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Introduction to Masechet Shekalim by Gitta Neufeld

Introduction to Masechet Shekalim

Everyone Counts!

This masechta deals with the annual “head tax” of a half-shekel that every adult male Jew was required to pay during the time of the Bet HaMikdash.  The money was used to pay for the public korbanot, which had to “belong” to the entire nation.

Note that there is no Shas Bavli on mishnayot Shekalim, although there is a Yerushalmi.  (By the way, the same is true of Kinim, Tamid and Middot) The standard editions of the Bavli have included the Yerushalmi Shekalim (with some minor variants) since the sixteenth century and Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l included it in his plans for the Daf Yomi program. One possible reason is that, since this is the only masechta missing from Seder Moed, its inclusion allows us to complete the entire Seder. Unlike the Bavli, there is no standard pagination system for the Yerushalmi, leading to a variety of pages:  it finishes on daf 22 in the Vilna Shas, daf 30 in the Warsaw, and daf 13 in the Zhitomir.  In fact, the earliest full printing of Shas (Venice, 1522) completes the masechta on daf 12! The first seven cycles of the Daf Yomi used a 13-page version. Once that edition became harder to find, the cycle was changed and the 22-page version is now in use.  So – the cycle is now 2711 (instead of 2702) days.  We should also note that the masechta is written in Palestinian Aramaic, not Babylonian, so you will notice different words and phrases than those we have become accustomed to. Finally, there are no commentaries by Rashi and Tosafot on the masechta. The most common traditional commentaries are Rivevan, by Rabbi Yehudah ben Binyamin of Rome (c. 1215-1280), Korban HaEidah, by Rabbi David Frankel of Dessau (c. 1704-1762), and Tiklin Chadtin and Mishnat Eliyahu, both by Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov (c. 1770-1839), one of the students of the Gra who emigrated to Israel in the 1810’s.

The mitzvah of the half-shekel

Shemot 30:11-16

וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר׃ כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת־רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהוָה בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם וְלֹא־יִהְיֶה בָהֶם נֶגֶף בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם׃ זֶה יִתְּנוּ כָּל־הָעֹבֵר עַל־הַפְּקֻדִים מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה הַשֶּׁקֶל מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל תְּרוּמָה לַיהוָה׃ כֹּל הָעֹבֵר עַל־הַפְּקֻדִים מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמָעְלָה יִתֵּן תְּרוּמַת ה’׃ הֶעָשִׁיר לֹא־יַרְבֶּה וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט מִמַּחֲצִית הַשָּׁקֶל לָתֵת אֶת־תְּרוּמַת ה’ לְכַפֵּר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם׃ וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת־כֶּסֶף הַכִּפֻּרִים מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְנָתַתָּ אֹתוֹ עַל־עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְהָיָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְזִכָּרוֹן לִפְנֵי ה’ לְכַפֵּר עַל־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם׃

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: When you take a census of the Israelite people according to their enrollment, each shall pay the LORD a ransom for himself on being enrolled, that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled. This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty gerahs to the shekel—a half-shekel as an offering to the LORD. Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give the LORD’s offering: the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel when giving the LORD’s offering as expiation for your persons. You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before the LORD, as expiation for your persons.

While these verses seem to indicate that the half-shekel was used to count the people (a census), the Rabbis extended them to serve as a basis for funding communal Temple offerings.  As the Sefer HaChinuch (13th century Spain) says:

מצות נתינת מחצית השקל בשנה – שיתן כל אחד מישראל מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה בין עני בין עשיר מחצית השקל. שהוא משקל עשרה גרה כסף בכל שנה ליד הכהנים, שנאמר (שמות ל, יג) זה יתנו כל העובר על הפקדים. והיו מניחין הכל בלשכה אחת שבמקדש, ומשם היו מוציאין (שקלים פ”ד) לקנות תמידין ומוספין וכל קרבן הקרב על הצבור ונסכיהם, והמלח שמולחין בו את הקרבנות, ועצי המערכה, ולחם הפנים ושכר העושה לחם הפנים, והעמר ושתי הלחם, ופרה אדמה, ושעיר המשתלח, ולשון של זהורית.

