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

March 2 2021

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.

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Read more at Coin Week

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Idolatry, Talmud

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism