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The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
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DESECRATION:

The act of diverting from a sacred to a common use. It was forbidden, as being an act of desecration, to use the anointing-oil of the sanctuary for common purposes, or even to prepare oil like it, or to prepare for common use incense similar to that used in the sanctuary. The punishment for any of these transgressions was excision from the people of Israel ("karet," Ex. xxx. 33, 38). All objects used in connection with the Temple service—as the utensils employed in the ritual—the sacrifices, the clothing of the attendant priests, and the building itself were considered sacred, and their use for common purposes was therefore prohibited. Any one who knowingly appropriated any of these objects for his own use was liable to the penalty of stripes; if the act was committed unwittingly, he was required to bring a sacrifice, and to pay one-fifth more than the value of the object misused (Lev. v. 14; Maimonides, "Yad," Me'ilah, i. 1, 2).

Exchange of Sacred Objects Forbidden.

Not only could no sacred object be diverted to a common use, but it could not even be exchanged. If a man consecrated an animal that could be used as a sacrifice and then exchanged it for another, he suffered the punishment of stripes, and both animals remained sacred. It made no difference whetherthe exchange was for a better or for a worse animal; the holy object could in neither case be desecrated, nor could it be used for another purpose equally sacred (Tem. 32a; Maimonides, l.c. iv. 11). If, however, the animal was such as could not be offered on the altar, the owner might redeem it by paying the value of the animal and an additional fifth. The same law applied to all other objects which were not of immediate use in the Temple service (Lev. xxvii. 9; "Yad," Temurah, i. 1 et seq.).

Worn-Out Objects to be Buried.

With regard to the use of the synagogue and its appurtenances, the Rabbis laid down the following general rule: "We may ascend with holy things, but not descend"—that is, holy objects may be used for a holier purpose, but not for one less holy (Shab. 21b). On this principle, objects used in worship were classified and graded according to their sanctity. A community might sell its synagogue and use the money in building an academy, but not the reverse. The appurtenances of the synagogue were graded as follows: the scroll of the Law; other sacred books; the mantle of the scroll; the Ark, where the scroll is deposited; the table upon which it is placed while being read; the synagogue itself being the least sacred. The money realized from the sale of a synagogue may be used in buying an Ark or a table, and so on; but the reverse is forbidden (Meg. 26a; "Yad," Tefillah, xi. 14; Shulḥan. 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 153, 1). The scroll of the Law must never be sold, and when it becomes old and unfit for use, it must be placed in an earthen vessel and buried near the tomb of a scholar. Torn books or pages of books of the Scriptures, and all the accessories of holy objects, as the mantle of the scroll, the sheath of the mezuzah, the straps of the tefillim, and so forth, must not be diverted to any common use, but must be buried (see Genizah). Objects which are used in the performance of certain commandments, as the "sukkah" (booth), "lulab" (palm-branch), "shofar" (ram's horn), "ẓiẓit" (fringes), etc., may be thrown away after they have become useless. It is not permitted to make any use of the light of the Ḥanukkah candles, even for such a holy use as studying the Law (Meg. 26b; "Yad," Sefer Torah, x. 3; Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 154, 673, 1).

The Rabbis permitted an individual to sell the scroll of the Law only when he needed the money for the purpose of studying the Law or for the purpose of marrying; otherwise the possessor of a copy of the scroll of the Law must never sell it, even when he needs the money for the necessities of life (Meg. 27a; "Yad," Sefer Torah, x. 2; "Kesef Mishneh" ad loc.; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 270, 1).

L. G. J. H. G.
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