The commandment of the giving of the half shekel during the year: That each one of Israel from twenty years and up – whether poor or rich – give the half shekel, which is the weight of ten gerah of silver, each year to the hand of the priests, as it is stated (Exodus 30:13), “This is what everyone who passes the count shall give.” And they would place all of it in a compartment in the Temple. And from there they would take them out (Mishnah Shekalim 4) to buy daily offerings, additional offerings and any sacrifice brought for the community and their libations, the salt with which they would salt the sacrifices, the wood for the arrangement, the bread of display and the wage of the one making the bread of display, the omer, the two-breads, the red heifer, the goat sent away and the golden strip [it would carry].

משרשי המצוה. שרצה הקדוש ברוך הוא לטובת כל ישראל ולזכותם שתהיה יד כלם שוה בדבר הקרבנות הקרבים לפניו כל השנה בהתמדה ובענינים אלו הנזכרים, ושיהיו הכל, אחד עני ואחד עשיר, שוים במצוה אחת לפניו להעלות זכרון כלם על ידי המצוה שהם כלולים בה יחד לטובה לפניו. ועלית הזכרון הכל נאמר מצד המקבל על הדרך שכתבנו למעלה (מצוה צז).

It is from the roots of the commandment that the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted for the good of all of Israel and for their merit, that the hand of all be equal in the matter of the sacrifices that are brought in front of Him regularly the whole year, and in these matters that were mentioned. [It is] also that all be equal – both poor and rich – in one commandment in front of Him, to bring up their thought for the good in front of Him, through the commandment that they are all included in. And raising up the thought is all said from the side of the receiver (people), as we have written above (Sefer HaChinukh 97).

There is an allusion to the annual requirement to give the half-shekel in the Bemidbar 28:14, which discusses the offerings for Rosh Chodesh:

וְנִסְכֵּיהֶם חֲצִי הַהִין יִהְיֶה לַפָּר וּשְׁלִישִׁת הַהִין לָאַיִל וּרְבִיעִת הַהִין לַכֶּבֶשׂ יָיִן זֹאת עֹלַת חֹדֶשׁ בְּחָדְשׁוֹ לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה׃

Their libations shall be: half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. That shall be the monthly burnt offering for each new moon of the year.

 

 

 

The Gemara in Rosh HaShanah 7a notes:

וְלִתְרוּמַת שְׁקָלִים מְנָלַן אָמַר רַבִּי יֹאשִׁיָּה אָמַר קְרָא זֹאת עוֹלַת חֹדֶשׁ בְּחׇדְשׁוֹ לְחׇדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה אָמְרָה תּוֹרָה חֹדֶשׁ וְהָבֵא קׇרְבָּן מִתְּרוּמָה חֲדָשָׁה וְגָמְרִי שָׁנָה שָׁנָה מִנִּיסָן דִּכְתִיב רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחׇדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה

And the first of Nisan is the New Year for collection of the shekels that had been collected in Adar and were used to purchase animals for communal offerings and other needs of the Temple. The Gemara asks: From where do we derive this? Rabbi Yoshiya said that the verse states: “This is the burnt-offering of each month in its month throughout the months [leḥodshei] of the year” (Numbers 28:14). The seemingly superfluous term: “Throughout the months [leḥodshei] of the year,” should be understood as follows: The Torah is saying here: Renew [ḥaddesh] the year and bring an offering from the new collection of the shekels. And it is derived by way of a verbal analogy between one instance of the word “year” and another instance of the word “year” that the year begins for this purpose from Nisan, as it is written with regard to Nisan: “It shall be the first month of the year to you” (Exodus 12:2).[1]

All Jewish adult males (regardless of kohen, levi or yisrael status) are obligated to pay the annual tax. While women and children are exempt, if they choose to contribute, their donations are accepted.  Non-Jews, however, cannot contribute to this specific fund (which is used for communal korbanot); other donations made by non-Jews to the Temple are accepted.

