TALMUD.The 5th Massekhet- Shekalim

An Introduction to the Tractate.Tractate Shekalim deals primarily with the finances and organization of the Temple. Based solely on content, this tractate rightly belongs in the order of Kodashim, the fifth order of the Talmud, which deals with matters pertaining to offerings and the Temple service. Nevertheless, Shekalim was placed in Mo’ed, the order dealing with the Festivals. This presumably had to do with the fact that the shekels were collected at a fixed time of the year, and the collection of the shekels would precede, and sometimes even determine, the dates for various aspects of the Temple service and related events:


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22 Responses to TALMUD.The 5th Massekhet- Shekalim

  1. The central axis of the tractate is the method by which the various Temple activities were funded. Communal offerings, consisting of animal offerings, meal-offerings, libations, and wood for the altar fire, were the basic daily obligation of the Temple. These were funded from the collection of the Temple treasury chamber, terumat halishka, which consisted of money set aside in a special ceremony from the half-shekels collected yearly from each adult male Jew. Besides the various offerings, funds were needed to maintain the upkeep of the Temple in all its aspects. The Temple building had to be maintained in good repair, including the stone building itself, as well as the various parts of the Temple liable to deteriorate with wear and tear and the passage of time, such as the altar, the curtain, the sacred vessels used on the altar, and the priestly vestments. In general, the funds for these needs were taken from the remains of the chamber, the money left in the Temple treasury after the collection had been withdrawn.

    The Temple officials were responsible not only for the area of the Temple mount, but to a certain extent for the entire holy city of Jerusalem. Their responsibilities included the maintenance of various public buildings as well as addressing the needs of the individuals who came to the Temple to sacrifice their offerings and pray. From an organizational perspective, the Temple staff was comprised of various departments in charge of the different requirements of the Temple, its priests, and the Jewish people as a whole. The senior official was the High Priest, followed by several levels of general functionaries who were responsible for the smooth running of the Temple finances. Some of the departments dealt with the order of the service, for instance, the lotteries and Temple crier; others took care of the priests, providing their garments and medical needs; while yet others attended to the Temple choir and musical instruments. Certain officials operated outside the Temple walls, for example, those who were responsible for providing water to Festival pilgrims.

    A great deal of money was required to cover the expenses of the Temple. These large sums of money, which arrived from both inside Eretz Yisrael and elsewhere, were used for the acquisition of the requirements of the Temple. Some monies came from freely offered private donations. The tractate includes a description of the Temple collection baskets, each of which was designated for a particular purpose. In addition, donation of money and vessels were handed directly to the Temple treasurers, along with special gifts for the adornment of the Temple.

    The mitzva to donate a half-shekel appears in the Torah in the context of the construction of the Tabernacle (see Exodus 30:11-16). At the start of the Second Temple period the people reaffirmed their commitment to this obligation as a part of a special covenant (Nehemiah 10:33-34). The sums collected usually sufficed for the expenses of the Temple, leaving a large pool of reserves for times of need. A significant proportion of Shekalim deals with the collection of the half-shekel, discussing halakhot such as who is obligated to give the coin, who is permitted to donate despite the fact that they are exempt from the mitzva, and from whom is this money never accepted. It also describes the manner of the collection of funds from different places, as well as their transport to the Temple. Once collected, the funds needed to be allocated for diverse tasks, and this topic is also addressed.

    Shekalim is the only tractate in the order of Mo’ed for which there is no Babylonian Talmud. Apparently, the Sages of Babylonia did study these halakhot in depth, but the tractate was already lost in ancient times. To fill this void, scholars have availed themselves of tractate Shekalim from the Jerusalem Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud is written in the Aramaic dialect of Eretz Yisrael, which includes different uses of familiar terms and some singular terminology not found in the Babylmian Talmud. Naturally, most of the Sages mentioned in the Gemara are amora’im from Eretz Yisrael, and the style and framework of this discussion is much terser. As with much of the Jerusalem Talmud, it is often difficult to conclusively establish the correct text of tractate Shekalim. As a result of the fact that Shekalim was studied as part of the regular order of the Babylonian Talmud, its text diverges somewhat from the manuscripts of the Jerusalem Talmud, with its language drawing closer to that of the Babylonian Talmud.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Shekalim 2a-b – Bringing the half-shekel

    As the Torah tells us (see Shemot 30:11-16) every Jewish adult male was commanded to bring a mahatzit ha-shekel – a half-shekel – as a donation to the Temple service. It is clear from stories in Tanakh that this obligation was not just for use in the mishkan – the Tabernacle – in the desert, but was an on-going requirement for as long as the Temple stood. The story of the rededication of the Temple by King Yeho’ash – and his specific request that the mahatzit ha-shekel be brought – appears both in Sefer Melakhim (II Melakhim 12:5-6, where it is called kesef over, a reference to the person who is over al ha-pekudim, see Shemot 30:13) and in Divrei ha-Yamim (II Divrei ha-Yamim 24:9-14, where it is referred to as mas’at Moshe – Moshe’s tax).

    We also find this commandment mentioned during the Second Temple period. In Sefer Nehemiah (10:33-34) we learn that the yearly tax was one-third of a shekel, whose purpose was to pay for the communal sacrifices.

    The value of a shekel varied with time, and in every generation it was necessary to figure out the exchange rate so that the value of a half shekel would be given in the currency of that time. According to the Ramban, the Persian money was worth more so the value of one-third of a shekel was the equivalent of the half-shekel of the Torah. During the time of the Mishnah the shekel was worth half of a sela, so that one Mishnaic shekel was the equivalent of the Biblical half-shekel, which is why we will find the Mishnah referring to a shekel when discussing this mitzva.

