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    Naming rights – Ask the Rabbi

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

    schoolA. 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 acknowledgement. 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.

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