The mitzvah of the half-shekel is mandatory only while the Temple stands. However, it is still commemorated in the custom of donating half the common currency unit (pound in England, dollar in the US, euro in most of Europe, etc.) before the evening reading of the Megillah on Purim and in the public reading of Parshat Shekalim, the first of the “Four Parshiyot[2]” read in (or right before) Adar and Nissan.

The monies

The half-shekels were kept in a distinct fund, which had very specific allowed uses. First and foremost, the money was used to pay for the public korban. It could also be used for related expenses, such as paying those who were hired to teach kohanim how to perform various parts of the avodah.[3] If there was money left over after the shekel “fiscal year,” which ran from Nissan to Nissan, the “old” funds were used for specific Mikdash-related projects, which are discussed on dapim 10b and 11a.

Other donations, also discussed in this masechta, were made for the upkeep of the Mikdash, known as bedek haBayit. These were voluntary donations, and could be of any amount, whether money, materials used in the Mikdash or items that could be resold, with the funds raised then used for this purpose.

Collection

The half-shekel tax was mandatory for all Jews, not only those living in Israel.  This is so that all have a share in the korbanot and the kapparah they bestow. Collections began with the announcement at the beginning of Adar, which we recall in our reading of Parshat Shekalim on the Shabbat we announce Rosh Chodesh Adar (or on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh if Rosh Chodesh falls on that day).  At the same time, they began repairing roads and make other preparations for the massive aliyah leregel pilgrimage for Pesach. From the 15th of Adar (the day after Purim), there would be officials ready to accept the contributions. Towards the end of the month, these officials were empowered to enforce collection, seizing assets as collateral for delinquent donors.[4] The money was placed in a special lishka (chamber) in the Mikdash, so that it could not be mingled with other funds.

Money would be withdrawn from the chamber at three points in the year: Rosh Chodesh Nissan, before Shavuot and before Sukkot.  This was done to ensure that funds from all donations were accessed, since money sent from further away may not have been included in earlier withdrawals. Any money remaining after the third withdrawal was considered “remainders,” and used for specific projects related to the Mikdash.   The money could not be used for next year’s public korbanot.

 

 

The Half-Shekel

In the Torah, the shekel’s value is four dinars, so a half-shekel is worth two dinars. However, the Gemara uses the word “shekel” to refer to a coin of two-dinar value, and calls a four-dinar value coin a “sela.” Sela is actually the Aramaic translation of shekel. Ramban (Shemot 30:13) says:

ודע כי שקלי התורה הם הסלעים האלו שכל סלע מהן ארבעה דינרין, אבל שקל המוזכר בדברי חכמים, כגון ששנינו (שבועות מג) שקל הלויתני עליו וסלע היה שוה, סלע הלויתיך עליו ושקל היה שוה, הוא ב’ דינרין, חצי הסלע. וטעם זה, מפני שהעם קורין שקלים לחצי הסלעים שהיו שוקלים בכל שנה, וכן הונהג בלשון חכמים במשנה, ועל כן אומר אדם לחברו שקל הלויתני, כלומר המשקל שישראל שוקלים. ויתכן שעשו בזמן בית שני מטבע של כסף של ב’ דינרים כדי שיהא מצוי לתת לגזבר ההקדש ולא יצטרכו לקלבון, וקראו לזה המטבע שקל, והיו קורין לשקל של משה שהוא שקל של תורה סלע כתרגומו.

And you should know that the shekels on the Torah are these selas, of which each sela is four dinars. However, the shekel mentioned in the words of the Sage, such as when we learned, “You lent me a shekel and the collateral was worth a sela…you lent me a sela and the collateral was worth a shekel (Shavuot 43a),” is worth two dinars, or half a sela.  The reason for this is that people called the half-selas that they paid annually “shekel.” And this was also the practice in the language of our Sages in the Mishnah. Therefore, a person might say to someone, “You lent me a shekel,” meaning the value that the Jews paid as the half-shekel tax.  And it is possible that in Second Temple times they minted a silver coin worth 2 dinars so that it would be convenient to give to the Temple tax collector, and they would not need to pay an exchange fee, and they called this coin “shekel,”  and they called Moshe’s shekel – the shekel of the Torah – a sela.