    Mishna: On the first of Adar the court proclaims concerning the collection of shekels…

    Gemara: And why specifically on the first of Adar? The Gemara answers: This was done in order that Jews would bring their shekels to the designated Temple chamber in the proper time, as the shekels had to be collected before the beginning of Nisan each year. And this would ensure that the collection of the Temple treasury chamber would be collected from the new shekels at its proper time, which is on the first of the month of Nisan, i.e., the beginning of the Temple year. After that date all communal offerings must be purchased from the new shekels.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Shekalim 3a-b – Marking graves in preparation for Pesah

    In the first Mishnah in Massekhet Shekalim (2a) we are taught that on the first day of the month of Adar we announce that people should begin to bring their shekalim. The Mishnah teaches a number of other activities that take place during Adar, among them the celebration of Purim, and public works that need to be done as the rainy season in Israel draws to a close. These public works projects include a number of activities in preparation for the groups of people who will be traveling to Jerusalem for Pesah – for example, clearing the roads and mikva’ot and marking graves so that the people who are coming to bring sacrifices will not, inadvertently, become ritually defiled by contact with a grave and be unable to enter the Temple.

    The Gemara asks: From where is the obligation of marking graves derived?…Rabbi Ila in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahman cited a different verse in this regard: “And when they that pass through shall pass through the land, and anyone sees a man’s bone, then shall he set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog” (Yehezkel 39:15). This verse explicitly states that there is a need to mark graves.

    This passage from Yehezkel describes the calamity of the war of Gog and Magog, and how it will take seven months for all of the dead to be properly buried so that the land of Israel will once again be tahor (ritually pure). The prophet describes the method that is to be used to carefully mark the graves, bone by bone.

    This source for the halakhah that graves must be marked (see Rambam, Hilkhot Tum’at Met 8:9) appears in Massekhet Mo’ed Katan, while it is introduced as a remez – a hint – to the law, rather than as the actual source. Given the clarity of the story in Yehezkel, many of the commentaries ask why the passage is only considered a remez.

    From Rashi it appears that since it is not presented as an obligation, but rather as a story, it cannot be considered a true source.

    Tosafot suggest that the story can only be considered a hint to the halakhah because it is a description of an event that will take place “at the end of days.” Such a story cannot be the source for a present day halakhic obligation.

    It should be noted that our Gemara, which as we explained above is Yerushalmi, presents this as a true source text, not simply as a remez. In fact, it is not uncommon to find the Bavli discounting a source unless it appears in the hamisha humshei Torah (the Five Books of Moses), while the Yerushalmi accepts other sources from Tanakh as well.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  4. Shekalim 4a-b – Of Samaritans and shekalim

    The Mishnah (3b) teaches that while not required, shekalim are accepted from women and non-Jewish slaves. We will not accept a voluntary donation of shekalim from non-Jews or Samaritans. The Gemara on our daf (page) notes that this Mishnah follows the opinion of Rabbi, who rules that Kutim have the same status as non-Jews, and is against the position of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel who rules that they are considered Jewish.

    The term Kutim (Samaritans) refers to the nations (not all of whom were truly Kutim, as there were people from other nations, as well) that were exiled to the Land of Israel by the kings of Assyria who were interested in populating the land after they had removed the Israelite people from it. According to Sefer Melakhim (see II Melakhim, chapter 17), these nations converted to Judaism because of their fear of lions that had begun attacking them (from which derives the term gerei arayot – “lion converts”), but they continued worshiping their gods at the same time.

    Upon the return of the Jews to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Samaritans, descendants of the Kutim, were active in trying to keep the returnees from rebuilding the Temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Even so, there were families – including members of the kohanim – who intermarried with the Samaritans.

    During the following years there were continued tensions between the two communities, and Yohanan Hyrcanus led his troops into battle against the Samaritans and destroyed the temple that they had built on Har Gerizim. Nevertheless, there were also periods of cooperation, such as the period of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. As is clear in our Gemara, the attitude of the Sages towards them differed, although after a period of time a final conclusion was reached and they were ruled to be treated as non-Jews, due to their continued involvement with different types of idol worship.

    It is important to note that the Gemara in Yevamot concludes that while a bet din should not accept potential converts whose reason for converting is anything other than a sincere desire to join the Jewish People, nevertheless, if such a person does undergo a full conversion process they are considered Jewish according to halakhah. It is possible that the Kutim did not fall into that category because they continued with their idolatrous practices even at the moment of their conversion. Nevertheless, today, the community of Samaritans living in Israel are no longer idol worshipers, and there has been some level of acceptance of them into the larger Jewish community.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  5. Shekalim 5a-b – When the half-shekel collection is lost or stolen

    The second perek (chapter) of Massekhet Shekalim opens with a discussion of how the shekalim are delivered to the Temple. The Mishnah on our daf (page) clarifies that there was no obligation for every individual to bring half-shekel coins to the Bet ha-Mikdash, rather they could be collected in every community, exchanged for larger coins and sent with a messenger to Jerusalem.

    What if the money was lost or stolen en route to the Temple? The Mishnah teaches that responsibility for lost or stolen money depends on when the money disappeared.

    With regard to the residents of a town who sent their shekels to the Temple and they were stolen from the agent on the way or were lost, if the collection of the chamber had already been collected before these shekels arrived, the agents must take the oath of a bailee to the treasurers [gizbarin]. After the collection of the chamber, all the shekels that have been contributed become the property of the Temple, so the Temple treasurers who are in charge of this property become the opposing litigants of the agents. If the ceremony has not yet been performed and the contributions have not yet been collected into the baskets, the shekels are considered the property of the residents of the town, and therefore the agents must take an oath to absolve themselves to the residents of the town. Since those shekels are still considered the property of the residents of the town because the shekels never reached the Temple, they have not fulfilled their obligation. Therefore, the residents of the town must contribute other shekels in their place.

    In order for the communal sacrifices that were brought in the Temple to be considered to have come from the entire nation, even before the half-shekel donations arrived in the Mikdash, money was set aside on Rosh Hodesh Nisan for the purchase of sacrifices. This money – called terumat ha-lishkah – was, in essence, a loan that was to be repaid when the half-shekalim arrived, as can be seen from the above Mishnah.

    One of the concerns of the Gemara is whether the messenger in the story is paid (a shomer sakhar) or a volunteer (a shomer hinam). The law of shomer sakhar, as described in the Torah (Shemot 22:9-12), understands that in exchange for payment the guard accepts a high level of responsibility for the object he is watching. In such a case he will have to replace the object if it was lost or stolen. A shomer hinam, on the other hand (see Shemot 22:6-8) can swear that he did not act irresponsibly and will not be responsible for it.

