Menahot, Chapter Thirteen, Mishnah Ten
Todays mishnah deals with a fascinating historical topic, the Temple of Onias. The Temple of Onias was a Jewish Temple built in Egypt, in Heliopolis, around 230 years before the destruction of the Temple, some time during the second century B.C.E. The Temple is mentioned by Josephus who relates that it was destroyed in 73 C.E., three years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The rabbis did not look with favor upon the Temple of Onias, but neither did they completely reject it. It seems that the rabbis believed that such a Temple was not a valid form of worship, but that it was not an idolatrous shrine and that it was created with good, albeit mistaken, intent.
1) [If one said,] I take upon myself to offer an olah, he must offer it in the Temple.
a) And if he offered it in the Temple of Onias, he has not fulfilled his obligation.
b) [If one said,] I take upon myself to offer an olah but I will offer it in the Temple of Onias, he must offer it in the Temple, yet if he offered it in the Temple of Onias he has fulfilled his obligation.
c) Rabbi Shimon says: this is not an olah.
2) [If one said,] I will be a nazirite, he must bring his offerings and shave his hair in the Temple.
a) And if he brought them and shaved his hair in the Temple of Onias he has not fulfilled his obligation.
b) [If he said,] I will be a nazirite but I will bring my offerings and shave my hair in the Temple of Onias, he must bring them in the Temple, yet if he brought them and shaved his hair in the Temple of Onias he has fulfilled his obligation.
c) Rabbi Shimon says: such a one is not a nazirite.
3) The priests who served in the Temple of Onias may not serve in the Temple in Jerusalem; and needless to say [this is so of priests who served] something else; for it is said, The priests of the shrines, however, did not ascend the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem. But they did eat unleavened bread along with their kinsmen (II Kings 23:9).
a) Thus they are like those that had a blemish: they are entitled to share and eat [of the holy things] but they are not permitted to offer sacrifices.
Section one: If one offers to bring an olah, he must bring it to the Temple in Jerusalem. If he brings it to the Temple of Onias in Egypt, he has not fulfilled his obligation. If he specifically states that he is going to bring it to the Temple of Onias, he should still bring it to the Temple in Jerusalem because for it to truly be an olah, it must be offered in Jerusalem. However, if he offers it in the Temple, he has fulfilled his vow.
Rabbi Shimon takes a stronger stance against the Temple of Onias. Vowing to bring an olah at the Temple of Onias does not make the animal an olah. Therefore, there is no validity to his vow and he need not bring a sacrifice at all.
Section two: The same rules hold true for a nazirite with regard to completing his naziriteship which is performed in the Temple by shaving and bringing sacrifices.
Section three: Priests who serve in the Temple of Onias are penalized by not being allowed to subsequently serve in the Temple of Jerusalem. However, they still can receive their share of holy things, such as terumah and sacrificial meat. The mishnah compares them with priests with blemishes. In other words, priests remain priests no matter what they do. Their genealogy provides them with the right to eat priestly food. But to serve in the Temple one must be unblemished, both physically and spiritually. Serving in the Temple of Onias and all the more so serving in an idolatrous temple, called by the Mishnah something else, disqualifies one from serving in the Temple in Jerusalem.