Shekalim 4

For us, by us.

One of the investor “sharks” on the hit TV show Shark Tank, Damon John, built his wealth through a brand he called FUBU. This acronym stands for “For Us, By Us.” Today’s daf takes that concept to the next level. 

Here, we find a disagreement between Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, a famous pair of rabbis who delighted in Talmudic wrestling. The question of the day is: Can a gentile or a Samaritan contribute a half-shekel to the building and maintenance of the Temple?

A quick explanation: The Samaritans were a group that broke with the Jewish community about 500 years before the Common Era. They have a Pentateuch that is substantially similar to the Torah, but do not have the books of the prophets or the writings that form the other two thirds of the Jewish Bible. By the rabbinic period, the Samaritans had many substantially similar practices to Jews, but were not considered Jewish and the relationship between these two groups was uneasy.

Now, you may wonder why the Talmud would even ask if Samaritans and gentiles can contribute to the maintenance of the Temple. Isn’t everyone who is willing to help advance a project welcome always, especially if they are willing to contribute money? Historically speaking, and even today, this question is fraught. Economic interdependence does not always feel like a good idea. Economic independence can ensure a certain degree of control over the project (the leaders did not want others to make decisions about Temple policy) and it can also simply feel good to pay for a project for yourself — granting the satisfaction of not needing to rely on others. In this case, these concerns may be at play in the considerations of the construction and maintenance of the Temple that should serve the people who worship there in an exclusive covenant with their God.

Rabbi Yohanan begins by stating that initially, during the construction of the Temple, neither a specific article (i.e., any item meant to be left intact), nor a nonspecific article (e.g., silver or a material that is melted down and incorporated into the structure but is not distinct), is accepted from gentiles or Samaritans. Subsequently, once the construction has been completed, a nonspecific article can be accepted from them, but a specific article is not.  

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish replies with a more severe position:

Whether it is initially, during the construction of the Temple, or subsequently, neither a specific article nor a nonspecific article is accepted from them. 

Essentially, Resh Lakish believed that everything having to do with the Temple should be built for Israelites, by Israelites. 

A heated, and scripturally-grounded argument ensues. Maybe donations can be accepted for more limited purposes or on a more limited basis? Maybe they can be accepted if they are the subject of a vow taken by a non-Jew? Maybe if the funds are for the sake of sacrifices that non-Jews are allowed to bring in the Temple? Maybe non-Jews cannot contribute funds, but they can bring libations? Or maybe the non-Jew can contribute to the general Temple fund “for the sake of Heaven” but not the specific building fund?

This whole discussion concludes ultimately with Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish citing a clear directive from Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that:

The Temple construction was restricted exclusively to Jews as the book of Ezra states (concerning the Samaritans): You have nothing to do with us to build a house for our God, but we ourselves together will build for the Lord. (Ezra 4:3)

Pounding a nail into this coffin, Rabbi Hizkiya states that even the aqueduct which brought water to Jerusalem and the walls of the city and its towers may not be financed with non-Jewish money. The items of the Temple, and even its peripheral structures, should be built for Israelites and by Israelites. 

As we saw on the previous pages, the rabbis required the participation of all Israelites (through the collection of shekels), but on today’s daf, they limit participation in Temple funds to those who are not completely invested in the Israelite covenant with God. 

Read all of Shekalim 4 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 25th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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