Fifteen years ago Margaret Thatcher, the then British Prime Minister attempted to institute a poll tax. In addition to the regulation income tax, an additional local property toll was introduced. No matter one's social position or financial circumstances, an identical payment was levied on each adult resident.

Mass demonstrations resulted. People rioted. She was sacked as PM.

I can understand the outrage. Isn't a tax that devolves on everyone equally, regardless of his or her ability to pay, patently inequitable?

When Moses was commanded to raise funds to build the Mishkan -- the traveling Temple that accompanied the Jews through the desert — voluntary contributions of building and decorating materials were solicited, and the Jews, as is our wont, responded with generosity. So eager was the nation to participate in the project that just two days after the public appeal was initiated the builders found themselves oversupplied with the requisite materials and had to beg people to stop.

Each man, woman and child donated voluntarily "out of the generosity of one's heart" (Exodus 25:2) with one seemingly minor exception. The silver sockets to hold up the walls of the Mishkan were funded by a compulsory poll tax, exactly half a shekel per capita. Not only was this a required contribution, people could not even choose their level of individual commitment; rates were fixed at a half-shekel per head.

I don't get it. Why leave the whole enterprise up to each person's generosity and then risk exciting the resentment of the masses by compelling them to donate to just one subsection of the project?

People often complain about the perceived lack of autonomy in Judaism. Why must we all pray the same words, the same way, at the same time? Surely prayer should be a distinct journey of the untrammeled soul, individualized and appropriate to self.

In truth this is a specious argument. There is huge scope for self-determination in our religious lives. One's inclination influences one's relationship with G‑d. Some pray at length, some study all day and some choose to concentrate their efforts in altruism and charitable giving.

During prayer however, there is less room for personal preference and the same prayer book is appropriate to all. This is analogous to the sockets holding up the building: prayer is the bedrock of our faith, the cornerstone of our day and the articulation of our soul. This soul is identical in each of us and underpins our common mission.

Though the sockets only cost a fraction of the entire outlay, they were the foundation of the entire building. Insignificant in size or substance they may well have been, but symbolically the whole framework and structure of the Temple rested on them. By forcing every single Jew to assume an equal share in the costs, G‑d was announcing that the foundations of our faith are equally applicable and dependent on all.

Following this comes the capacity for self-expression in Judaism. To each their own "out of the generosity of one's heart." Once the commonality that binds us has been expressed, then comes the scope for personal autonomy: choose the path to religious gratification that suits you best; study to your heart's content, give of yourself to others. Live up to whichever path to G‑dliness that best expresses your unique individuality.