Sunday, 20 October 2013

Shekalim 3 a, b

What an interesting masechet.  Shekalim begins with the notion of taxation and like a drop in a still lake it ripples out, touching topics that include the rituals surrounding gravesites, slavery, the lunar calendar, farmers' rights, and on and on...

Without the time to give the proper attention to today's daf, I will again highlight a number of details.

  • Regarding "attending to all public needs," we learn that a number of services were performed:
    • many trials and legal proceedings  
    • burning the parah adumah, the red heifer, so that its ashes can be used to reinstate ritual purity
    • the marking of graves with lime*
    • either completing all sotah determinations, or declaring the need for sotah trials**
    • decapitating a calf to remove suspicion regarding an unsolved murder between two towns***
    • boring a hole in the ear of a slave who wishes to remain in the service of his/her master after six years of slavery
    • removing the locks from protected communal water cisterns until the end of summer 
  • Regarding the removal of kilayim:
    • originally inspectors weeded a mixed field and put the offending weeds on the farmer's land
    • realizing that transgressors used inspectors to both weed their fields and prepare food for their animals, changes were introduced
    • inspectors first threw offending plants into the road where it was unusable for animals
    • inspectors then looked for intermixed plants and declared fields 'ownerless' if offending
    • anyone who cleared the unwanted plants from the field could then claim that field
  • Regarding lechet, the gleanings touching the ground and/or left for the poor:
    • Sages argued about whether or not lechet should be subject to tithes; whether the poor should have to donate a portion of their found food to the Kohanim
  • Regarding the collection of shekalim:
    • Moneychangers first facilitated the collection of half-shekels from Adar 15; from Adar 25 they sat at the Temple and collected late payments
    • Women, minors, slaves, converts, and others were exempt from this collection
    • Some people were allowed to give if they so desired
    • Others who did not actively contribute to the maintenance of the Temple; who were not redeemed from slavery at the Red Sea were not allowed to give
    • Kohanim were treated with kid gloves, so to speak: they were obligated to give but were not coerced or pressured to give.  They argued about giving toward their own maintenance
    • Boys over 13 with at least two pubic hairs were allowed to contribute
    • Men at age twenty and above were obliged to contribute
So far, Shekalim is a fascinating read.

* I do not understand how stones are marked with lime.  Limestone? Lime juice?
**one of the more bizarre ancient rituals regarding the ability for women to have a voice. Thankfully, the bitter waters would not cause illness and death and so most women would be declared innocent of adultery (unless the water was tampered with, of course).
***The first time that I have fully understood this ritual.  I wonder whether we might want to move away from practices that harm animals to represent our own innocence.  It is hard to imagine that this was in fact G-d's intention.

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