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Shekalim 12

The wrong sort.

A long mishnah on today’s page talks about dedicating one’s goods or possessions to the Temple. This is over and above the compulsory annual half shekel for regular Temple maintenance that is the subject of this tractate — it is a voluntary, personal gift to God’s house. The nature of this commitment is dealt with in greater detail in Tractate Nedarim — “Vows” — which we will reach in about a year and half in the Daf Yomi cycle. Here’s what we learn at the end of the mishnah from today:

One who dedicated his possessions to the Temple and there were amongst them things of the same kind as those that are used on the altar, for example, wines, oils and birds, Rabbi Eliezer says: they should be sold to those who need that kind of item (oto ha-min) and he should use the proceeds of the sale to fund burnt offerings, and the other possessions should go to the repair of the Temple.

In other words, if someone is offering extra items to the Temple, they don’t just sacrifice whatever he happens to have on hand, be it wine, oil or birds. Instead, he sells the wine to someone who needs to make a wine offering and the birds to someone who needs a bird for an offering — to someone who needs that particular kind of item. He uses the proceeds of the sale to purchase burnt offerings for the Temple. 

Today I’d like to focus on a specific word in this mishnah. The word min, meaning “kind” or “sort,” today refers to a comparable animal — same species and gender. Or, in the case of produce, the same kind of plant.

The Gemara introduces an important legal concept here, that recurs throughout the Talmud in different contexts. The phrases most commonly used are min b’mino (“from its own kind”) and min b’sh’eino mino (“not from its own kind”). It often shows up in matters of accidental food mixtures. When forbidden food is accidentally mixed with permitted food, the rabbis allowed one to annul the forbidden within the permitted and eat the mixture if there was a majority of the permitted — under certain circumstances (lots of fine print here!).

But the word min is also used in a very different context in the Gemara, to describe a sectarian — a person whose general religious orientation does not align with the rabbis. This usage probably dates to the late Second Temple period — roughly the first century of the Common Era (the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.). At that time, Judaism was famously fractured into a number of competing sects with starkly different ideologies. In this case, the word min (think of an expression like: “he’s a bad sort”) probably originally reflected the enmity between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and other Second Temple sects. After the destruction of the Temple, it was directed against those Jews who supported Rome and later to differentiate Jews from Christians. 

In fact, a special prayer was inserted into the daily Amidah asking for such people to have no authority. This tenth prayer is called “Birkat HaMinim.” It was often censored under Christianity and, as a result, different Jewish communities use other words, such as malshinim (slanderers) and mosrim (informers). Interestingly, the word apikoros, the more common word for a heretic, is not used. But clearly term min, to whomever it was applied, was not meant as a compliment.

Read all of Shekalim 12 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on April 2nd, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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