    Although at first glace it appears that the case of our Mishnah must be talking about a shomer hinam, who can swear and be free of any responsibility, the Gemara on our daf concludes that it could also be discussing the case of a shomer sakhar who can, in this case, swear that money had been lost or stolen because it was “lost” when the boat he was on sank or “stolen” by armed robbers. These cases are considered circumstances beyond the control of the guard, who is, therefore, not held responsible for the loss on any level.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  6. Shekalim 6a-b – The varying amounts of mahatzit ha-shekel

    What happens if someone sets aside more money for his half-shekel than is required?

    According to the Mishnah on our daf (page), Bet Hillel rules that the money is not holy, while according to Bet Shammai it will be used for voluntary sacrifices, since money set aside for holy purposes cannot be returned. Bet Hillel agrees that if more money is set aside for a sin-offering than is necessary then the extra money will be used for voluntary sacrifices.

    Rabbi Shimon explains that Bet Hillel distinguishes between shekalim and the korban hatat (sin offering) because of the passage describing the shekalim (Shemot 30:15) which teaches that a rich person cannot give more, nor a poor person less. Therefore, the shekel is a fixed amount and the individual who sets aside money for his shekel does not mean to give more than is necessary. The sin-offering, on the other hand, can cost any amount of money. Rabbi Yehuda objects to this, arguing that there is no fixed amount for shekalim, either. He points to different periods in history during which time different amounts were given as mahatzit ha-shekel (half-shekel). Rabbi Shimon’s response is that even during those periods there was an agreed upon, set amount that everyone had to donate.

    In his argument, Rabbi Yehuda describes the various periods during second Temple times, when the Jews returning from exile first brought darkonot, then sela’im, then teva’im and finally, dinarim, which were rejected because their value was too small.

    The Raavad explains the story as follows. When the Jews first returned to Israel from the Diaspora there were few people and the needs of the Temple were great, so the people brought large, more valuable coins as mahatzit ha-shekel. As time went on the donations were made smaller, until they reached teva’im, which were equal in value to the required half-shekel. When people wanted to bring an even smaller coin it was rejected, since the minimum amount that could be brought was the value of a half-shekel.

    The Rambam interprets this story differently, due to a different understanding of the mitzva of mahatzit ha-shekel. According to him, the requirement is to bring one-half of the common currency of the time. Rabbi Shimon in the Mishnah is describing that the currency changed over time and that the amount of money changed together with the coin that was in general use. When the common currency became teva’im the people had to give a whole coin, since half of that coin would have been less than the Biblical half-shekel, which is the least amount that can be given.

    (See Rambam Hilkhot Shekalim 1:5-6 and the Ra’avad there.)

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  7. Shekalim 7a-b – When there is money left over

    The discussion on yesterday’s daf (page) about what to do when more money is set aside for the mahatzit ha-shekel (half-shekel) than is required leads the Mishnah to present other situations where more money was given for a mitzvah than was necessary. For example, if money is collected to bury a person, what should be done with extra money that was donated?

    The leftover money collected for burying the dead must be allocated to burying the dead. The leftover money collected to bury or provide burial shrouds for a particular deceased person is given to his heirs. Rabbi Meir says: It is uncertain what should be done, and therefore the leftover money for the deceased should be placed in a safe place until Elijah comes and teaches what should be done. Rabbi Natan says: With the leftover money collected for a deceased person they build a monument [nefesh] on his grave for him.

    Each of these rulings deserves some explanation.

    Many commentaries ask by what right the Tanna Kamma (first) can suggest that money set aside for burial purposes be given to his children. The Ramah offers an alternative interpretation to this position. He suggests that the money will go to the children who inherit the official who is responsible for burials, because the money that is given to him becomes his property. The Hazon Ish argues that the people who donate on behalf of someone’s burial certainly intend to give the money as tzedakah to honor him, and recognize that he will be honored also by having his children receive the money. In his Tzafnat Pane’ah, Rav Yosef Rosen (the Rogachover) suggests that we know that there is no intent to give money to the dead man himself, rather the money is being given to his children so that they will be able to bury him properly. As such, leftover money belongs to them.

    Rabbi Meir’s comment about the coming of the prophet Eliyahu is a common expression in the Talmud, which means that there are certain issues that we cannot determine with our own analytical powers, and we await the arrival of a prophet who can tell us what to do. This does not apply to issues of halakhic indecision, but only to technical issues where we cannot ascertain what really happened, and need prophetic insight to clarify matters.

    The nefesh that Rabbi Natan suggests should be built was a marker of some sort – sometimes a simple stone, and occasionally an ornate structure that was erected to honor the dead person.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  8. Shekalim 8a-b – The collection baskets

    The third perek (chapter) of Massekhet Shekalim opens with a discussion of the collection and use of the shekalim in the Temple. When the shekalim were collected, they were brought to the Temple where they were stored so that they could be used to purchase communal sacrifices as necessary. As we learned, the collection was taken up in the month of Adar, and beginning with the first day of Nisan, the new year began with regard to the Temple service.

    The Mishnah on our daf (page) teaches that all of the collected money was brought to a specific Temple office. It was removed three times during the year – 15 days before each of the shalosh regalim – and put into baskets from which it was dispensed to the people who had accepted upon themselves the responsibility of tending to the needs of the Temple service. Before each holiday the money was distributed into three kupot – baskets – one of them representing the donations of the people living in Israel, one on behalf of the people living in the countries near Israel and one for the people who lived in the further reaches of the Diaspora.

    The funds are collected from the Temple treasury chamber with three baskets, each measuring three se’a. On the baskets is written, respectively, alef, beit, gimmel, based on the order in which the baskets are filled, to indicate from which basket coins should be taken to buy sacrifices. The coins were used in the order of their collection. Rabbi Yishmael says: The letters written on them were in Greek [the language commonly in use during the second Temple period], alfa, beta, gamma.

