Bava Metzia 46

Coin collecting.

I was into coin collecting as a kid. I had Danish kroner, Nicaraguan cordobas, French francs, Chinese yuan, Indian rupees and Australian dollars. But among the most fascinating were coins from countries that either didn’t exist anymore or had completely different names — places like the Belgian Congo, the Russian Empire and Persia — and whose currency no longer had value beyond collectors’ items. 

Today’s daf considers how we deal with situations when currency is no longer recognized or legitimate. The context is a continuing discussion of whether money can be used to effect a transaction and under what circumstances such a transaction takes effect. As we’ve seen, there is a powerful strain of thought among the rabbis of the Talmud to insist that the exchange of money alone does not constitute a transaction. Rather, the purchase of an item is only acquired when the buyer pulls the property or undertakes some other recognized method of acquisition. As we saw in a mishnah on Bava Meztia 44

This is the principle: All forms of movable property, each acquires (the property of) the other.

That is to say, the exchange happens when the property is physically exchanged, not when someone plunks some cash down on a table. But on today’s daf, we encounter a comment from Reish Lakish that appears inconsistent with this principle:

We learned in the mishnah: All forms of movable property, each acquires (the property) of the other. And Reish Lakish says: even a pouch full of coins for a pouch full of coins.

Reish Lakish’s statement is a little odd, treating money itself as an example of movable property and not as a mere medium of commercial exchange. This flies in the face of what the mishnah held. Rav Aha tries to save the day for Reish Lakish. 

Rav Aha interpreted with anka dinars and with anigera dinars. One is a coin that the kingdom invalidated, and one is a coin that a province invalidated.

As a clarification, Rav Aha suggests that the money Reish Lakish considers moveable property is actually invalid and defunct currency, which for all practical purposes is not money at all. And he specifically names two specific currencies — one invalid in a given province and one invalid in the kingdom as a whole. Why do we need to mention both these types of coinage? Is there a difference between currency invalidated by a province and one invalidated by a kingdom? As it turns out, yes. 

And it is necessary, as if he taught us only with regard to a coin that the kingdom invalidated, (I would have said it is not a coin) due to the fact that it does not circulate at all. But a coin a province invalidated, which circulates in a different state, say it is still a coin, and money cannot be acquired by means of exchange.

The Gemara stipulates that if we had only mentioned the coin invalidated in the kingdom, we might have thought that the provincial coin, which may still be legal tender in other provinces, is still money. And how about currency that’s been derecognized in the kingdom as a whole?

And if he taught us only with regard to a coin that the province invalidated, (I would have said it is not a coin) due to the fact that it neither circulates in private nor in public, as the local residents do not use it as currency. But a coin the kingdom invalidated, which could circulate in private, say it is still a coin, and money cannot be acquired by means of exchange.

If only the provincially unrecognized coin had been mentioned, we might have thought that the kingdom’s currency, even though it’s not used publicly, is still traded privately (think various cryptocurrencies), so we need that specification as well.

The upshot: When the Gemara is trying to define money, it takes a pretty broad view. In fact, even currencies that might not be recognized meet the definition, and the rules of acquisition that apply to money apply to them as well.

Read all of Bava Metzia 46 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on April 14th, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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