Monday, August 24, 2015

Other Options for Old Knives in the Temple

When Temple property becomes unfit for use there are a number of things which could be done with it. The treasurers could repair the item and put it back in service, recycle the item and use it for some other sacred purpose, or redeem the item by selling it and returning the profits to the Temple treasury. I would like to examine whether any of these options applied to old slaughtering knives of the Kohanim.

In the last post I wrote that slaughtering knives which became dull or nicked and thus unfit for use were permanently stored in the southern Chamber of the Knives. Although it was physically possible to repair them, the Temple would simply purchase new ones, a policy which falls under the general rule of "there are no displays of poverty in a place of affluence" (Rambam, Hil. Klei Hamikdash 1:15). The idea behind this rule is that while a commoner would first try to repair an item before deciding to replace it, the House of G-d need not resort to such frugality. Even so, there is an opposing rule which states that "G-d does not needlessly waste the money of Israel" which was designed to keep overspending in check. If so, in the case of the knives, the treasurers should attempt to salvage what they could from the knives before simply replacing them.

The Gemara (Erchin 10b) says as follows:
There was a copper mortar in the Temple which had been around since the days of Moses and it was used to grind the spices [for the Incense]. It developed a deficiency and so they brought in expert craftsmen from Alexandria in Egypt who repaired it.
From here we see that Temple utensils were sometimes repaired, in which case it follows that the knives could be repaired, too. There is a difference, however, in that it is clear from the continuation of the Gemara that the mortar was still functional and the repair work which was done on it was merely cosmetic. When a knife develops a nick, it is completely unusable and would not be repaired (Likkutim to Zevachim 88a s.v. נפגמו).

But why not? When a knife is repaired, it is easy to see that a section of the blade had been resharpened (probably due to a discoloration of the metal in that area). Using such a knife in the Temple is disrespectful since it looks like a second-hand piece of equipment, and the rule of "there are no displays of poverty in a place of affluence" requires that such a knife be replaced. Even so, from Rashi (to Zevachim 88a s.v. נפגמו), it appears that if the nick was very small and could be removed without leaving a noticeable mark, they would, in fact, repair it (see Likkutim ad loc.).

It is curious that we do not find mention of any other type of damaged utensil being "permanently stored" like the nicked knives were. On the contrary, if a Temple utensil developed a hole or crack, standard procedure required that it be melted down and remade (Rambam, Hil. Klei Hamikdash 1:14).

The difference is that all of the other utensils were made of metals such as gold, silver, and copper, and shelving such expensive materials would represent a significant loss to the Temple. The knives, however, were made of much cheaper iron and there was really no need to try and recoup the material costs by melting them down to make new ones (see Ezras Kohanim to Middos 4:7 s.v. ששם גונזין).

A golden grapevine stood inside the Antechamber and people who wished to donate gold or precious gems to the Temple would have their donation fashioned into the shape of a leaf or a grape or a whole cluster of grapes and then hang it on the vine. When the Kohanim needed to make repairs to the Temple they would remove some material from the vine and sell it to pay for the cost of the repairs (see Middos 3:8).

This is just one example of the general principle that the Temple treasury may sell off assets as needed. After the transaction is complete, the sold object transfers its sanctity to the money paid for it and may now be used by the buyer for any non-sacred purpose. If so, why were the nicked slaughtering knives not sold to the public to offset the cost of purchasing new ones?

These knives were not simply assets owned by the Temple but were utensils which had been used in the sacrificial service. It would be disrespectful to G-d's honor to allow knives which had once slaughtered animals for the Temple to be used for non-sacred animals outside the Temple. For this reason they could not be sold (Chidushei Rabeinu Yaakov to Kereisos 6a s.v. והניחם שם).

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