י״ח באלול ה׳תשע״ו (September 21, 2016)

Bava Kamma 113a-b: The Tax Collector

Our Mishna teaches that a person cannot exchange money with tax collectors, implying that we must work with the assumption that the money they have is stolen.

With regard to this ruling, our Gemara points to Shmuel’s ruling that, “Dina d’malkhuta dina – we must follow the rules of the government,” and questions how the Mishna can assume that a person who works as a tax collector is likely involved in criminal activities.

Two answers are suggested by the Gemara:

  1. Shmuel is quoted by Rav Hinina in the name of Rav Kahane that this is only true in the case of a tax collector who does not follow the rule of law, but takes as much as he sees fit.
  2. Rabbi Yannai suggests that our Mishna is talking about a self-appointed tax collector, who is not operating with government approval.

The situation of a mokhes – a tax collector – was different in Talmudic times than it is today. In those days (and in some places this was true until fairly recently) the right to collect taxes was leased by the government to individuals who would then collect taxes in the name of the government. The individual who purchased this right from the government would then assign others to collect the taxes and pay him a percentage of the receipts. There was a lot of room for cheating and dishonesty given the situation that tax collection was a business, and the more that was collected, the more profit was made. Thus, the mokhes could choose to forgive the debts of his friends and relatives entirely, choosing to collect more than was appropriate from those people with whom he did not have a relationship. It is for this reason that the Talmud often presents the mokhes as equivalent to a robber.

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