Welcome to Kiddushin! Our new masechet begins with a discussion of how transactions are executed. The first chapter is largely about קנין, purchase, and how it works. In the first Mishnah we hear about how a woman is acquired:
“Beit Shammai say that she can be acquired with one dinar or with anything that is worth one dinar. And Beit Hillel say: She can be acquired with one peruta, a small copper coin, or with anything that is worth one peruta.” (Kiddushin 2a)
Before we get to how much these amounts are worth, it is interesting to note that the acquisition can be done with money or something worth money, כסף או שווה כסף. An actual coin is not necessary, just something that has value. In any case, coins by the time of the Mishnah had more symbolic than actual value – they were usually worth more than the metal they were made from, or sometimes less.
Today most if not all Jewish weddings follow the idea of using a monetary equivalent and not actual money. The transaction is done with a ring, not coins or other kinds of money. Yet the Mishnah and the Gemara never mention rings. In fact, hundreds of years later, Rabbi Yosef Caro in the Shulhan Arukh (16th century) talks about using money for kiddushin and only Rabbi Moshe Isserles, in his commentary, adds that it is the custom to use a ring. Rings were common in Roman nuptials and perhaps that is where this widespread practice originated but they were not essential to Jewish weddings.
Our Mishnah is discussing money so let us return to that. Coins played a major role in ancient times and were useful not only for buying things but for information. In a time before newspapers and print, not to mention the Internet, coins were an excellent form of propaganda. New emperors were able to disseminate their images through coins and thus secure their legitimacy. Rebels, like the Jews in the Great Revolt and the Bar Kokhba Revolt, could proclaim their sovereignty through coins. They could also show their disdain for the Romans by overstriking Roman coins with their own (as well as saving money on the metal).
A zuz from the Bar Kokhba Revolt
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:IsraelXKV8RTallenna tiedosto – Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Coins are one of the most significant items that can be found in archaeology. They contain a wealth of information on a very small surface. Dates, places, rulers, languages are all there to see. In addition, the type of metal as well as the value tell us about the economy that the coin comes from – rich or poor? What were the natural resources? Did they have their own mint?
The Mishnah cites three kinds of coins: a dinar, a peruta and an Italian issar (a Roman issar). Bet Shammai says that the coin must be at least a dinar, Bet Hillel says at least a peruta. The Mishnah continues to define a peruta as an eighth of an Italian issar. Let us understand which coins these are and how much they are worth.
Coin value in Mishnaic times, at least in the land of Israel, was connected to the Roman system. The standard Roman coin was a denarius, or a dinar as it is written here. One dinar was equal to sixteen Roman as, or issar as the Mishnah writes it. The Jewish system was slightly different. Here a dinar was equal to twenty-four issars. A dinar also had the name zuz, as in the Had Gadya song where the goat is bought for two zuzim.
Trombonist04, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Returning to the Jewish system, we see that one issar equals eight perutot, and if you have twenty-four issarim in a dinar, a dinar is equal to one hundred and ninety- two perutot! Even if you got lost in the math this is the important point: a dinar is a huge sum compared to a peruta. So why the difference between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel?
An answer to this question, at least from the point of view of Bet Shammai, is given a few pages later:
“This is the reasoning of Beit Shammai, [who hold that a woman can be betrothed only with a minimum of one dinar]: The daughters of Israel should not be treated like ownerless property הפקר” (Kiddushin 12a)
Professor Zeev Safrai differs. He says that while it may be true that Bet Shammai appreciated the value of women, neither group considered a woman worth only a peruta, or even a dinar. Rather, Bet Hillel view the purchase as symbolic and therefore any amount will do, while Bet Shammai see it as an actual purchase that requires a real sum of money. In Jewish law, Bet Hillel won, as often happens, and the concept of שווה פרוטה, worth a peruta, became an important one. No transaction can be made if it is less than a peruta’s worth. The peruta in monetary transactions is similar to the kezayit, the olive size, in volume.
Perutot, while almost worthless, are very common in archaeology. This makes sense – if you dropped a dinar, or a sela (equal to four dinar) you would spend time looking for it and pick it up. If you dropped a peruta you might not bother. But interestingly, there seem to be perutot only from Second Temple times. Here is a common one, made in the first century CE by the Jewish king Agrippas I:
Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
We do not find later perutot, and indeed there are none in the Roman system. In our masechet, we have the opinion of Rav Yosef that a peruta is “anything” (Kiddushin 12a). Rashi explains this to mean that the coin values changed over time, which of course they did. But the Ritva adds that it means the smallest coin available and it does not have to have a fixed denomination.
Would you stop to pick up a peruta? Or leave it behind for the archaeologists of the future?