    The Mishnah also teaches that great care was taken to make sure that no one would steal – or be suspected of stealing – from these monies. No one was permitted to take the money from the Temple office if he was wearing clothing or shoes in which he could conceal money. To support the ruling that obligates people to show care not only before God, but also before people, and ensure that they do not suspect you of wrongdoing, the Mishnah refers to passages in Bamidbar 32:22 and Mishle 3:4 that clearly indicate the need to be concerned with both heavenly and this-world suspicions.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  9. Shekalim 9a-b – One thing leads to another

    The Gemara on our daf (page) quotes a well-known statement in the name of Rabbi Pinehas ben Yair that appears a number of times in the Talmud. There are different versions of this text, one of which appears below:

    And so Rabbi Pinehas ben Yair would say: Alacrity in the proper performance of the mitzvot leads to cleanliness of the soul, so that one will not sin. Cleanliness of the soul and refraining from all sin leads to purity, so that one purifies his soul from his previous sins. Purity leads to holiness. Holiness leads to humility, as one recognizes his lowliness. Humility leads to fear of sin, because when one recognizes his inferiority, he becomes more fearful of sin and is careful to avoid temptation. Fear of sin leads to piety, as one begins to impose upon himself stringencies beyond the letter of the law. Piety leads to the holy spirit, because when one acts in a manner that goes beyond the letter of the law, Heaven acts with him in a way that is not natural to man, and informs him of the secrets of the Torah through divine inspiration. The holy spirit leads to the resurrection of the dead, because the spirit of holiness and purity that descend upon him enter the bones of the deceased and resurrect them. The resurrection of the dead that will precede the arrival of the Messiah leads to the coming of the Prophet Elijah, of blessed memory, who will herald the upcoming redemption.

    Rabbi Moshe Hayyim Luzzato based his master-work, the Messilat Yesharim, on this baraita. The Messilat Yesharim is, in effect, a book-long analysis of the ideas set forth here. Let us examine a small selection of them.

    “Cleanliness” (nekiyut) is understood as avoidance of sin (Rashi) or evil thoughts (Re’ah). Rabbi Ya’akov Emden suggests that it also refers to physical cleanliness of the body, clothing, etc. which also plays a role in elevating a person to a higher spiritual realm.

    “Purity” (taharah) leads to “holiness” (kedushah) because a person who has removed himself from the drives and desires of this world will be able to turn his attention to the love of God and of man beyond what he is obligated to do based on the letter of the law.

    “Resurrection of the dead” (tehiyat ha-metim) is explained by the Nemukei Yosef as meaning that the person on this level will be able to successfully pray on behalf of someone like the stories of the prophets and sages who successfully revived people who appeared to be dead. The Maharashdam suggests that, based on the idea that evil people are considered as if they were dead, someone who influences such a person to repent is considered to have brought him back to life.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  10. Shekalim 10a-b – Paying people to teach Torah

    The fourth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Shekalim, which begins on our daf (page) opens with the question of how the shekalim are spent. We have already noted that the communal sacrifices were purchased with this money, but there were other needs in the Temple and in Jerusalem that were paid for with these donations. For example, our Gemara teaches that the sages who taught the rules of the Temple service to the kohanim were paid with this money.

    Tosafot in Ketubot (105b) points out that paying people who teach Torah is not a simple thing, and, in theory, should be forbidden entirely. The only payment that a teacher can receive is sekhar batalah – the value for his time that he could have spent on more lucrative endeavors. Another arrangement that can be made is a stipend to be paid to a scholar who agrees that he will not be involved in any business activities whatsoever so that they will always be available for the needs of the community. According to Rabbi Vidal Crescas, this is the method that is popularly used to pay community Rabbis to this day. The Rambam in Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:9-10 takes a strong stand on this issue, forbidding scholars from receiving payment in exchange for Torah study, although the Kesef Mishneh (ibid) rules even the Rambam would agree that it would be permissible if the scholar serviced the needs of the community.

    It should be noted that in previous times people literally lived hand-to-mouth and there was very little leisure time, making it almost impossible to divide time between learning Torah and working. In our day-and-age, arranging one’s work environment so that it is possible support oneself and study Torah is a strong possibility.

    One of the examples of what was taught is the rules of kemitzah. Kemitzah involved taking an exact amount of the flour for the meal offering in one’s hand, and it was very difficult to ensure that the exact amount was taken. A similar lesson that needed to be taught was the rule regarding melikah, the unique manner in which the sacrificed fowl was slaughtered. This was known as one of the most difficult of the Temple services, and Tosafot argues that this, too, needed to be taught to the kohanim by experts. Since every group of kohanim that came to the Temple to work needed to learn and to review these laws, there was constant work for those scholars who knew how to teach this material.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  11. Shekalim 11a-b – Leftover animals

    How were the animals in the Temple purchased?

    According to Rashi, the general practice in the Temple was to set aside six animals that had been checked and found to be appropriate for sacrifice that would serve the needs of the upcoming communal sacrifices. This way, there was always a reserve of animals available for the Temple’s needs.

    Tosafot ha-Rosh quotes an opinion which says that it all depended on availability. The kohanim in the Temple tried to always have a reserve of animals, and if a particularly good buying opportunity came up, they would buy a large number of animals.

    According to both of these approaches, we can understand the question of the Gemara – what was to be done with leftover korbanot (sacrifices)? With the new year for sacrifices beginning on the first day of Nisan, when the end of Adar arrived there would often be a pool of animals that had been set aside for sacrifices, but could no longer be used, since the new year’s sacrifices had to come from the new year’s donations.

    Our Gemara quotes a difference of opinion as to what happened to these animals. Shmuel rules that we redeem them – we exchange them for money. Then, the animals would no longer have any holiness attached to them, and the money could be used for the various needs of the Temple, as we will explain. Rabbi Yohanan says that we cannot remove the holiness of the sacrificial animals so easily; we can only redeem them after they have become blemished in some way so that they can no longer be brought as korbanot.

    Rashi explains Shmuel’s position as limiting the possible use of the animals even after they are redeemed. He explains that, immediately after being redeemed, they are repurchased for use in the Temple. The source for this ruling is, apparently, that this is the position of the Gemara with regard to leftover ketoret – incense used in the Temple service. It was redeemed, but immediately repurchased for use in the Temple.

