Session 5 THE TEMPLE TAX
WHY ARE THERE DIFFERENT “DUE DATES” ON THE TEMPLE TAX?
There are three different dates for the payment of the Temple Tax. Given the approximate due-dates, the schedule is as follows:
- If you live in/near Jerusalem, your tax is due by the end of Adar. (March 15)
- If you live near Palestine, your tax is due by the end of Sivan. (June 15)
- If you live in the more remote areas of the empire, your tax is due by the end of Elul. (September 15)
Why would there be three dates? This was done for a very practical reason: there were three important Feast Days in Jerusalem which attracted many visitors from all over the world, and money was needed to fund the activities of each Feast Day. The three Feasts are celebrated approximately as follows:
- Passover (Feast of Unleavened Bread), celebrated in Nisan (March 15 to April 15)
- Pentecost (Feast of Weeks), celebrated in Tammuz (June 15 to July 15)
- Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles), celebrated in Tishri (Sept. 15 to October 15)
I say “approximately” because they are “moveable Feasts.” They don’t occur on the same date each year. For example, the traditional way of determining Passover is as follows: the Feast of Passover is always the first Thursday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (vernal equinox is March 15—give or take a day because of leap year; next step is to find out the day of the first full moon that occurs after March 15; once the full moon is determined, Passover is the following Thursday! Simple, huh?)
Some of you might note: “Oh—that’s our Maundy Thursday celebration, and three days later is Easter!” Correct—you get an A in the class! That is why Easter is never on the same date each year—it, too, is a “moveable feast.”
WHAT DO THESE THREE FEASTS CELEBRATE?
Other Jewish Feast Days exist, but these are the “big three.” They celebrate and remember huge occasions in the history of the Jewish people. Jesus often went to Jerusalem during these Feast Days to celebrate with his people.
Passover celebrates the 10th and most devastating plague in Egypt, when God’s Angel of Death slew the first-born male of all Egyptian households. The Jewish people were saved by smearing the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. The Angel of Death “passed over” their homes, giving them the opportunity to flee from Egypt and into the desert. You may read about this in Exodus 12 which ends with these words: (ESV verses 50-51) “All the people of Israel did just as the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the Lord brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.”
Pentecost (Also called “The Feast of Weeks.” The word means “fifty” in Greek. It is 50 days after the barley offering at Passover) celebrates the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 and 20 tell the story. Exodus 20:18-20 reminds us of that awesome moment: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths) was spent in makeshift booths or tents, and was a reminder of the wandering for 40 years in the wilderness of the Arabian desert. This was prior to the conquest of Canaan. Leviticus 23:43 says “… that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
WHO MUST PAY THE TEMPLE TAX?
Jewish regulations on the Temple Tax (and pretty much everything else) were at first an oral tradition, passed on from generation to generation by the rabbis. However, about the 2nd Century A.D., the idea to write these down in an orderly fashion was realized in the creation of what is called the “Talmud.” The Talmud is the written expression of Judaism by the rabbis, and is divided into two sections: the “Mishnah” which is the teachings of the rabbis, and the “Gemara” which is the analysis of the rabbinical teachings found in the Mishnah (yes, you read that correctly: an interpretation of the interpretation!).
The primary collection of these rabbinical writings is called “The Babylonian Talmud.” It is the earliest and most complete. There is also a “Jerusalem Talmud,” but it is several centuries later.
Like our Old Testament and New Testament books of the Bible, the Mishnah is divided into many parts. One of the sections is called “The Mo’ed,” מועד, which means “the set-aside times” or “festivals” (It can also mean appointed time, appointed place, meeting, and even tent of meeting.) 1 This contains the rules about observing the Sabbath Day, the method of sacrificing, observances connected with the festivals, pilgrimages, the lesser festivals, etc. The 4th section of the Mo’ed is called Shekalim (שקלים), and I suspect that some of you figured out that this means “Shekels!”
The Shekalim (in 8 chapters) deals with the collection of the half-Shekel Temple Tax as well as the expenses and expenditure of the Temple. It also interprets the Old Testament for purposes of who is required to pay.
The rabbis interpreted Exodus 30:13 (ESV: “Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel…”). A study of the rest of Exodus 30 concluded that the Temple Tax was owed by every male, 20 years and older. Among the Talmud’s regulations in the Shekalim section is the following: “Levites and Israelites, proselytes and freed slaves” were all to pay the tax.
Women, slaves and minors could elect to pay the tax, but were not required to do so. Gentiles and Samaritans were not allowed to pay the tax and their money would be refused! The Sadducees, in their usual self-serving manner, rejected the rabbis’ interpretation and said they (as the priestly class) were exempt because there was no such regulation about priests paying taxes in the Bible. Some rabbis claimed exemption also, although this was not based upon anything tangible in the Scripture.
1 See Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic. Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1907. Various reprints with corrections to 1966. Page 416f under the word ועד.