HEKDESH


HEKDESH (Heb. הֶקְדֵשׁ), consecrated property, property dedicated to the needs of the *Temple; in post-talmudic times the term hekdesh without qualification (setam hekdesh) came to mean property set aside for charitable purposes or for the fulfillment of any other *mitzvah.

Consecration for the Temple Needs

The consecration of property was the means of providing for the upkeep of the Temple and the sacrificial services as detailed in Scripture (Lev. 2:7; II Kings 12:5–17, et al.). In the Temple period a person could consecrate property to either (1) the Temple treasury (hekdesh bedek ha-Bayit) that was utilized for maintaining and repairing the Temple buildings; or (2) the altar (hekdesh Mizbe'aaḥ) for the purchase of sacrifices, namely the animals, and meal- and drink-offerings brought to the Temple altar. If a man simply consecrated his property without specifying which of these two purposes he intended and such property included animals fit for sacrifice at the altar, the animals would be sold for sacrifice and the proceeds allocated to the Temple treasury; i.e., "simple consecration to the Temple treasury" (Tem. 7:2; Shek. 4:7, opinion of R. Eliezer; Maim. Yad, Arakhin 5:7).

IRREDEEMABLE AND REDEEMABLE

Consecration (Kedushat ha-Guf and Kedushat Damim)

Property could be consecrated with different degrees of sanctity: i.e., intrinsic sancitity (kedushat ha-guf), embracing all objects consecrated to the altar and fit for sacrificial purposes, such as animals, doves and pigeons, flour, incense, wine and oil; or monetary sanctity (kedushat damim), embracing objects consecrated to the Temple treasury, as well as objects consecrated to the altar that were not fit for sacrifice or disqualified because of blemish from use at the altar. Consecrated property of the former kind could not be redeemed, whereas the latter could and the redemption money applied to the purpose for which the property was consecrated. Redeemed property ceased to be sacred and was relegated to its former secular status; but objects fit for the altar could be redeemed solely for the purpose of sacrifice there, since "anything which is fit for the altar, is never released from the altar" (Men. 101a; Maim. Yad, Arakhin 5).

CREATION OF CONSECRATED PROPERTY

Contrary to the general principle of Jewish law that the transfer of ownership cannot be effected in a merely oral manner but requires the performance of a symbolic act such as mesirah, meshikhah, or ḥazakah (see *Acquisition), the rule is that simply an oral statement suffices to transfer the ownership of property from the common man (hedyot) to hekdesh ("Dedication to the Temple by word of mouth is equal to the act of delivery to a common person even if the property is situated at the world's end"; Kid. 1:6; TB, Kid. 28b–29a). This reference introduces the concept that consecrated property is in the ownership of God (bi-reshut Gavoha), and therefore can be transferred to Him by mere oral declaration, since "His is the earth and the fullness there of" and "the earth is as a courtyard which acquires for Him" (TJ, Kid. 1:6, 61a; Beit ha-Beḥirah, Kid. 28b).

LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF CONSECRATED PROPERTY

The principle that consecrated property is bi-reshut Gavoha and not in the ownership of a neighbor or the common man (bireshut re'ehu or hedyot) had the effect of placing such property to a large extent beyond customary legal relationships. Thus, neither the law of *ona'ah was applicable to it, "even if a man sold a thousand dinars' worth for one dinar or one dinar's worth for a thousand" (BM 4:9; Tosef. BK 4:3; Maim. Yad, Mekhirah, 13:8; Tur and Sh. Ar., ḤM 227:29), nor the prohibition against *usury (BM 57b; Tur, YD 160). Similarly, no compensation was recoverable in *tort under any of the recognized heads of tort (see *Avot Nezikin), in respect of damage caused by or to consecrated property – in terms of the rule that "there is tort in respect of the commmon man, but not in respect of consecrated property" (i.e., Gavoha; BK 4:3; TB, BK 37b; Tosef. BK 4:1; TJ, Git. 5:1, 46c; Rashi and Tos. BK 6b; Maim. Yad, Nizkei Mamon 8:1). Furthermore a man who stole consecrated property was not liable to pay double compensation and whoever slaughtered or sold it was only required to make good the capital value and was exempted from the four- or five-fold penalty (BM 4:9; Maim. Yad, Genevah 2:1; see also *theft and robbery).

