The origin and meaning of money

Hillel Gershuni

After the encounter with Eisav, with all the emotions that he evokes, Jacob separates from his brothers and comes to the city of Succot, where he builds Sukkot. In the next verse, Jacob comes to ” Shalem, the city of Shekhem ,” where a tent encampes and buys the portion of the field from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shekhem, “in the midst of Kishita ” (Genesis 33:19). What is keratosis? This is a real mystery.

An ancient commentator’s explanation is that they are sheep. This is how the Septuagint and Targum Onkelos translated (“חורפן”). Another ancient interpretation is that these are spies, and this is what the translations of Eretz Israel translated. Another interpretation is that these are coins, that is, units of money.

The Babylonian Talmud (Rosh Hashanah Z, A) brings the words of Rabbi Akiva: ” When I went to Africa (Other versions: Larbia, the volumes of the Sea), Corinne heard were heard Ksith ” and Rashi. Interestingly, Bereshit Rabbah brings the other two interpretations – sheep and spies – as a goat from the west; But the third interpretation also appears in this midrash. In Arabic there is the word kasht which means “part”, and “partial payment” and “measure”. Is there any connection to the biblical method? Was that what Rabbi Akiva was referring to? Who knows.

What is money?

Today we are used to money as numbers listed in our bank account, and are physically embodied in bills and coins. This is a relatively late stage in the development of money, and it is called “Fiat Money,” where the meaning of “Fiat” in Latin is “so be it”. This is money that the state decides will be money, and therefore money.

In fact, today’s notes and coins are a kind of “ghost money,” a memory of two kinds of money that used to be in the past: bills of indebtedness, and commodity currency. To date, the pound sterling notes have the words “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …”. In other words, it is a pledge from the Bank of England, which promises to pay “real money” for whoever will bring it. Originally it was a real commitment to real gold coins, although with time the connection was lost and the meaning of the inscription became tautological anyway, we see that there are bills – that is a commitment to money – and there is “real money”. In the case of the Bank of England, it was gold coins. This is the commodity money: money based on a product that has demand even though it is used as a means of exchange.

Value of goods

Merchandise money arises from the need to maintain a complex economy, based on the division of labor and distributed decisions of many people. If everyone maintains a farm that tries to make do with itself, of course there is no need for money and everyone will be equally poor.

If a small number of people live in a small isolated village, there is still no need for money, even if there is a division of labor. Agreements on barter payment can suffice: I give you a cow and you give me five bags of wheat; I do not need all the wheat, but I know I can pay part of it to another neighbor, build a closet for me and so on.

But when the economy grows and expands, the problem of economic calculation intensifies, and there is a need for goods that I do not need personally, but I know that others can easily accept. The more merchandise is “traded”, the easier it is to use it as a means of exchange. And so various kinds of goods were created that also served as a means of exchange: bags of wheat, shells, beasts, and jewelry and precious metals.

This is an important point: when a commodity gets the status of a means of exchange, its value rises because it now has a demand not only for its use as goods, but also for its use as money. When a particular commodity is found to be more successful for use as a means of exchange, the less successful means are gradually abandoned, and again its value increases.

Sheep or money?

What makes goods successful as a means of exchange? There are quite a few requirements. She should not rot, otherwise I could not store her for long; She should not take up too much of her value to have somewhere to store her, and I could easily move her in case of big deals; It should be possible to divide it into parts to perform complex transactions; And of course, others should recognize it as money – this is a condition in which a growing market from below happens naturally given the previous criteria.

We have seen that one ancient interpretation of “kashita” is sheep. Sheep do not meet all the above requirements, and we know that silver coins existed at that time – Abraham bought the system of the Machpela in four hundred of them. Still, Jacob pays, according to this interpretation, sheep.

It is possible that at that time the sheep had money competing with the silver shekels. There is an advantage to the sheep over the money: they have to be taken care of and fed, but they produce milk and wool and other sheep, while money lies in the bank. Another possibility is that it is Barter: the sons of Hamor needed sheep, Yaakov needed a plot of land, and each gave the other what he lacked. We remember that Yaakov himself received his salary in Lavan’s flock. Does this mean that Jacob had no money and gold, but only sheep and sheep, and therefore he had to pay sheep?

The other interpretation is that these are precious stones. Gems have a lot of the qualities of silver and gold, but they did not survive the test of time. why? Among other things because it is difficult to find a uniform value. Much depends on the exact type of stone and its stones. The division of a good stone into two parts will not necessarily give us equal value to the whole stone. According to this interpretation, it is no wonder that “Kashita” quickly disappeared from the market and we no longer find it in the Bible (except for one performance in the book of Job, probably literary).

According to the third interpretation, these are coins, but no money is said. gold? Maybe of another metal? The only relevant thing is that the central value of the coins was their value as a means of exchange. In fact, the coins could be called “kashita” in the sense of sheep and still be made of silver, that is to preserve the historical value of the cost of one average sheep, just as English money preserves the historical value of the cost of a gold coin of a certain weight.

The money’s value

So were these coins? On the previous verse, “And he took the faces of the city ,” the Babylonian Amora interprets a rabbi: “A coin shall be repaired for them ” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 33: 2). It seems that these words are not detached from the verse on the inscription, and it is possible that Rav understood that the commandment was the coin that Yaakov corrected.

What is a currency? This is the development of metal money: as money became a commodity because it is also used as a means of exchange, various methods were spread to involve it in other metals and thereby “to forge” the money. There was a need for a means that would ensure that the money was pure and of the desired weight, and this need was met by minting, a commercial enterprise – with time the government – stamping a standard on every piece of silver when the mint declares that it is responsible for pure silver n time, unfortunately, the government realized that it could deceive itself with the currencies, and depreciation of the value of the coins became a regular practice of various governors as a method of collecting taxes that led to inflation, ever since.

As far as we know, coins arose only during the first millennium BCE and therefore were not in Jacob’s time, so the silver coins were pieces of silver that weighed them against weights. But in terms of Chazal, there is a signal here of the importance of repairing currency for economic life, and recognition of the great value of money, especially when it is cleaner than fear of cheating. And who is to us, Jacob, who has been burned many times by insults towards him, who wants to correct a means of exchange that will assure the public of such problems?

She listened to him and disappeared. It may indicate the shortage Jacob had in him when he was forced to pay sheep rather than money; Perhaps it teaches, in the words of our sages, the importance Jacob saw in money, in particular, reducing possibilities of deceit, and a coin that was fixed and remained only as a memory, with the plot of land he had bought near Nablus.

Published under special arrangement with Mida.

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