What would you do with five dollars? (Daf Yomi Shekalim 4)

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“You have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem.”

Today’s Daf Yomi asks if the half-shekel that every Jewish male over twenty is obligated to contribute to what essentially was a temple building fund, can be accepted from a non-Jew. We are told straight out from the Mishna that the half-shekel shall not be accepted from a non-Jew or a Samaritan. This being the Talmud, and even though this is the funky insertion of the Jerusalem Talmud into our cycle of reading the Babylonian Tractates, there are Rabbis with the difference of opinion that we have become accustomed to.

Rabbi Ba and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi would turn their backs on any offering from a Samaritan, while Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar would accept their donation, because they considered them a “Jew in all matters.”  We are told through an anonymous voice that the anchoring text in this matter is one from Leviticus (1:2): “When a man of you brings an offering.” And we already know that women are excluded from being counted. So, what in this context is meant by “a man?”

We are told that the phrase “a man” includes converts and the phrase “of you” excludes those who have left the Jewish practice. Samaritans are placed in the category of converts, who are required to contribute their half-shekel. Rabbi Yohanan attempts to parse the matter even further, as the Talmud has done all along with the parsing of parsed text, and states that during the time of the construction of the temple the Samaritans could contribute a “specific article” such as a precious metal which would be incorporated into its structure. But the additional parsing comes once the structure is completed. At this point, a non-specific article can be accepted from our Samaritan. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says it is all kosher hogwash and “whether it is initially, during the construction of the Temple, or subsequently, neither a specific article nor a nonspecific article is accepted from them.”

There is some consideration of whether a non-Jew can tie their offering to that of a Jew, which can include libations that can be sold to purchase sacred vessels. It is asked if a non-Jew who pledges money to the temple, is pledging it to heaven, rather than for the building fund, which would not be considered a gift of a specific article. The argument gets even more intricate, because it is speculated in this case that the “funds come into the temple maintenance fund on their own.” Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish shuts all this speculation down and says, no, no, no. He refers to this text from Ezra (4:3): “You have nothing to do with us to build a house for our God; but we ourselves together will build for the Lord.”

I have nothing against any particular group that would want to give me five dollars, which is the present-day value of a biblical half-shekel. If someone handed me a five-dollar bill and said “go and contribute to a cause you care about” I would donate it to an animal welfare fund. If they asked that I donate it to my temple, I would add five dollars of my own and donate the full amount to my synagogue’s Friday night zoom fund.

Today’s funky text sides with Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish’s opinion that only Jews should support not only the construction of the temple, but also the building of the aqueduct that carried water into Jerusalem. The following is relied upon from Nehemiah (2:20) to support this perspective: “The God of heaven, He will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build; but you have no portion, nor right, nor memorial in Jerusalem.”

The key to understanding the Rabbi’s perspective are the words “you have no portion, nor right.”  It is spring and I am in no mood to consider how exclusionary these words are. The text can be viewed as suggesting that we must build and finance our own temples and our own homes.  There are no free rides in life, and we must be self-reliant. But every once in a while, we strike a bit of good luck and come across a few spare dollars. And if today is your lucky day and you came across an extra five dollars, how would you spend it?


About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at https://brokentabletsfrompennycagan.me
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