So, too, the law on the different degrees of liability for damage or loss attaching to the four categories of bailees (see *shomerim) did not apply to consecrated property, a bailee being exempted from taking the judicial oath or from paying compensation in respect of such property (BM 4:9; Shev. 6:5; Maim. Yad, Sekhirut, 2:1; Tur and Sh. Ar., ḤM 301:9). In strict law (din Torah) a man was exempt from the need to take the different forms of *oath (BM 4:9, Shev. 6:5; Maim. Yad, To'en 5:1; Tur and Sh. Ar. ḤM 95:1), but the scholars (BM 58a) prescribed that the oath, including the bailees' oath, was required even in respect of consecrated property in order that such property should not be lightly dealt with; the rabbinical decision on taking the oath had to be regarded – according to some of the *posekim – as having the severity of biblical law (Maim. Yad, To'en 5:1). Consecrated property was also distinguished from other property in relation to its modes of acquisition. Thus, hekdesh could acquire from the common man and the common man from hekdesh by way of money (kinyan kesef), whereas one person could only acquire from another in one of the prescribed manners, such as by way of the formality of "drawing" (meshikhah; Kid. 1:6; Tosef. Kid. 1:9).

The institution of hekdesh bears a certain resemblance to the concept of a legal "persona" found in other legal systems. The two are nevertheless distinguishable because of the notion that consecrated property is in the ownership of God and does not belong to any legally created persona, as well as by the fact that to a large extent such property is not circumscribed by or subject to the customary legal relationships. Ishmael's opinion that hekdesh funds could be used to purchase wines, oils, and flours, in order that these could be sold to those requiring them for sacrificial purposes and the profits set aside for the sacred funds, was disputed by Akiva, who stated that there could be no trading for profit with the sacred funds (Shek. 4:3) – since "there must be no poverty where there is wealth" (Ket. 106b; see also Rashi (mahadura kamma) Shitah Mekubbeẓet, Ket. 106b and "lest loss be caused to the sanctuary" (Maim. Yad., Ar. 6:5)). The custodian of hekdesh was the treasurer of the temple (gizbar). It was his task to collect all consecrated property, supervise it, buy and sell according to the needs of the sacred funds, represent hekdesh at law, and "all Melekhet ha-Kodesh was done by him" (Tosef. Shek. 2:15; Maim. Yad, Kelei ha-Mikdash 4:18).

CONSECRATION AS A MITZVAH

Although it was considered a mitzvah for a man to contribute part of his assets for hekdesh purposes "in order to subdue his inclination to be parsimonious" (Maim. Yad, Arakhin 8:12, with ref. to Prov. 3:9), failure to do so involved no blame, in accordance with the biblical injunction, "But, if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee" (Deut. 23:23; Yad, Arakhin 8:12). Moreover, according to Maimonides, it was forbidden for a man to consecrate all his property, and "whoever did so acted contrary to the requirements of the law and committed a foolish rather than a pious act … placing himself at the mercy of his fellow beings …" (Yad, Arakhin 8:13). If a person nevertheless did so, the clothing of his wife and children would be excluded by law from the effect of his consecration (Ar. 6:5; Yad. Arakhin 3:14). Similarly, it was a mitzvah to fulfill an undertaking to consecrate by not later than the first festival after such an undertaking had been given and failure to do so after three festivals had passed was a transgression against the negative precept of "thou shalt not be slack to pay it" (Deut. 23:22; Yad, Ma'aseh ha-Korbanot 14:13).

