OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi – Naming Rights.

OzTorahQuestion.   Is there any issue with a school bearing the name of its donor?

Answer.     The story behind your question is explained in an accompanying letter:

“Our community has a Jewish elementary school and we have long needed a high school. Our dilemma is that any kind of school, especially a high school, needs massive funds. At last we have found someone who is able and willing to sponsor the project provided the school is named after him. We need the school, but do we need the proviso?”

My answer is clear: anyone who does a good deed is entitled to acknowledgment. In regard to your high school, the proposed donor realises that the project needs massive funding, and if he is prepared to provide it, everyone should be – and say they are – grateful.

The real question is his motivation – for the sake of the mitzvah or for his own ego?

If it is the first, I would give him the naming rights: otherwise the community will languish without a high school and Judaism as a whole might suffer. But even if he wants a “goldene matzevah” (“a golden tombstone”), this might be a case of “mittoch shello lishmah, ba lishmah” – “one who starts doing a good deed for an ulterior motive, will come to act without an ulterior motive” (P’sachim 50b).

The board should comply with his wish and encourage his continued interest in the project, not just for the sake of more money but because it is good for his soul and good for the school. Remember too that having his name on the school might encourage others to be generous.


Question.   I don’t believe in God but I still keep many of the commandments. Is this wrong?

Answer.     Abraham Joshua Heschel suggests several ways in which observance of the commandments can be judged.


One is that the commandment is the will of God: no other justification is necessary. Other perspectives are the aesthetic (“The commandments bring beauty to my life”), the symbolic (“They are symbols of great ideas”) and the sociological (“This is what Jews do”).

The difficult question is not what other Jews say about you but what God says (you would add, “What God would say if He existed”).

There is a rabbinic passage in which God says,

“Would that they forgot Me if only they kept My commandments”: i.e. mitzvot have value even without conventional theology. David Hartman speaks of “the belief that God will not abandon Israel – which reflects His acceptance of human finitude and limitations” (“A Living Covenant”, p. 274).


Question.   What is the meaning of the early morning blessing which praises God “who crowns Israel with glory”?

Answer.     The early morning b’rachot derive from a passage in the Talmud (B’rachot 60b). They form the liturgical accompaniment to the sequence of a person’s actions in the morning.

When the cock crows its wake-up call, we praise God who gave it intelligence to discern between day and night. Then one comes to, one praises God “who has not made me a heathen… a serf… a woman” (some mitzvot were not obligatory on women, and men thanked God for the extra duties they had to perform). Opening one’s eyes one blessed God “who opens the eyes of the blind”.

Going further, putting on one’s shoes led to praise of God “who has supplied all my wants”; on putting on his belt, a man praised Him “who girds Israel with might”, and on putting on his cap (literally, his turban), he praised Him “who crowns Israel with glory”.

credit: www.orthodox-jews.com

The turban was wound round a person’s head. The Jews of ancient Babylon regarded it as a mark of morality, piety and humility. A certain woman believed she could protect her son from a life of crime by making him wear a turban at all times, but when he was a child his turban accidentally unwound and he could not resist the temptation to take a bite at someone else’s fruit.

Whilst covering the head gradually became widespread amongst Jewish males, the rise of Islam made it difficult to continue wearing turbans, which were called “the crown of the Arabs” and “the badge of Islam”. As a tolerated minority in Arab lands Jews sometimes had to wear a distinguishing mark on their turbans and at times their turbans could not exceed a certain length of winding cloth.

Maimonides is often depicted as wearing a turban, but these depictions arose long after the sage’s death; an early printer, knowing that Maimonides lived in an Islamic environment, may have decided for himself that this is how the rabbi looked. Nonetheless, Maimonides was certainly an eminent exemplar of the b’rachah that speaks of God crowning Israel, especially the sages, with Divine glory.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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