    The Torat Hayyim – Rabbi Avraham Hayyim Shor – points out that the Rambam (Hilkhot Shekalim 4:11 ) accepts the position that these animals can be redeemed, and makes no mention of the need for repurchase. He argues that unlike the ketoret, which could not be left in the hands of someone unconnected with the Temple service, since its use outside of the Temple was forbidden, these animals could be used by anyone once they had been redeemed and were no longer holy.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  12. Shekalim 12a-b – Using donations to the Temple

    The Mishnah on our daf (page) discusses a case where someone announces that he is donating all of his possessions to the Mikdash. In such a case, the property is usually given to the Temple treasurer for general upkeep – bedek ha-bayit. But what if some of his possessions can be brought as sacrifices?

    1.If some of the possessions are animals that can be brought as sacrifices, there is general agreement that such an animal should be sacrificed, as that was most probably the intent of the donor. Furthermore, the korban (sacrifice) should be brought in such a way that it is entirely donated to the Temple, with no part of it going to the owner. Therefore, all agree that the animals that can be brought as olot – burnt offerings – should be sacrificed. There is a difference of opinion, however, with regard to those animals that can be brought as shelamim – korbanot that are divided between the altar, the kohen and the owner. According to Rabbi Eliezer, such an animal should be sold to someone who will use it as a shelamim, and the proceeds should be given to the Temple treasurer together with all the rest of the possessions. Rabbi Yehoshua agrees that such animals should be sold to someone who will sacrifice them as a shelamim, but, he says, the proceeds of the sale must be used to purchase olot.

    2.If some of the possessions are not sacrificial animals, but they can be brought on the altar – for example, wine, oil, or fowl – Rabbi Eliezer rules that they should be sold to someone who will use them on the mizbe’ah for its appropriate purpose, and the proceeds should be used to purchase olot that will be burned on the altar. In this case the Mishnah does not record any argument.

    The Rambam records this in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Erkhin 5:8-9) and rules like Rabbi Eliezer in the first case, so that the money received from the sale of the animals that cannot be brought as olot will be given to the Temple treasurer for general use. This creates an odd situation that the Rambam feels obligated to explain. In the first case in the Mishnah, animals that could be brought as shelamim are sold and the proceeds are used for bedek ha-bayit. In the second case, other items brought on the mizbe’ah are sold, but the proceeds from that sale are used to buy sacrifices!

    He explains (based on the passage in Vayikra 27:11-12) that only animals can be evaluated for the purpose of redemption. As such, the animals in the first case can truly be redeemed, and their value can be used for the relatively mundane purposes of bedek ha-bayit. The wine, oil, etc. in the second case cannot be redeemed, so the money retains the original holiness and must be used for actual sacrifices.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  13. Shekalim 13a-b – The donkey who was strict about tithes

    On daf (page) 9 we were introduced to Rabbi Pinehas ben Yair who taught us how to climb the rungs of holiness and saintliness. Our Gemara relates another famous story that is told – not so much about Pinehas ben Yair, but about his donkey.

    Several times in the Gemara the expression is used “if the earlier Sages were angels, we are people. And if they were people, we are donkeys…and not even as great as the donkey that belonged to Pinehas ben Yair.”

    The Gemara explains the reference to this particular donkey. The donkey of Rabbi Pinehas ben Yair was stolen by robbers one night. It was kept hidden by them for three days, and yet it did not eat anything. After three days, they reconsidered and decided to return it. They said: Let’s get it out of here, so that it shouldn’t die in our possession and leave a stench in our cave. When they set it free it went and stood by its master’s gate and began braying. Rabbi Pinehas said to the members of his household: Open up for that poor creature, which has gone three days without eating anything. They opened the gate for it, and it entered Rabbi Pinehas’ courtyard.

    He told them: Give it something to eat. They placed barley before it, but it would not eat. They said to him: Rabbi, it will not eat. He said to them: Has the barley been tithed so that it is fit to eat? They replied: Yes. He then asked them: And have you separated their doubtfully tithed produce? Did you tithe the grain about which there is doubt as to whether it has been tithed properly?

    They replied: Didn’t you teach us the following, Rabbi: One who purchases grain for feeding an animal, or flour for processing animal hides, or oil for lighting a lamp, is exempt from separating doubtfully tithed produce? There is no need to separate tithes from doubtfully tithed produce to feed a donkey. He said to them: What can we do for that poor creature, which is very strict with itself and will not eat even from doubtfully tithed produce, despite this exemption? And they therefore separated tithes from the doubtfully tithed produce, and the donkey finally ate the barley grains.

    Rabbi Pinehas ben Yair was one of the Tanna’im who was known as one of the righteous people of his generation and as a miracle worker. He was related by marriage to Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai (according to some texts he was his father-in-law, according to others, his son-in-law). During his lifetime he was already spoken about as a legend, and the Gemara is replete with miraculous stories about him to the extent that the Sages say, “How much greater was this man than Moshe Rabbenu!” Nevertheless, only a small number of his teachings are recorded in the Gemara.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  14. Shekalim 14a-b – The smoke raiser

    The Mishnah at the beginning of the fifth perek (chapter) (13a) lists the different families of kohanim who were responsible for specific tasks in the Temple. Our Gemara quotes baraitot that are most critical of two of the families – Bet Garmu, who were responsible for baking the lehem ha-panim (shewbread) and Bet Avtinas, who were responsible for the ketoret (incense). The criticism of both of these families focused on their refusal to share the knowledge of their craft with others.

    The Gemara on our daf (page) relates that, in each case, the Sages removed them from their positions and brought in experts from Alexandria in Egypt who were to teach others how to do these things. In each case the experts could not create the same effect as the priestly families – they could not bake bread that would not become moldy, nor could they succeed in creating an incense whose smoke would rise in a straight line to the heavens. The Sages eventually had to return them to their original positions – with a significant raise in their salaries.

    In their defense, the baraita records the explanation for their behavior – they feared that with the ultimate destruction of the Temple this knowledge would be put to mundane use if too many people knew about it.