MISAPPROPRIATION OF CONSECRATED PROPERTY (I.E., SACRILEGE, ME'ILAH BE-HEKDESH)

Deriving a benefit from consecrated property – of either degree of sanctity – was forbidden for as long as it retained its sanctity, the enjoyment of such benefit being considered sacrilege (me'ilah; Me'il. 15a; Yad, Me'ilah 1:1). The inadvertent misappropriation of consecrated property of "monetary" sanctity (see above) by its transfer to another as ḥullin ("secular property") put an end to its sanctity and rendered it ḥullin; consecrated property of "intrinsic" sanctity (see above) retained its sanctity, however, and did not become secular (Kid. 55a; Me'il. 20a; Maim. Yad, Me'ilah, ch. 6).

Hekdesh after the Destruction of the Temple

After the destruction of the Temple the tannaim laid down that a man must no longer consecrate his property as this could give rise to complications if someone were to derive benefit from it, resulting in me'ilah. If a man did this, however, the property would be duly consecrated, but certain precautions would be taken: "if an animal – the door should be locked before it, so that it die of itself; if fruits, garments, or vessels – they should be left to rot; if coins or metal vessels – they should be thrown into the Dead Sea or the ocean so as to lose them" (Av. Zar. 13a and Rashi ibid.; Yad, Arakhin, 8:8). The Talmud records an incident from amoraic times where people ceased to frequent a bathhouse that had been consecrated, for fear of committing possible me'ilah (BM 6a–b).

CONSECRATION FOR THE POOR, OR FOR THE PURPOSE OF ANY OTHER MITZVAH

In post-talmudic times the term hekdesh was principally used, theoretically and in practice, to signify the dedication of property for a charitable purpose or for the fulfillment of some other mitzvah: "Since we no longer have the Temple, the unqualified consecration of property means consecration for synagogues or the poor" (Nov. Ri, Migash, BB 102b; see also Resp. Rashba vol. 5 no. 135; Sefer ha-Terumot, 46:4 and 8; Beit ha-Beḥirah Av. Zar. 13b); "… even if he said 'consecration to heaven,' his intention is for charity" (Duran, Solomon b. Simeon, Sefer ha-Rashbash, no. 361). Only if a person stated that he intended consecration proper to the altar or the Temple funds would the sanctity of hekdesh apply to the property concerned, as well as the prohibition against benefiting from it (Nov. Ri Migash, BB 102b. Rama, YD 258:1). Other scholars expressed the opinion that even in the post-Temple period the law was that if a man simply stated that he was consecrating property, without specifying for what purpose, the sanctity of hekdesh with the prohibition against deriving any benefit it would still be applicable – even if such a person in his heart envisaged an appropriation for the needs of talmud torah and the like. In the 13th century the example was quoted of a book found in Russia bearing the inscription that it had been given to hekdesh by a certain individual, and therefore studying from it was prohibited lest a benefit be derived from consecrated property (Or Zaru'a, Av. Zar., nos. 128 and 129). It was held that the proper way to overcome the prohibition was to approach a scholar with a request for the property to be "released" from its consecration on the grounds that the consecrator had repented of his undertaking – as in the case of a *vow (see Sh. Ar., YD, 258:1).

COMPARISON BETWEEN CONSECRATION FOR THE TEMPLE NEEDS AND CONSECRATION FOR THE POOR

The special rules laid down for consecration for the needs of the Temple did not generally apply to consecration for the poor or for the purposes of some other mitzvah; the latter were subject to the same laws as those governing the property of the common man (Tur ḤM, 95, in the name of R. Isaiah; see also Resp. Rosh 13:1) and "certainly there can be no question" of the law of me'ilah applying to consecration for the poor (Resp. Maharashdam, YD 208). In certain matters, however, the law of consecration for the Temple needs was extended to consecrations of the other kind. In the opinion of most halakhic scholars, the rule that "a mere declaration to the sanctuary is equivalent to transfer to the common man," was applicable also to ẓedakah (see *charity) and "whoever states 'I give such and such an object to charity'… may not retract" (Rif, Halakhot, BK 36b; Ran. Nov. Ned. 29b; Resp. Radbaz, no. 802; Sh. Ar., YD 258:13). Similarly, the laws of ẓedakah were applied in the case of consecration for the poor or for some other mitzvah, and in several respects these laws are similar to those of hekdesh; for example, the negative precept, "thou shalt not be slack to pay it" applies also to ẓedakah, with certain variations (RH 6a and Codes). It was also decided that the act of consecration would be effective even if couched in the language of asmakhta – since "the law of asmakhta does not apply to vows and consecrations" (Resp. Rif, no. 247; Sefer Teshuvot ha-Rashba ha-Meyuḥasot le-ha-Ramban, no. 255; see also Sh. Ar., YD 258:10).

