A person who donates something to the Bais Haknesses, for example the paroches or the silver breastplate for the Sefer Torah, has the right to have it engraved that he donated it. The congregation is not allowed to protest. The Torah itself publicizes those who do mitzvos. The Rema (Yoreh Deah 249:13) writes “one who donates something for Tzedakah is permitted to have his name written on it so it shall be a remembrance for him. It is proper to do so”. The Taz explains the reason it is proper to do so is that this way the congregation won’t be able to use it for something else. Another reason is so others including his children should learn from him and do the same. Even after it was already donated, he may still insist that his name be written on it.
This also applies to articles donated by women. She may have her name written on whatever was donated. There were tzadikim however who were makpid not to have the name of a woman on the paroches or on the mantel of the Sefer Torah.
Reb Moshe zt”l writes that if instead the gabaim want to recognize his dedication on a plaque and hang it in the Bais Haknesses they are permitted to do so. The Shevet Halevi says that even when writing it on the actual object, it should be in a modest place where it doesn’t stick out so much, as if to say the name of the person is also part of the Klei Kodesh.
Reb Moshe zt”l says that afterwards it is prohibited to erase the person’s name from what he donated. Since he wants his name there it is considered that he donated it only on this condition. The Shevet Halevi says that if the person’s name was engraved on a plaque and it fell down, it must be put back up. He is not sure though if this would also need to be done when the congregation put up the plaque on their own.
The Rema earlier writes that one should not glorify himself through the tzedaka that he gives. Not only will he not receive reward for it, he will also get punished for it. The poskim explain that this only refers to Tzedakah given to the poor, however for Tzedakah given to a Bais Haknesses or any other institution it is not a problem as the Rema himself ends off as mentioned earlier.
The Maharsham writes that all dedications that are hung up in the Bais Haknesses, especially those that are written on the paroches and mantel of the Sefer Torah, should only be written in Lashon Hakodesh. This is to show that the language of the goyim has no place in a Bais Haknesses. I’m unsure if this would apply in places where the language spoken in the Bais Haknesses is not Lashon Hakodesh or Yiddish.
The Rema (Yoreh Deah 259:4) says that if a non-Jew donates something to the Bais Haknesses, we may accept it. There is no prohibition to have their name engraved on it. Many poskim hold that it should only be done, if hatred will be caused by not doing so. It should also be in a place that is not so recognizable. There is a discussion amongst the poskim if, when and where a donation may be accepted from Jews who are not Shomrei Torah Umitzvos.
The Sefer Chassidim brings a story about a person who built a Bais Haknesses on his own. The congregation also wanted to participate in the expenses, however he would not let. He wanted this Bais Haknesses to be an everlasting honor for his children and descendants. In the end there were no surviving descendants. It seems that one should not publicize his name when donating to a Bais Haknesses. The meforshim explain that the Sefer Hachassidim was speaking about where the other people also wanted to donate and he didn’t let. However if the tzibbur has no objection either because they themselves can’t afford it or because it can only be obtained from this person, then there is no problem at all to publicize his name as mentioned above.1
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind
1Sources: Mishnah Berurah, Dirshu, Piskei Teshuvos