    Rabbi Akiva said: Shimon ben Loga told me: Once I and a certain child from the house of Avtinas were collecting herbs, and I saw him crying, and later I saw him laughing. I said to him: My son, why did you cry? He said to me: I cried for the glory of my father’s house, which has been diminished after the destruction of the Temple. I subsequently asked him: And why did you laugh? He said to me: I laughed with joy over the glory prepared for the righteous in the future, when my family will have its role restored to them in the rebuilt Temple.

    Shimon ben Loga added that he asked that child further: And what did you see that brought these things to mind? He replied: I saw the smoke raiser before me, among the herbs we were collecting. I said to him: My son, show it to me, and I will keep its identity secret so that no one will be able to use it for idolatry. He said to me: Rabbi, I have a tradition from my forefathers not to show it to a soul.

    The plant seen by the descendant of Bet Avtinas is referred to as ma’aleh ashan. Although the tradition identifying this plant has apparently been lost over the centuries, the generally accepted identification is with a weed called leptadenia pyrotechnica, a plant that grows in the southern part of the Jordan Valley and in the northern Sinai. This plant ignites very easily, and local Arabs have used it to make gunpowder and explosives. Lighting even one branch of the bush will cause it to burn up entirely in a very short amount of time, with flames reaching as high as ten meters.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  15. Shekalim 15a-b – The hidden Ark

    The first Mishnah of the sixth perek (chapter) appears on our daf (page), and it teaches about 13 collection boxes – referred to as shofarot because of their shape – that were in the Temple, a number of which were for the deposit of shekalim. The Mishnah continues with a description of other times there were 13 things in the Temple, including shulhanot (tables) and hishtahavayot (times that the people bowed down). The Mishnah records another tradition kept by Rabban Gamliel’s family, who bowed down fourteen times. They bowed down an extra time near the storage house for wood because of the tradition that the aron – the Ark of the Covenant – was hidden there.

    During the first Temple period, there was a rock in the kodesh kodashim, the Holy of Holies in the Temple, called the even ha-shetiya (foundation stone), upon which rested the aron, together with a container of manna (see Shemot 16:33-34) and Aharon ha-Kohen’s staff (see Bamidbar 17:16-24). During the Second Temple the Mikdash operated without an ark. When the kohen gadol (high priest) entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the service was performed in the place of the ark, even though there was none there. The ark was hidden by King Yoshiyahu towards the end of the first Temple period. During his reign, a copy of Sefer Devarim was discovered that was interpreted by Hulda ha-nevi’ah as warning of the destruction of the kingdom (see II Melakhim 22-23). According to the Radak, the discovered scroll was open to the passage (Devarim 28:36) that foretold of the exile, and the king, fearing that if the ark was taken into exile it would never return, chose to hide it on the grounds of the Mikdash (see II Divrei ha-Yamim 35:3).

    The mishna relates that there was an incident involving a certain priest who was going about his duties and saw a certain flagstone that was different from the others. He noticed that one of the stones was slightly raised above the others, indicating that it had been removed and returned to its place. The priest understood that this was the opening to an underground tunnel where the Ark was concealed. He came and said to his fellow that he had noticed this deviation in the floor. He did not manage to conclude relating the incident before his soul left him, i.e., he died. Following this event, they knew with certainty that the Ark was sequestered there and that God had prevented that priest from revealing its location.

    It should be noted that there is an opinion that the aron was also taken into exile to Babylon, based on II Divrei ha-Yamim 36:10, which describes that the keli hemdat bet ha-Shem (goodly vessel of the house of Hashem) was taken there.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  16. Shekalim 16a-b – The anointing oil

    The Mishnah (15b) mentioned the tradition that had been handed down that the aron had been hidden away towards the end of the first Temple period. Our Gemara teaches that according to that tradition, several other items that were on display in the Temple were concealed together with the Ark. They included the container of manna, Aharon the high Priest’s staff and the flask of the shemen ha-mish’hah, the oil used for anointing.

    The shemen ha-mish’hah was made from afarsimon (which may be identical to the tzari mentioned in the Torah), which was, apparently, the plant Commiphora apobalsamum. This is a small tree or shrub that stands from 10 to 12 feet high, with wand-like, spreading branches. The best perfume that can be extracted from it drips from the seeds, but it is usually produced by boiling the branches. The oil that is extracted from this plant was occasionally used as a medicine, but more as incense or perfumed oil. The afarsimon was considered so valuable that at one point it was literally worth its weight in gold.

    The shemen ha-mish’hah was used to anoint kings and high priests. The Rosh points out that the need to anoint the high priest is from a clear passage in the Torah (see Shemot 30:30), but there appears to be a prohibition to use the oil on any other person (see Shemot 30:32). How was the decision made to use this oil on kings, as well?

    He answers that the Gemara in Megilla understands that it is only forbidden to use this oil on a normal person. The king is not simply an adam (man) and therefore he does not fall into the category of the prohibition.

    According to the Gemara in Horayot (12a), kings were anointed by putting the oil around their head like a crown. The kohanim had the oil put on them ke-min key, or, as the Gemara explains, ke-min kaf yevani – like a Greek chi – what we would call the shape of the letter “X”. Since there is no Hebrew letter that is similar in shape to an “X,” many suggestions were made by the commentaries over the years about its appearance, given that Greek was no longer commonly used and people did not know what the letter looked like.

    According to the shape of the letter as we know it, it appears that the oil would be placed on the forehead of the priest, beginning between his eyebrows and spread diagonally towards his head, making the shape of an “X”.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  17. Shekalim 17a-b – Daily miracles

    The Mishnah on our daf (page) describes the thirteen tables that were in the Temple. Eight of them, made of marble, were used, in effect, to butcher the animals in preparation for their sacrifice on the mizbe’ah. There were also tables made of gold for the lehem ha-panim, the shewbread. The Gemara comments that silver tables were not used for the lehem ha-panim because the heat of the tables might cause the bread – which was left on the shulhan (table) for an entire week – to become moldy. Even though the freshness of the bread was one of the daily miracles of the Temple, the Gemara argues that we do not rely on miracles.

