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.

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Read more at Coin Week

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Idolatry, Talmud

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf