“When people who live far from Jerusalem.”
Today’s Daf Yomi text answers the question I have been wondering over the last few days. Before there was electronic transfer of funds, how did people contribute their annual half-shekel obligation if they did not live in Jerusalem? We find out today that there were agents who had the responsibility to transport the collected funds from the towns that were located far away from the holy city.
Today’s Daf is a practical one, because it considers the burden placed upon these agents to transport the coins. A half-shekel had some weight and the collection from perhaps multiple towns of these coins would have resulted in very heavy pouches. I imagine the pouches placed on the back of donkeys and the journey made by foot. We are told that the agents could exchange the shekels for large gold coins, in order to ease the weight of the precious cargo. We are also told that the shekels cannot be traded in for gems, such as pearls, “since, like all commodities, their price can decrease and the Temple treasury of consecrated property will lose.”
The residents of each town placed their contributions in collection vessels called horns, which the notes in the Koren Talmud tells us were designed in such a way that it would be difficult to steal the coins once they were placed in the receptable by those who were contributing their share. The horns would have been collected by the agent in each town, who was responsible for the transport to Jerusalem.
I imagine what it must have been like during the time of the Temple when the agents collected the coins from each town’s set-aside receptable, exchanged them for gold coins with money changers along the way and headed to Jerusalem with the annual contribution. I also imagine that there were thieves and robbers who waited alongside the road for the traveling caravans who might have seen the occasion as an opportunity to line their own pockets. It sounds like a dangerous journey for the agent, who would have had to be very tough.
The timing of when the theft occurred determines who has to suffer the consequences of the loss of the coins. There would have been a ceremony when the coins were collected and set-aside in the collection baskets. If the ceremony had not yet been performed, the coins still belong to the residents of the town, and they are responsible for replacing the coins. If the shekels are recovered after they were lost or stolen, the residents are not due a refund and both sets of coins belong to the temple. We are also told that unlike when one overpays their taxes and either due a refund or can apply the payment to a later year, “the people cannot claim that since they contributed twice in one year they are exempt from contributing the next year.”
It is more complicated if the theft occurs on the way to Jerusalem. The status of the agent determines his ultimate responsibility for the loss of theft of the coins that he is transporting. If he is operating in essentially a non-profit capacity and is unpaid, he must take “an oath of a bailee” and is exempted from responsibility. There is some disagreement about an agent who is paid and operating a profit-making transport business. We are told that Rabbi Abba would still exempt him since the theft is “an unavoidable accident.” He must take an oath before the temple treasurer to vow that he was not negligent.
What has not changed since the time of the temple is the cadre of truly bad people. Back in the day of the temple, they may have been lying in wait on the roads to Jerusalem to rob agents of the funds collected by hard-working families in support of the Temple. Today, they are using the fear and anxiety associated with coping with the pandemic for their own gain.
The US Justice Department recently issued a warning of COVID-19 related fraudulent vaccine schemes. These vaccines are among the most precious commodities on the planet right now. Although the US has made great progress in vaccinating its population, there are still large segments that do not yet quality for the vaccine. And the supply remains somewhat limited, although it continues to increase. There are fraudsters who have set up fake registration websites and are offering early access to vaccines in exchange for payment. One fraudster offered vaccines for up to $1000 per shot, while all legitimate vaccines are free of charge.
The Justice Department has identified increasing fraud from the start of the pandemic, including fake test kits and price gouging or the failure to deliver on hard to come by personal protective equipment. There has also been a significant increase in identity theft since the pandemic started.
For those of you who have been posting photos of your vaccination records in social media, please know that you are opening yourselves up to identify theft and consider taking them down.
It is very disconcerting to know that there are bad guys out there who will take advantage of all the pain and suffering associated with the pandemic. But as today’s Daf Yomi suggests, the schemes may be new, but the bad guys have always existed.