Currency Conversions (2:8)

Maaser Sheni (2:8) | Yoni Fisher | 16 years ago

The Mishnah in Ma’aser Sheni (2:8) brings an argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai regarding how to convert money to sums that are tradeable in when it is time to make that pilgrimage and eat the ma’aser sheni produce there. Beit Shammai says that one may convert as many copper coins to the less cumbersome silver sela denominations as he wants, whereas Beit Hillel contends one may trade a maximum of half of one’s bronze to silver selas.

R’ Kehati explains that Beit Hillel is concerned that the rush of people changing silver in Jerusalem for produce or smaller sums of money will inflate the exchange rate so that silver will be worth less than the amount originally converted. This would consequently diminish the value of ma’aser sheni because a person could not afford to purchase the same quality or quantity of produce as he originally redeemed

This debate is unusual because Beit Hillel are usually more lenient than Beit Shammai and here they appear to be ruling more stringently. Thus this explanation is problematic because in masechet Eduyot the Gemara goes through the rare examples where Beit Shammai are more lenient than Beit Hillel and this Mishnah is not mentioned amongst them.

This question prompts various commentators to offer other interpretations of the Mishnah. R’ Kehati brings the following two alternatives.

There is a law that outside of only certain conversions of ma’aser sheni money may be performed. Ma’aser Sheni copper coins may be exchanged for silver coins but silver coins may not be exchanged for copper coins – silver coins may not even be exchanged for other denominations of silver. The Shnot Eliyahu therefore explains that really Beit Shammai are more stringent because they hold a person can only exchange copper to silver if he has the exact denomination whereas Beit Hillel permit changing half denominations i.e. Half a sela of copper and half a sela of silver may be exchanged for a whole silver sela.

Alternatively Tosfot in Bava Metzia (45a) and the Rash explain that there was a concern that the copper coins would go mouldy or deteriorate. In this sense Beit Shammai are more stringent in that they require as many copper coins to be exchanged for the more durable silver coins as possible, whereas, Beit Hillel are less concerned and thus permits even a smaller amount to be exchanged.

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