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Collecting Coins for Machatzit HaShekel

Shekalim (2:3) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 days ago

The Mishnah (2:3) discusses a case involving one that collected small coins (perutot) for the machatzit ha'shekel yet ultimately collected too much. The Mishnah explains that if one had declared "these [coins] are for my machatzit ha'shekel" there is a debate regarding the status of the excess coins. According to Beit Shammai, the remaining coins are given to the Beit HaMikdash and used to purchase bird offerings when there was a lull in activity – kayitz ha'mizbeach. Beit Hillel however maintains that the excess are considered regular coins - chullin.

The Bartenura explains that according to Beit Shammai, despite the fact the person never intended to collect more than machaztit ha'shekel, the excess is still hekdesh. That is because Beit Shammai maintain that hekdesh (consecrating property to the Beit Ha'Mikdash), even in error, in still effective. Beit Hillel however disagrees. Since the person never intended to set aside more than machatzit ha'shekel, only a machatzit ha'shekel was consecrated.

The Mishnah continues by explains that if however, one declared that he would bring his machatzit ha'shekel from the collected coins, then everyone agrees that the excess is chullin. The Bartenura explains that this is because it is as if he stipulated that he would only be taking a machatzit ha'shekel from the collected coins, with the remained being chullin.

Let us however return to the position of Beit Hillel. The Tifferet Yisrael asks how the remainder could be chullin. He explains that this case would be comparable to a hekdesh coin fell into a purse or where one declared that one coin in the purse is hekdesh. In that case, we are concerned that any of the coins could be the hekdesh one. This is despite the fact that the hekdesh coin is in the minority - it is not annulled (see Tosfot, Meila 21b, s.v. peruta). If that is the case, how can we be certain which coins are the ones for machatzit ha'shekel?

The Tifferet Yisrael anticipates the following argument against his question. In the case from meilah the hekdesh coin was already designated before it was mixed. Consequently, there we cannot say that a particular coin from the mixture is the hekdesh one. In other words, only when the hekdesh or issur item was distinct prior to the mixture do we discount the possibility of bereira (retroactive selection). He notes that one might argue that our case is different. Nevertheless he counters that bereira is not valid at all when dealing with biblical prohibitions so the distinction is irrelevant. Furthermore, the issur (prohibited) component was known; when the sum total of the coins equalled machatzit hashekel prior to the addition of the excess coins. Returning then to the original question, how can Beit Hillel permit the usage of the remaining coins.

The Tifferet Yisrael cites the Tosfot and explains that if one stipulated at the start that it is not hekdesh until it is separated, then bereira works, even on a biblical level. Consequently, in this case it must be that he had not consecrated the money yet but only prepared them for the purpose. We must therefore understand that when the debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel is explained as being about hekdesh in error it is not meant to be understood literally. Instead it about items that have been prepared for consecration.1

The Tifferet Yisrael uses this understanding to explain an earlier Mishnah. We learnt (2:2) that if one was given his friend's machatzit ha'shekel and used it for his own contribution, then if terumat ha'lishcah has already been performed, then he violates the prohibition of meilah. The Bartenura explains, that since terumat halishcha is performed for all the coins that are to be collected, that coin is already considered the property of hekdesh. The Tifferet Yisrael asks, that if one consecrated the coin, the prohibition of meilah should be violated irrespective of terumat halishcha. He explains, that just like this case, the coin has not yet be consecrated, but only prepared for that purpose.


1 According to the Tifferet Yisrael, it would mean that Beit Shammai's position is even more extreme. That even though one did not consecrate the coins, but only prepared them for that purpose, even then, the excess is to be given as a nedava.

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