    Issues having to do with the presence of the meat and bread in the Temple are among the ten daily miracles that are recorded by the Mishnah in Massekhet Avot (2:5). They include:
    •No women ever miscarried from smelling the meat of the sacrifices
    •The meat of the sacrifices never spoiled
    •No fly was ever seen in the Temple
    •The High Priest never became impure before Yom Kippur
    •There was never a problem with the Omer that was cut, nor with the shtei ha-lehem, nor with the lehem ha-panim
    •The people would be crowded together, and yet would have room to bow down
    •Neither snake nor scorpion ever injured someone in Jerusalem
    •No one ever complained that there was no room for him in Jerusalem.

    Although these are all described as miracles, in his commentary on Aggadah, Shem-Tov ibn Shaprut argues that they can all be explained rationally, and that the “miracle” was not in an unnatural event, rather in the care and concern engendered by the holiness of the Mikdash that kept these things from taking place. For example, the kohanim were so careful and committed to their work that they made sure that the sacrifices were brought in a timely fashion so that the meat never spoiled nor attracted flies, the communal sacrifices never were found to have problems and the kohen gadol (High Priest) never became impure. Jerusalem was such a popular and busy place that snakes and scorpions never found ruins or abandoned areas to breed. Finally, thanks to the high level of friendliness and concern for one another, the people looked out for each other and made sure that there was always room for everyone.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  18. Shekalim 18a-b – Proper spending of Temple donations

    Money was collected for use in the Beit ha-Mikdash in different ways. The Mishnah on our daf (page) describes 13 collection boxes that were called shofarot, because they were shaped like a shofar with one end small enough for a coin to be placed into it and a larger end where the coins could be removed. (They were made in this way so that no one who came to deposit money would be suspected of stealing.) Each shofar was marked with the purpose of its money, so that no mistakes would be made. For example, one said “new shekalim” for the monies that were deposited for the fiscal year beginning in Nisan, one was marked “old shekalim” for the leftover monies from last year’s collection, etc.

    The Mishnah continues with a reference to one of the stories in the Tanakh where we hear about the collection of shekalim (II Melakhim12) in which King Yoash partnered with the High Priest Jehoiada in collecting money from the people and refurbishing the Temple.

    This midrash was taught by Jehoiada the High Priest: There is an apparent contradiction between two verses. With regard to the guilt-offering, the verse states: “It is a guilt-offering; he is certainly guilty before the Lord” (Vayikra 5:19). This verse indicates that the guilt-offering goes to God, not the priests. However, a different verse states: “As is the sin-offering, so is the guilt-offering; there is one law for them; the priest who makes atonement with it, he shall have it” (Leviticus 7:7). This verse indicates that the offering is designated for the priests alone. How can these two verses be reconciled?

    The Mishna explains that this is the principle: Any funds that come due to a sin-offering or due to a guilt-offering, i.e., leftover coins designated for one of these offerings, they should be used for the purchase of animals for a voluntary burnt-offering, as the meat will be offered on the altar to God, and the hides will go to the priests. In this manner the two verses are found to be fulfilled, as it is both a guilt-offering to God as well as guilt-offering to the priest.

    And this halakha also explains the verse that says: “The guilt-offering money and the sin-offering money was not brought into the House of the Lord; it was for the priests” (II Kings 12:17). This verse is understood to refer to the hides given to the priests.

    Clearly the money must be spent on the sacrifices for which it was set aside. What this pasuk (verse) teaches is that extra money is given to the kohanim to purchase olot, rather than being given to the Temple treasury for use in refurbishing the Mikdash.

    The question of how to make sure that money donated to the Temple was properly spent comes up a number of times in the Talmud. In Ketubot (106b), Rav Huna asks whether the keli sharet – the utensils used for the Temple service – were considered connected to the altar, and could be purchased from money set aside for bedek ha-bayit (money set aside for the Temple itself), or were they considered connected to the sacrifice and needed to be purchased from the terumat ha-lishka money (money set aside for communal sacrifices).

    Rav answers that the utensils are made from terumat ha-lishka money.

    Rav Huna then points to a pasuk that clearly describes leftover money collected by King Yoash and the High Priest Jehoiada being used for the keli sharet (see II Divrei ha-Yamim 24:14). Rav argues that that passage must be talking about a case where more money was collected than necessary, so the remaining money could be used for other purposes in the Temple, pointing out that the story, as related in Sefer Melakhim (II Melakhim 12:14-15) clearly says that the money collected for bedek ha-bayit was not used for making these utensils.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  19. Shekalim 19a-b – Finding lost money in Jerusalem

    On the last daf (page) we learned that great care was taken to make sure that no mistakes were made, and that all of the shofarot where money was collected were clearly marked. Nevertheless, there were occasions that money was found on the floor between the shofarot. What was to be done with that money?

    The Mishnah on our daf, which opens the seventh perek (chapter) of Massekhet Shekalim, rules in a straightforward manner that we assume that the money belongs in the shofar that is closest to where it was found. There are other cases, however, that are not so simple.

    Money found before animal merchants in Jerusalem is always presumed to be second-tithe money. The presumption is based on the fact that in Jerusalem, most of the animals are bought with second-tithe money and sacrificed as peace-offerings. And money found on the Temple Mount is presumed to be non-sacred money. And with regard to money found in the rest of Jerusalem, the following distinction applies: If it was found during the rest of the days of the year, it is presumed to be non-sacred money, but if it was found during the time of a pilgrim Festival, it is all presumed to be second-tithe money, because most of the money found in Jerusalem at the time of a Festival is second-tithe money.

    Ma’aser sheni (second tithe) is the additional tithe that is separated by the farmer after he has given terumah to the kohen and the first tithe to the levi. During the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the shemittah cycle an additional tenth of the produce is set aside by the farmer, who takes it to Jerusalem to eat (during years three and six the tithe is given to the poor). Recognizing that it might be difficult to bring a large amount of crops to Jerusalem, the Torah itself allows the farmer to redeem his crops and take the money to Jerusalem, where he could buy any food products there (see Devarim 14:26). Although there was no specific obligation to bring the food to Jerusalem during the holiday, it is clear that people did not make special trips to the city just to eat their ma’aser sheni, rather they took the money with them when they came for the holidays.

