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Going, Going, Gone!

By ReligionSeptember, 2009December 21st, 20234 min read

Five hundred dollars, tzum ersheten mohl!

Five hundred dollars, tzum tzveiten mohl!

Five hundred dollars, tzum dritten mohl!

And with an emphatic klap on the bimah for effect, the auction is over.

This was not Phillip Kingston standing in front of another Caulfield property; this was me auctioning the kibbudim for Rosh Hashana. For as long as I can remember, our Shul has auctioned the privilege to perform certain parts of the service during the High Holyday period. For many years, it would happen in the middle of the service itself on each day – a kind of light interlude between the Shacharit service and the Torah reading. People complained that it was an inappropriate disruption to the solemnity of the day, so for a time, it moved to a special segment on Saturday evening before the first Selichot (most often the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana). But for some reason, people were reluctant to show up at 11pm just to partake in an auction. So now we break it up into a few different segments, on each Shabbat prior to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Some Shuls auction the aliyot (the privilege of being called to the Torah) on every Shabbat; most only do it on special occasions; some not at all.

I’ve been doing the auctions at my Shul for several years, in both the main minyan and the Kollel. Each year, there are about seven or eight sessions, auctioning well over 150 items, including a wild, drunken one on SImchat Torah.

Why do we do this? Well, for many shuls, it’s an important fundraiser.

It mostly comes down to the notion of segulot (a very difficult word to translate – I saw “spiritual remedy” somewhere) associated with performing certain ritual acts. Some examples are opening the ark to take out the Torah so your pregnant wife should have an easy birth; and prayer after lighting Shabbat candles as an auspicious time for asking things of God. Whether some of these acts are superstitions, or have some profound spiritual impact on our lives, no-one truly knows.

During the Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur period, when we pray for a good year, acts like these take on a far greater importance. On the first night of Rosh Hashana we eat a variety of symbolic foods. Being called to the Torah on these days is a special merit. Some people find certain parts of the service personally inspirational, for example, opening the ark and standing in front of it for the reading of Unetanneh Tokef. I am especially inspired by the haftorah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashana – the story of Chana and the birth of the prophet Samuel. Would I pay a lazy $1500 for the privilege of reading it for the congregation? That is another matter!

Using an auction to decide who gets what in a shul is unpleasantly commercial and elitist. The more affluent members of the congregation are not always more deserving of honours and merits than others. What happens in many cases is that these honours are purchased for someone else, so for some items, the bidders are competing for the right to buy the maftir reading for the Rabbi. I know some people who buy things and give them out to people who otherwise would never have an opportunity. That sort of thing truly embodies the spirit of the Holydays.

The article originally appeared on Galus Australis, and the article image is taken from there.

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