Maaser Sheni, Chapter Two, Mishnah Nine

 

Introduction

Today’s mishnah deals with exchanging maaser sheni coins in Jerusalem for other coins. In Jerusalem one can exchange silver coins for copper coins. This would make it easier to go to the store and buy food, because silver coins are too big for use in a store. This was opposite the case outside of Jerusalem, where people wanted to exchange copper for silver to make it easier to carry the coins to Jerusalem. As was the case with regard to exchanging coins outside of Jerusalem, it is generally forbidden to redeem silver for silver. The question is what to do if all he has is enough copper coins to redeem part of the silver coin.

 

Mishnah Nine

One who exchanges a sela of second tithe in Jerusalem:

1)      Bet Shammai says: he may exchange the whole sela for copper coins.

2)      Bet Hillel says: a shekel of silver and a shekel’s worth of copper coins [can be exchanged for the sela].

3)      Those discussing before the sages say: silver for three dinars and copper coins for one denar.

4)      Rabbi Akiva says: silver for three denars and copper coins for a fourth [of the fourth denar].

5)      Rabbi Tarfon says: four aspers in silver.

6)      Shammai says: he must leave it in a shop and eat as much as it is worth.

 

Explanation

There are a whopping six opinions in this mishnah! I should note that this is exceedingly rare. Usually we see two, perhaps three opinions.

Section one: Bet Shammai’s opinion is the same as his opinion in yesterday’s mishnah. If one wants to exchange a sela of maaser sheni for copper coins, he must have enough copper coins for the whole sela. He cannot exchange half copper coins and a silver coin for the sela.

Section two: Like Bet Shammai, Bet Hillel has the same opinion as in yesterday’s mishnah. One can exchange a silver sela, half for copper coins (one shekel’s worth) and half for silver coins (one shekel’s worth). Since half of the exchange is being done with copper, the other half can be done with silver.

Section three: This is an interesting phrase “those discussing before the sages.” The Talmud interprets this to be younger sages, perhaps too young to merit their names being attached to their statements. In any case, they go a step further than Bet Hillel. As long as one dinar, equivalent to ¼ of a sela, consists of copper coins being exchanged for the silver sela, the remaining ¾ can consist of silver coins. Bet Hillel said that at least ½ had to be copper.

Section four: Rabbi Akiva is even more lenient and says that there doesn’t need to be a full dinar of copper, but rather only ¼ of the dinar need be copper. Thus three dinars can be silver and as long as the fourth dinar of the sela is redeemed for ¼ of a dinar’s worth of copper coins, the exchange is valid.

Section five: Rabbi Tarfon says that the fourth dinar of the sela (1/4 of the value of the sela) can be exchanged for four asperim of silver and one asper of copper. Rabbi Tarfon is slightly more lenient than Rabbi Akiva, who said that ¼ of the last dinar had to be copper. We can now note that there are not really six different opinions in the mishnah—Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Akiva and “those discussing before the sage” are all more and more lenient versions of Bet Hillel.

Section six: Shammai provides a different solution altogether. Instead of trying to figure out how to exchange the coin when he doesn’t have sufficient copper coins to equal the sela, what he should do is just give the coin to the shopkeeper and keep eating food until he has taken enough food to cover the value of the coin. It seems likely that Shammai is actually the strictest opinion, and says that once in Jerusalem, it is forbidden to exchange the coin for other coins altogether.

 

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