LOANS AT INTEREST FROM HEKDESH FUNDS

The analogy between consecration for charitable purposes and consecration for the Temple needs – despite their substantial difference – provided the halakhic scholars with a solution to the problem of the permissibility of deriving profit from ḥekdesh monies (ma'ot), namely, the consecration (by endowment) of a capital fund whose income was to be set aside for the consecratory purpose. The customary and virtually the only means of deriving income from such monies, was by their loan against interest; however, if this was permissible with regard to consecration for the Temple, funds consecrated for the poor (i.e., ẓedakah) were regarded as property of the "common man" (see e.g., BK 93a) and could not therefore be lent at interest (Raviah, quoted in Or Zaru'a, Hilkhot Ẓedakah, sec. 30 and in Resp. of Meir of Rothenburg, ed. Lemberg, no. 478). At the beginning of the 14th century *Isaac b. Moses of Vienna, a pupil of Eliezer b. Joel ha-Levi (Raviah), decided that only such ẓedakah money as had already been allocated for distribution to a particular individual fell within the prohibition since thereafter it was as if the money already belonged to this individual; until such allocation, however, "the law of hekdesh applies [to ẓedakah] and there is no prohibition against earning interest. Accordingly, when people contribute money and stipulate that the capital is to be preserved but the income distributed to the poor, the law of hekdesh certainly applies to such capital and it may be lent against fixed interest which is prohibited by biblical law [ribbit keẓuẓah de-oraita] since it is not about to be distributed …" (Or Zaru'a, ibid.: the author at first states that this was his opinion prior to knowing that Raviah had laid down a prohibition on the same matter, but he gives no hint at all that he subsequently retracted). This problem, a vexatious one for medieval scholars and communal leaders, was also resolved by Solomon b. Abraham *Adret along similar lines, but on the basis of a different halakhic distinction. In reply to the question whether it was permissible to "lend at interest money contributed for the poor and held by treasurers" – which was customary at that time (Resp. Rashba, vol. 1, no. 669) – Solomon b. Abraham Adret replied that "the Law has only prohibited interest coming directly from the borrower to the lender," and here there is no lender since these monies have no specific owners and there is no specific share that any poor individual may recover from the treasurers, who distribute as they see fit – much, little, or none at all; hence lending at interest was prohibited only in respect of money consecrated for the specified poor, but "in the consecrations customary in our areas the poor are not specified and interest is permissible" (Sefer Teshuvot ha-Rashba ha-Meyuḥasot le-ha-Ramban no. 222). Solomon b. Abraham Adret added, however, that he instructed thus in theory only but not in practice, and "it is not desirable that this be done, lest the fence be breached" (ibid; but cf. idem, Resp. vol. 5, no. 249).

