Katan and Machatzit HaShekel

Shekalim (1:3) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

This week we began masechet Shekalim that deals with the obligation for males to contribute a half shekel to the Beit HaMikdash on an annual basis. A portion of those funds were separated and used to fund the public offerings in the Beit HaMikdash. The Mishnah (1:3) teaches that ketanim, normally translated as minors, are not obligated to contribute the half shekel. If however their father contributes for them once, he must continue to do so every year.

The Bartenura explains that in this context a "katan" refers to anyone under the age of twenty. Even though this departs from the regular meaning of a katan, in this case it makes sense, since the obligation to contribute the machatzit hashekel only begins at the age of twenty1. The Tosfot Yom Tov however notes that the Rambam and Ramban maintain the simple meaning of katan. The Tosfot Yom Tov explains that they must understand that the pasuk cited by the Bartenura, is referring to the contributions that funded the adanim (socket) for the construction of the mishkan.

As noted above, if the father contributes for the katan, then he must continue to do so every year. The Melechet Shlomo cites the Rash who explains that since the father began educating his son in this mitzvah, he must continue. Furthermore, since the obligation is based on chinnuch, if the father refused to contribute for his son the next year, we would not forcibly take a collateral, like we would for one that was obligated and refused.

Based on this understanding, the Tosfot Yom Tov explains that it follows the if the father dies, then the katan would not be required to contributed. This is because the obligation to contribute is the father's, based on the mitzvah of chinnuch.

The Bartenura however explains that the katan would indeed continue to contribute even after the father died. The Tosfot Yom Tov however finds this explanation difficult based on the reasoning above. The Tosfot Yom Tov however suggests that perhaps the Bartenura means that these payments are being made from the father's estate, on which the obligation to contribute existed during the father's life.

There are however other explanations. The Rama (OC 470:2) explains that if one fasts erev Pesach for his first-born son, he must continue to do so. The Magen Avraham explains that that ruling is like the case in our Mishnah. He explains that once the father fasts, or contributes the machatzit ha'shekel, it is treated like a neder. In other words, it is not chinnuch that obligates the father, but rather because it is treated like an vow. This is how the R' Chaim on the Yerushalmi also explains our Mishnah.

In Shekel HaKodesh (1:7, Bi'ur Halacha), R' Chaim however asks that a volountary practice is only considered a neder once it is performed three times or if one explicitly stated they wanted to do so permanently. These requirements are absent from our Mishnah. Further the concept of such a neder is not unique to shekalim. So if the reason is because it is a neder, why is it mentioned in our Mishnah?

R' Chaim explains that the Torah states that a wealthy person may not give more and a poor person may not give less when it comes to machatzit ha'shekel - everyone must be equal. If someone is not obligated at all (a katan or woman), giving machatzit ha'shekel would not be a violation of that law. If a father wishes to give a machatzit ha'shekel for his son, from the outset it must be with the intention to do so every year. Otherwise, it would not be satisfying the mitzvah of chinnuch and would be considered as if he was giving more than machatzit ha'shekel, violating this law. R' Chaim explains that when the Rokeach explains that he is obligated because of chinnuch it does not contradict the explanation that it is because of a neder. The mitzvah of chinnuch is what makes it a neder. He continues that in this context, a father would not be able to give the machatzit hashekel for has son and say bli neder.2

1 This is also the understanding of the Taklin Chadatin, Korban HaEda and Mahara Fulda.

2 Note however that this explanation does not necessary answer the question raised above on the Bartenura: why would the son continue to be obligated after the father died? The Tosfot Yom Tov anticipated this suggestion and argued that even if it is a neder, if the father died, it would not obligate the son to continue to do so. R' Chaim however also cites the Talmid Rashbash who explains that the obligation is a takanat chachaim. Accordingly, it could continue to apply to the son after the father died.


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