The Temple Tax
and Yeshua's
Teenage DisciplesďAnd when they had come to Kfar Nachum ("Village of Nachum" or Capernaum), those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Shimon Kefa (Peter), and said, 'Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?' " [1]

Rav Richard



†††† Shimon Kefa responded, "Yes." However, then Yeshua came, and said, "What do you think, Shimon Kefa? From whom do the kings of the earth collect custom or tribute, from their sons or strangers?" This seems on the surface to be a strange question. Why wouldn't the Jewish Messiah support the paying of the half-shekel (two-drachma) tax that Torah required of the Jews for supporting the cohenim in the Temple? However, the Temple priesthood had become corrupt, and for that reason, many Jews resented paying the Temple tax.

†††† Shimon Kefa answered that strangers paid tribute to the kings. Yeshua then said, "Then the sons are free (or exempt). Notwithstanding, lest we give them offense, go to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first comes up, and when youhave opened its mouth, you shall find a stater (shekel, or 4 drachmas). Take that and give it to them, for you and Me."

†††† The fish that gave up the shekel is today called "Saint Peter's fish." I remember my first experience with this fish in 1994, when we went to a restaurant by the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). I agreed to order "Saint Peter's fish." When it arrived, I wished that I had ordered something else! It was pan-blackened, with its head still attached, and its eye "looking" up at me. It looked horrid! But I stuck in my fork and pulled out a bit of flesh, and it tasted wonderful, the best fish I had ever had. And coming from Upstate New York, we are privileged to enjoy very good fish, so we know a good fish when we get one!

†††† But more important, why is it that only Shimon Kefa and Yeshua were required to pay the tax? (One shekel would cover only two people.) Why weren't the other 11 disciples required to pay the tax?It is possible that only Peter and Yeshua were over the age of 20. We know that Shimon Kefa had a mother-in-law (Luke 4:38).

†††† There is no reference to any of the other 11 disciples having a wife, indicating that they were all probably under 20. Jews married young in those days. In Matthew 20:20-21, it seems that the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Ya'akov & Yochanan - James & John) might have been traveling with the talmidim. If these young men were married, they would have had their wives with them instead of dear old Mom. In Yochanan 13:33, Yeshua calls his talmidim "little children." It is probable that Yeshua chose his talmidim when they were still teenagers, with the exception of Peter. And they were still teenagers in Matthew 17, as none of the rest of the talmidim had to pay the Temple tax. Yeshua probably also chose teenagers, as they are easier to mold. For much the same reason, the military likes to get young people fresh out of high school.

†††† Today, when we think of teenagers, we often think of relatively immature people. Adolescence is usually con-sidered the teenage years. However, today we have an extended adolescence which often grows into the 20s and sometimes even beyond that!

†††† But thousands of years ago, people were very mature at very early ages, often taking on the family business as teenagers. In Judaism, a boy becomes a man at bar mitzvah age (13), and the girl becomes a woman at bat mitzvah age (12 for girls). At the age of 12 or 13, they are considered mature enough to know right from wrong, and are held fully accountable for their actions. In Judaism, they traditionally would be tried as adults for any crimes from age 12 or 13 onwards. The parents are no longer responsible for the sins of their sons or daughters above this age of accountability. They usually got married before age 20, often to a spouse chosen for them by their parents.Teenagers today often commit more crimes and indiscretions because they know that they can get away with it. I have a hunch that if teenagers were held more accountable for their misdeeds, they would suddenly become much more law-abiding.

[1] Mat. 17:24. There were 4 drachmas in a stater (or shekel). Each drachma was the average daily wage. Therefore, 2 drachmas was the equivalent of the half-shekel tax that only those over the age of 20 were required to pay (Exodus 30:13). This tax went to support the cohanim ("priests") who worked in the Temple.