The far-reaching innovation contained in the two abovementioned decisions was not accepted by other scholars. *Meir of Rothenburg took the view that the lending of ẓedakah money at fixed interest was a mitzvah stemming from a transgression, but in view of the prevailing custom he refrained from instructing the hekdesh trustee to act in any other way: "By reason of our sins, the matter has spread to become permissible throughout the kingdom, and the gabba'im sin but not for their own sake, because it is the sin of the whole community; I have not the power to protest and it is better that it be done by them inadvertently and not intentionally" (Resp. Meir of Rothenburg, ed. Lemberg, no. 479.) However, he wrote to questioners that thenceforth they were to refrain from the practice (cf. ibid., secs. 234 and 425) and in his opinion money consecrated for the poor could only be lent at interest when the prohibition stemmed solely from rabbinical law, as was the law with regard to orphan money (ibid., see also BM 70a). The same opinion was expressed by the latter's pupil, *Asher b. Jehiel, who added that this was "plain law requiring no proof" (Rosh 13:17, and 8 and also 10). This view was also accepted as the law in the Tur and Shulḥan Arukh (YD 160:18). It may be surmised that after the rabbis had prescribed a hetter iska; i.e., permission to take interest on loans of money given from any source whatever (see "Shetar Iska" in: Samuel b. Moses David ha-Levi, Naḥalat Shivah, no. 40; see also *Usury); this general permission reduced the need for the special permission innovated by Isaac b. Moses and Solomon b. Abraham Adret in respect of funds for the poor.

PURPOSES OF HEKDESH FUNDS

From the geonic period onward, the term hekdesh came to be widely used to denote the dedication of property for public or communal needs, for the benefit of the poor or the fulfillment of other mitzvot. The purposes for which such funds were endowed were many and diverse, as can be gathered from the responsa of the geonim and later scholars, and included such beneficiaries as: "the poor in general" (as early as the time of the geonim, Hai and Sherira, see S. Assaf, Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (1927), 69, no. 59); "the poor relatives of the donor"; "synagogal needs" (Scrolls of Law, cantor's salary, etc.); "the ransom of captives" (e.g., Resp. Rif, no. 6); "talmud torah" and "those who cling to Torat ha-Shem" (presumably the same, Resp. Rashba, vol. 1, no. 1100); "the burial of the dead"; "dowries for orphans about to be married"; and many others. In various places it was laid down in takkanot that a portion of the fine imposed on a person convicted of a criminal offense was to go to hekdesh (see e.g., Zikhron Yehudah, 36). Many funds took their names from their particular localities, such as Hekdesh Kahal Tortosa (Resp. Rashba, vol. 1 no. 656), Hekdesh le-Aniyyei Saragosa (ibid. 617), Hekdesh Ashkelona (Resp. Rosh 3:13), etc. Testamentary bequests were also commonly expressed in wills in terms of hekdesh. The term was further used to describe particular institutions which served as talmudei torah, homes for the poor or the aged, hospitals, hospices for travelers, etc. (see e.g., Resp. Ranaḥ, no. 84, giving a detailed description of such hekdesh institutions in Constantinople). Halakhic literature, takkanot collections, and Jewish communal documents of the Middle Ages are richly studded with varied references to matters of hekdesh and its different purposes, offering material of much historical interest.

CHANGING THE PURPOSE OF HEKDESH FUNDS

A frequent question concerned the permissibility of changing the original purpose for which the hekdesh funds and the fruits thereof were designated. With regard to ẓedakah monies it was laid down that "the townsmen may convert the soup kitchen to a charity box and vice versa, and to divert their use to any purpose they think fit" (BB 8b, and Codes); in the opinion of Jacob b. Meir *Tam, the townsmen were at liberty to divert the funds even toward a purpose that was permissible but not obligatory (devar ha-reshut) such as the maintenance of the town guard (Tos. to BB 8b). On the other hand, it was decided that funds explicitly contributed for a specified purpose could not be diverted (Resp. Rambam, ed. Blau, no. 206; Resp. Ritba no. 206); a standing local custom relied on by the communal leaders for the diversion of funds from their stated purpose justified the assumption that a contribution was given subject to the said custom (S. Assaf, Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (1927), 69, no. 59; Sefer Teshuvot ha-Rashba ha-Meyuḥasot le-ha-Rambam, no. 268), unless the contrary had been expressly stipulated (Resp. Rambam no. 206; Rema YD 259:2). In the discussions on this question, the nature of the charitable purpose played an important role and the principle was accepted that there could only be a change in charitable objects from a less to a more important one: e.g., funds for the synagogue or cemetery could be applied to the needs of a house of study or those of talmud torah, but not vice versa (Sh. Ar., YD 259:2). The same principle applied in the case of a field contributed for the purpose of the annual distribution of its produce to the poor, even when seven prominent townsmen agreed to a change of purpose, since the contributor had declared his intention that the field be used for this particular purpose only and any change would amount to "robbing the poor" (Resp. Rashba, vol 5, no. 269; in this case the change was prohibited even for the purpose of talmud torah, Sh. Ar., YD 259:2; see also PDR 1:359f.). However, diverting funds was held to be permissible even of those destined for talmud torah or the support of the poor, for the purpose of redeeming captives, since this amounted to saving life and took precedence over all other charitable purposes (Sh. Ar., YD 251:14; 252:1).

