Shekalim 8

Above suspicion.

One week into Shekalim and already we are in chapter three. We have moved on from collecting the shekels for the Temple treasury to the procedure by which the priests removed these shekels to fund Temple activities. A mishnah on yesterday’s page taught that it was done three times yearly. Ahead of major festivals, a priest would enter the treasury and remove the needed funds in three baskets.

On today’s page, the rabbis are concerned that the priest who removes the funds is above suspicion. Specifically, he must not be dressed in loose clothing lest people suspect he has discretely slipped a few coins into a pocket or up his sleeve. Here is the mishnah:

Those dispersing the funds should not enter the chamber wearing either a decorated cloak, shoes, sandals, tefillin or an amulet. Perhaps he will one day become poor, and people will say that it is because of the sin of stealing from the chamber that he became poor. Or perhaps he will become rich, and people will say that he became rich from stealing the funds of the chamber.

The decorated cloak (also sometimes translated “cuffed garment”) as well as the tefillin (worn in boxes) and amulet (usually housed in a leather pouch) all might provide a hiding spot for a few pilfered coins. The Gemara later suggests that even a curly-haired priest should not perform the ritual of retrieving Temple shekels because people might suspect him of hiding them in his tresses.

The mishnah seems less concerned that the priest will actually steal sacred funds than with the notion that his appearance will make people suspicious that he is stealing. And once people get that idea in their heads, they will find evidence for it. Whether the priest subsequently becomes rich or poor, they will say it is because he stole — either he is benefiting from those coins, or he is suffering divine punishment for his crime!

This idea that it is important to appear upright is reiterated in the Gemara on the top of tomorrow’s page where the rabbis offer scriptural proof:

Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nahman in the name of Rabbi Yohanan said that we see this principle from the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings (the three major sections of the Hebrew Bible) that a person should always be careful to be above suspicion (literally: to be clean in the eyes of God and human beings).

From the Torah: And you shall be guiltless before the Lord and before Israel. (Numbers 32:22)

Fom Joshua: You should be loyal to God and Israel. (Joshua 22:22)

From Proverbs: And you should find favor and approval in the eyes of God and human beings. (Proverbs 3:4)

Rabbi Gamliel Zuga asked Rabbi Yossi bar Rabbi Bun: Which of these (proofs) is the most compelling?

He replied: You shall be clean in the eyes of God and human beings.

Who was Gamliel Zuga? He doesn’t appear in the Babylonian Talmud and in the Jerusalem Talmud he is usually seen asking questions of more prominent sages, as he is here.

There were four very famous Rabbi Gamliel’s, all from the princely dynasty of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. But this one is not famous and his relation to the others is not clear. Perhaps, though, there is a clue in his name. “Zug ” means “pair.” Maybe this Gamliel was so-called because he overlapped with another Gamliel. Or perhaps he was named after his grandfather or was one of twins. Whatever the case, if he was anything like the other more famous scholars who bear the same name, he had to deal with the Roman authorities and was therefore much more aware of the outside world than many of his contemporaries. This is likely why he gravitated toward the more universal quote, the one that says it is important to not only behave well but be above suspicion not only before God, but before all people (not just Israel) as well.

Read all of Shekalim 8 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 29th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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