 

At the end of his life, Ramban was forced to flee from Spain to Israel. He made several additions to his Torah commentary based on his experiences and findings.  One of them relates to the half-shekel:

ברכני השם עד כה שזכיתי ובאתי לעכו ומצאתי שם ביד זקני הארץ מטבע כסף מפותח פתוחי חותם – מצדו האחד כעין מקל שקד ומצידו השני כעין צלוחית, ובשני הצדדים סביב כתב מפותח באר היטב. והראו הכתב לכותיים וקראוהו מיד, כי הוא כתב עברי אשר נשאר לכותיים, כמו שמוזכר בסנהדרין (כא ע”ב), וקראו מן הצד האחד ‘שקל השקלים’, ומן הצד השני ‘ירושלים הקדושה’. ואומרים כי הצורות – מקלו של אהרן, שקדיה ופרחיה, והצורה השנית – צנצנת המן. ושקלנו אותו בשולחנות ומשקלו עשרה כסף אסטרילינש, והם חצי האוקיא שהזכירה רבנו שלמה

God has blessed me so that I have merited to come to Acco, and I found there, in the possession of the local elders, a coin engraved like the engraving of a signet ring. One side, there is an image of an almond branch and on the other side, that of a jug; and on both sides there is clearly engraved writing. They showed this to the Samaritans and they immediately read it, because this Hebrew script is still used by the Samaritans, as is mentioned in Sanhedrin (21b).  On one side, they read “shekel of the shekalim,” and on the other side, “Holy Jerusalem.” And they say the images are Aharon’s staff with its almonds and blossoms, and the second image is the jar of man. And we weighed it in a moneychanger’s shop, and its weight was 10 silver esterlins, and that is the half-ounce that Rabbi Shelomo (Rashi) mentioned.

The Structure of the Masechta

Chapter 1

באחד באדר

The laws and customs of Adar

How the collection was done

Who is obligated

Chapter 2

מצרפין שקלים

Bringing the money to the Mikdash

Allocation of the surplus

Chapter 3

בשלשה פרקים

Withdrawing the funds
Chapter 4

התרומה

The use of the withdrawn money

The surplus funds

Private donations

Chapter 5

אלו הן הממונים

Organization of the Mikdash staff

Practical and financial arrangements for menachot and nesachim

Chapter 6

י”ג שופרות

The 13 collection baskets and their purposes

Other 13’s in the Mikdash

Chapter 7

מעות שנמצאו

What happens when funds are comingled

Other cases of doubt

Chapter 8

כל הרוקין

Continuation of “doubt” issues

Purifying Mikdash vessels

 

Food for Thought

Many commentaries question why a half-shekel, as opposed to an “entire” coin, was used for the census. Wouldn’t it be easier to count one coin for one person, as opposed to having to do math and multiply the total amount by two to find out how many people there are? One thought is that we don’t operate in a silo (especially meaningful this year!). We need each other to be complete. Without each other, we are only “half coins.” We have value, but we are still incomplete. Maybe that’s the message to us.  If we want to restore the Temple, which is financed by these half-shekels, then we need to realize that we are incomplete without each other.  As we proclaim כל דכפין ייתא ויאכל – let all who are in need come and eat – we give more weight to that which unites us than that which makes us different. We have different customs.  We have different philosophies. We have different lifestyles.  But – at the end of the day – we are only halves, looking to complete each other. May we merit SOON to visit the סוכת שלם – another name for the Mikdash – which to me evokes the idea of a nation being שלם complete  and בשלום at peace.

 

 

 

Image credits:

 

 

 

[1] Steinsaltz

[2] Shekalim, Zachor, Parah and HaChodesh

[3] Rambam, Laws of Shekalim 4:4-7

[4] Mishna, 3b

Hadran Women

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