ADMINISTRATION AND LEGAL PROCEDURE

Hekdesh is administered by an *apotropos ("guardian" or "trustee") or gizbar ("treasurer") appointed by the benefactor or the court; the court is the higher guardian of hekdesh and in the administration the apotropos is subject to the court's supervision (Sha'arei Uziel, 1 (1944), 108–15; PDR, 2:34). The trustee must be godfearing, trustworthy, and experienced in negotiating transactions (Resp. Rambam no. 54), his task being to guard the hekdesh assets from all loss and to administer them faithfully in accordance with the purposes for which they were endowed and the instructions of the court (PDR 1:359f.) If there is a strong suspicion concerning the good faith of his administration of the assets, the court is obliged to dismiss him from his position (PDR ibid.) but if he was appointed by the benefactor himself, he cannot be dismissed unless proved to have been derelict in his duties (PDR 2:27ff.). In many places it was customary to appoint special supervisors, called avi yetomim ("father of orphans"), as a board of control over trustees, and this has been considered appropriate also for hekdesh assets (Taz to Sh. Ar., YD, 258:5; PDR loc. cit.).

Contrary to the rule evolved from talmudic law, that a three-year period of undisputed possession does not confer the title of ḥazakah ("presumptive ownership") in respect of hekdesh for public needs – because there is no one to protest on its behalf – it was decided by Solomon b. Abraham Adret that in his time hekdesh assets were so organized as to make it possible for them to be acquired by ḥazakah, "since here there are known owners and appointed treasurers, who have a part in such property and buy, sell, and barter with the knowledge of the ḥavurah" (i.e., society or corporate body; Resp. Rashba, quoted in Beit Yosef, ḤM 149, n. 37). It was also thus decided in respect of all hekdesh property supervised by treasurers (Sh. Ar., ḤM 149:31 and see Isserles' gloss thereto). On the question of the extent to which a charitable fund of such kind could be regarded as having a separate legal identity, see *Legal Person.

EVIDENCE IN MATTERS OF HEKDESH

In the post-talmudic period hekdesh was associated with an interesting development in the rules of evidence in Jewish law. In talmudic times the law was that persons connected with or having an interest in the matter under dispute were disqualified from testifying in regard to it (see *Witness) and a townsman could not therefore testify in a matter concerning the property of his town, unless he had renounced all benefit from such property (BB 43a and Codes). In terms of this halakhic ruling it was decided, as late as the beginning of the 11th century, that those who worshiped in a particular synagogue were disqualified from testifying in regard to hekdesh contributed for the bene fit of that synagogue (Resp. Rif nos. 163 and 247). With the proliferation of public institutions and particularly as far as the community was concerned, the observance of the prohibition in matters involving the interests of such bodies represented an ever-increasing burden, with the result that new customs and *takkanot established and confirmed the competency of such witnesses, "in all public matters, including hekdeshot, for if it were not to be so, who would there be to testify?… there would be no remedy where public needs are concerned … if competent witnesses have to be brought from outside … there would be found but one in a thousand" (Resp. Rashba, vol. 1, no. 680). This custom became the decided law enshrined in the Shulhan Arukh (ḤM, 37:22; see also *takkanot ha-kahal; taxation).

