Monday, 21 October 2013

Shekalim 4 a, b

Another day to learn things I've never even thought about before.  Although my son's bar mitzvah portion, Ki Tissa, begins with a counting of the males in the community as marked by coins.  After his first read-through last year my son announced, "that's the same as taxes."

And so here we are.  Today we begin with the kolbon, which is an additional 1/12 or 1/24 of the half-shekel donation.  The value of a half-shekel became slightly higher than the value of the shekel around Adar because of their importance.  Thus if a person paid for himself and his friend with a full shekel, known as a sela, there was a slight loss of potential collection.  The kolbon made up that difference.  In addition, the half-shekel should be as close to pure silver as possible, just like the 'thing' that G-d showed to Moses.  The kolbon makes up for the imperfections and worn down edges of the half-shekel.

Those who were not obligated to make half-shekel payments were also exempt from the kolbon.  The Gemara details different individuals and groups that must pay and those that are excused from payment.

A longer discussion of the Kutim ensues.  When are they allowed to participate in donations to the Temple?  These converts to Judaism have been mentioned before, and it would seem that the Jewish community was suspicious of Kutim, even generations after their conversions. The reasoning behind denying Kutim their obligations as Jews originates in the duress under which Kutim converted.  Some Jews believed that Kutim in fact continued to worship idols and thus should not be considered full members of the Jewish community.  However, the rabbis argue through a good portion of today's daf about multiple circumstances and the associated rights/obligations of Kutim/idolaters.

It would be nice to think that today's Jewish community is more accepting of converts.  In fact, the opposite is the case.  Rabbi Seth Farber spoke in Montreal just this past week about the secular laws in Israel (as dictated by an ultra-Orthodox rabbinate) to demand 'proof' of one's Jewishness or else be denied a marriage licence, etc.  This evaluation of whether or not a person is Jewish 'enough' has very deep roots in our history.  Of course, our Sages - and current Jewish thought - has always been concerned about the lines that separate one thing from another.  But that is a larger topic.

Amud (b) follows a number of discussions, one of which is the confusion surrounding what to do when two brothers bring a sela together.  Further questions related to their obligations with regard to the ma'aser, the sacrifice of one of ten animals as a peace-offering.  A concept called bereirah, "retroactive clarification," is introduced.  Bereirah suggests that we can determine an object's legal status through noting actions around a future event.   Some rabbis, including Rabbi Yochanan, did not accept the validity of this principle.

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