haredi joke that although the world rests on three pillars Torah, G-d worshipping and Tzedakkah, Money is what makes it spin. Money (donations) is what keeps the shul alive and kicking.

Seriously, as Shabbos Auctions were/are sometimes the only or the biggest source of a shul's income, special permission was made to skew the Halacha a bit to allow not only for monetary business on Shabbos but also for Torach Tzibur (burden of waiting), interrupting the Teffilah (losing continuity) and more.

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