The concept of hekdesh in its later meaning was a creation of the post-talmudic historico-social situation, and was accompanied by a number of legal developments corresponding to the changes in the social fabric of Jewish life. The phenomenon of a term bearing two different meanings, of which hekdesh is an interesting example, offers evidence of one of the paths along which Jewish law has developed. Adherence to a common appellation for a concept with alternative meanings, despite the substantial difference between them, permitted the application of laws pertaining to the concept within one of its meanings – hekdesh or consecration for the Temple needs – to the concept within its alternative meaning – hekdesh or endowment for charitable purposes – for the purpose of solving certain problems emanating from the changing realities of everyday life.

In the State of Israel

In Israel hekdesh exists in two forms. First is endowment of property as approved by a religious court and administered in terms of religious law. Originally, Muslim law was applied, even in respect of non-Muslim endowments of this kind. In terms of the Palestine Order-in-Council, 1922, the Jewish community, as well as several Christian communities, were empowered to found Wakf or religious endowments and to administer them according to the religious law of the community in question. The second is the endowment of property for charitable purposes according to the civil, as opposed to the religious law, namely in terms of the "Charitable Trusts Ordinance." The ordinance subjects the charitable trust and the trustee administering it to the supervision of the courts and defines "charitable trusts" as "including all purposes for the benefit of the public or any section of the public within or without Palestine [now to be read "the State of Israel"], of any of the following categories:

(1) for the relief of poverty;

(2) for the advancement of education or knowledge;

(3) for the advancement of religion or the maintenance of religious rites or practices;

(4) for any other purpose beneficial, or of interest to, mankind.

[Menachem Elon]

In the Middle Ages the hekdesh was a communal shelter and infirmary for the poor, transient, and the sick. The term does not appear until the late Middle Ages, though Jewish *hospitals are found much earlier. By the 17th century every important community in Central and Eastern Europe had a hekdesh for the sick and the poor. The institution persisted into the 19th century. The size of the hospice ranged from a rented room to a house or group of small buildings. Most often it was located out of town near the cemetery. The hekdesh was administered by a local *ḥevrah, usually named bikkur ḥolim, and supervised by the kahal. The *gabbai of the association, often a local merchant, was expected to visit the hospice as often as several times a day and to supervise the work of the beadle, the physician, the surgeon, and the hekdeshleyt ("attendants"). The hekdesh was usually so unsanitary and dirty that a person would view with horror the prospect of staying there. The patients in Altona, about 1764, described themselves thus: "We the poor, fathers with children, lying-in women with their offspring, nursing mothers with their sucklings, old men and young men, all of whom are cast upon the bed of sickness, enduring our ailments, crushed, wasted; also we who are insane and distraught…" A British missionary who visited Minsk in the early 19th century writes: "In the Jewish Hospital we saw 45 young and old of both sexes, seemingly without any classification of disease, placed in several small rooms. They certainly presented one of the most appalling scenes of wretchedness I ever witnessed; filth, rags, and pestilential effluvia pervaded the whole place." Thus in Yiddish hekdesh became synonymous with disorder and disarray in the home, in a room, or concerning a person. Not until the modern hospital came into its own did the situation improve.

[Isaac Levitats]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

J. Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥak, S.V. Hekdesh and Beit Hekdesh; Gulak, Yesodei, 1 (1922), 50–54, 98f.; Gulak, Oẓar, 112, 128–31, 347f.; Herzog, Instit, 1 (1936), 288–91, 295; 2 (1939), 17, 30, 68 n. 1, 189; B.Z.M.Ḥ. Ouziel, Sha'arei Uziel, 1 (1944), 93–107; ET, 2 (1949), 40–42, 201f.; 5 (1953), 51–65; 10 (1961), 352–442. IN THE MIDDLE AGES: J. Marcus, Communal Sick-Care (1947); I. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia (1943).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.