    Since there were a large number of people who came for a relatively short period of time, virtually all of the money that was spent on food was ma’aser sheni money, and specifically near the animal merchants the likelihood was that money found there was ma’aser sheni. The reason we are not concerned the rest of the year that the money is ma’aser sheni is explained by the Rambam (Hilkhot Ma’aser Sheni 6:9-10) – that the streets of Jerusalem were swept every day, so we can assume that any money found today was also lost today.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  20. Shekalim 20a-b – Handling consecrated animals

    The last Mishnah in our perek (chapter) opens with a discussion of what to do if an animal is found in the environs of Jerusalem. We assume that it must be a korban; depending on its gender, it will either be brought as an olah or as a shelamim. The Mishnah also describes how at first the person who found the animal was responsible to pay for the minhat nesakhim that went with it (flour and oil, as well as a wine libation). When people realized that bringing the lost animal to the Temple would be an expensive proposition for them, they would ignore such animals, so a court decision was made putting the responsibility for the minhat nesakhim on the community. Rabbi Shimon lists this as one of the seven takanot (remedy, ordinance) that the beit din made in connection with the Temple service.

    …And the sixth ordinance concerned the red heifer: that deriving benefit from its ashes is not considered misusing consecrated property.

    The parah adumah (red heifer) was used during Temple times to purify people who had become ritually defiled through contact with a dead body. According to the Torah (Bamidbar 19:1-22), the parah adumah is slaughtered and burned; its ashes are mixed with well-water (mayim hayyim) and that mixture is sprinkled on the person who is tameh (ritually impure). After a week has passed, the person goes to the mikveh and becomes tahor (ritually pure) once again.

    For all that preparation of the parah adumah is incumbent on the kohanim and is part of the Temple service, the parah adumah is not considered a korban, as it is not slaughtered in the precincts of the Mikdash, but on Har ha-Zeitim, the Mount of Olives. As such, the holiness that it has is kodshei bedek ha-bayit, as something that belongs to the Temple treasury, rather than having inherent holiness.

    According to the Gemara, me’ilah (misusing consecrated property) can only take place if someone makes use of the parah adumah itself. Me’ilah cannot be done on the ashes of the parah adumah. When the courts saw that the kohanim were using the ashes for medicinal purposes, they ruled that me’ilah should apply to the ashes, as well. When it became clear that this new rule discouraged kohanim from participating in the ceremony where the parah adumah water was used for its intended purpose, because they were afraid that they might accidentally derive benefit from it, the beit din returned the law to its original status, ruling that no me’ilah applies to the ashes.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  21. Shekalim 21a-b – Are found utensils presumed to be pure?

    The eighth and final perek (chapter) of Massekhet Shekalim follows the mishnayot of the previous perek, which discussed money that was found in the Temple and in Jerusalem, and whether that money is to be considered consecrated to the Mikdash (Temple) or not. These mishnayot deal with other things that are found in Jerusalem; in this case the question is whether they are to be considered ritually pure or defiled.

    One case, for example, is utensils that are found in the city. According to Rabbi Meir, if they are found in a place that leads to a mikveh, where such utensils are taken to purify them, we must assume that they are tameh (ritually impure), but if they are found on the path leading away from the mikveh, we can assume that they were already dipped and are considered ritually pure.

    Archaeological excavations have found many mikva’ot like the ones described here, in which there are separate staircases leading into the mikveh and leading away from it, with a clear separation between them. They were set up this way in order to ensure that the people going in to the mikveh who are tameh, should not touch the ones who were leaving the mikveh, already tahor (ritually pure).

    However, Rabbi Yosei says: They are all ritually pure, except for the basket, and the shovel, and the meritza, which are specifically used for graves, to gather up the bones of the dead. These tools must be presumed to be ritually impure, but in general, vessels are presumed to be pure.

    During the Second Temple period people were buried in temporary graves and after their flesh decomposed their bones were moved to permanent family burial caves. The basket was a special one that was used to collect the bones. The shovel had a wide head and a long handle, held in both hands; when associated with a basket, as it is here, it was used for digging as well as the collection of bones for burial. The meritza in this context was a tool similar to a pickax, also called a dolabra, with which one could extract large stones and then push them into place to close a burial cave.

    The Rambam rules like Rabbi Yosei, that utensils in Jerusalem are not automatically assumed to be tameh, since the Rabbinic ordinance that such utensils are tameh that was applied in other cities (see the Mishnah in Taharot 4:5) was not applied in Jerusalem.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  22. Shekalim 22a-b – In this day and age

    The final Mishnah in Massekhet Shekalim returns to the rules of the shekalim, and specifically to their status in contemporary times when the Mikdash is no longer standing. Incidentally it also touches on some other halakhot that are dependant on the holiness of the Land of Israel and how they are to be kept in the absence of the Temple.

    Since the purpose of the shekalim is to pay for communal sacrifices, there really is no reason to continue contributing them as long as the Temple is in a state of destruction. The Mishnah rules that shekalim and bikkurim (first fruits) are no longer brought. Nevertheless, if someone sets them aside for those purposes, they become kodesh (consecrated). Since they cannot be used for their designated purpose, the bikkurim must be left to rot and the shekalim should be destroyed. Rabbi Shimon rules that bikkurim cannot be made in our day and age, since they cannot possibly be brought to the Mikdash as is required by the Torah (see Devarim 26:2).

    The Mishnah teaches about a number of other halakhot that apply whether or not the Temple is standing. Ma’aser dagan and ma’aser behemah (tithes of grains and animals) as well as the rules of bekhor (first born) apply today even without the Mikdash.

    Ma’aser dagan are the tithes that are separated from grains and given to the kohen and the levi.

    Ma’aser behemah is the obligation to set aside one of every ten newly born animals (see Vayikra 27:32).

    Bekhor is the rule obligating that the first-born animal be given to the kohen (see Shemot 13:1-13 and Bamidbar 18:15-18).

    While the obligation of bekhor stems from the fact that there is inherent holiness to the firstborn animal, ma’aser behemah derives from its connection and similarity to ma’aser dagan. The Bartenura explains that the rules of ma’aser dagan still apply because the holiness attained by the Land of Israel during the second Temple period remains, even when the Temple is no longer standing.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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