Why Does the Talmud Recommend Using Coins with a Pagan Deity Carved on Them

This week’s Torah reading of Ki Tissa begins with God’s commandment to Moses to levy a tax on the Israelites of a single half-shekel silver coin per person, on the Israelites, which also serves as a census. In Second Temple times, the levy continued to be collected annually, and the funds helped to cover the Temple’s expenses. The talmudic tractate devoted to the mechanics of this tax specifies that coins manufactured in the city of Tyre—today in Lebanon—are preferred for this purpose. As David Hendin notes, from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE, these coins were the most widely circulated in the Land of Israel:

One of the most common questions I have been asked over the years is why the Tyre shekels were chosen to be used for such holy use in the Temple. The issue that confuses people the most has to do with the graven image of the Tyrian chief god Melqarth (a local adaptation of Hercules) on the obverse, which surely represents a pagan deity, abhorrent to the Jews. There is no precise answer to this question.

Some years ago I discussed this issue with the late Israeli scholar Dan Barag. . . . “In general,” he said, “silver coins were simply used. Almost all ancient silver coins that circulated in Judea had heads. You must note that the image on a coin is very two-dimensional. One could not suspect that a person would actually bow down to a coin.”

I also discussed this with a non-numismatist, my late friend Rabbi Abraham Twerski (he died in Israel last month of COVID-19 at age ninety), a ḥasidic (and medical) scholar, who also pointed out that the practical nature of using contemporary money has not been a problem for Jewish people throughout history.

Read more at Coin Week

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Idolatry, Talmud


To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy