This letter is a response to a question posed to the Rebbe which appeared in Kovetz Lubavitch. The letter is not dated, but based on comparison to the other material published in that volume of the Kovetz, it would appear that the letter was written in 5706. As in the previous letter, the query of the questioner is restated by the Rebbe and the note to the question is the Rebbe’s.

Question: The Alter Rebbe writes (Tanya, Iggeres HaTeshuvah, ch. 3) in the name of the halachic authorities that one should give the value of eighteen Polish gulden for every day of fasting undertaken for teshuvah.1 Please clarify what is the value of that sum at present.

R. M. Z. Shechter, New Haven, Conn.

Reply: I) The source for the Alter Rebbe’s statement is the ruling of Rama in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 334:26: “If a person transgressed and desecrated (the Shabbos), he must fast 40 days.... In compensation for the sin offering [which he is required to bring], he should give 18 peshitim2 to tzedakah. If he desires to redeem his fast, he should give 12 peshitim for each day.” Commenting on this, Magen Avraham writes in the name of the Levush that every peshit is equivalent to one and a half Polish gulden.3 Thus twelve peshitim are equivalent to 18 Polish gulden as the Alter Rebbe writes in Iggeres HaTeshuvah.

The value of these coins in the present age is explained by the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch at the conclusion of sec. 334. [He states that] 18 peshitim are equivalent to a sela as prescribed by Scriptural Law. Thus 18 Polish gulden are equivalent to two-thirds of a sela as prescribed by Scriptural Law. And the value of a sela can be known in every country based on the sum through which a firstborn is redeemed, five selaim.4 With regard to the redemption of the firstborn, however, we are stringent with regard to the measure since a Scriptural commandment is involved, while in the present instance, that is not the case.

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II) It is still necessary to clarify if these measures are accepted in all times and in all places. From the Alter Rebbe’s wording in his Shulchan Aruch and in Iggeres HaTeshuvah, it appears obvious that these measures — both the measure given in place of a sin offering and the measure to redeem a fast — are equal at all times, except that a rich man should add according to his wealth. It is worthy to clarify his opinion concerning this, for Magen Avraham (334:34) — and based on his ruling, Machzis HaShekel and Chayei Adam — differ [with that approach]. This also appears to be the opinion of Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah, Responsa 155).

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Magen Avraham questions Rama’s statements (made in the name of Piskei Mahari) which define the measure given in place of a sin offering as 18 peshiti — which Magen Avraham considers as the equivalent of 27 silver meah. For one fulfills his obligation for a sin offering if he brings [a sheep] worth a danka — i.e., one meah — as a sin offering, as stated in Zevachim 48a. As a result, [Magen Avraham] comes to the conclusion that the measure given in place of a sin offering is dependent on the price of a sheep in the time the sinner lived. In the Talmudic era, the price of a sheep was a danka, but in the time of Mahari, its price escalated, rising to 27 meah.

Based on the above, in our era, it is necessary to give the amount of money necessary to buy a sheep in the country where the sinner lives. This appears to be the intent of the wording used by Magen Avraham. We do not evaluate the amount based on the price in Eretz Yisrael. Although in the time the Beis HaMikdash stood, they would bring sheep from Chevron (Menachos 87a), [sheep] brought from any land were acceptable. It is just that those from Chevron were the choicest.

Seemingly, since the measure of twelve peshiti — to redeem a fast — is mentioned together with the measure [given in place of a sin offering], it is possible to say that according to Magen Avraham, it is also dependent on one’s time and place. We estimate the feelings of a person in his era and locale, calculating the extent of the discomfort caused by the loss of a particular sum in relation to the discomfort caused by a fast, in a manner comparable to the statements of Magen Avraham 568:12.5

According to this rationale, a difficulty arises: [True,] an upper limit has not been established, i.e., a rich man must add according to his wealth. But on the surface, there should not be a lower limit either. For certainly there are indigent people in every generation who find a small financial loss more difficult to bear than the discomfort of a fast.

Why is there not one halachic authority who states that the measure of twelve peshiti mentioned by Mahari is an intermediate measure and a poor person may give less than that?6 For this reason, it appears appropriate to say that even according to Magen Avraham, the measure of 12 peshiti is the absolute minimum; one should never give less.7
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In his Shulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe (at the conclusion of sec. 334) cites the measures of eighteen and twelve peshiti, but does not cite the opinion of Magen Avraham that the measure of eighteen peshiti fluctuates according to the price of sheep. On the contrary, the fact that he states the equivalent in the coinage of his day indicates that he maintains that the measure of eighteen peshiti did not change in our time.

The Alter Rebbe resolves the question raised by Magen Avraham — on which his decision that the measure is dependent on the price of sheep at that time — by adding the phrase “It (eighteen peshiti) is the measure of a sela according to Scriptural Law.” Accordingly, the fact that he is obligated for eighteen peshiti despite the fact that it is sufficient for him to bring a sin offering worth a danka is no longer difficult to understand. A sin offering worth a danka is sufficient for him not to be called a sinner. Nevertheless, in general, a sin offering would be worth a sela, as stated in Tosafos, Kerisos 10b, s.v. michlal. From Rashi, Menachos 107b, it appears that this value applies also with regard to the Oral Law. (See the gloss Lechem Mishneh to Hilchos Maaseh HaKorbanos 16:4.8 )9 Thus if the foundation [of the thesis of Magen Avraham] has collapsed, there is no longer any proof for his ruling that the measure of eighteen peshiti fluctuates.

Moreover, there are difficulties according to the ruling of Magen Avraham that the amount of money given in exchange for a sin offering is dependent on the price of sheep. [Among them:]

a) How is it possible that the halachic authorities remain silent concerning this matter and do not explain it?

b) If we say — as is the Alter Rebbe’s opinion — that the sum given in exchange for a sin offering is fixed, we can appreciate why the halachic authorities delineated the equivalent of that measure in the coinage of their country and yet, their calculation served as a ruling for all countries. For wherever a sinner will give eighteen peshiti, he will fulfill his obligation. The country in which he dwells is of no consequence.

With regard to the opinion of Magen Avraham, by contrast, even with regard to Maharam [of Rutenberg] who [first] cited the measure of eighteen peshiti, the law would apply only with regard to those places in his immediate vicinity where the price of a sheep was eighteen peshiti. Certainly, this price fluctuated from city to city, and surely, from country to country. How then could he cite a figure in a text as a directive for people at large?10

c) The title Moram — the originator of the measure of eighteen peshitim quotedbyMahari in his Responsa — appears to refer to Maharam of Rutenberg who wrote his responsa in the beginning of the sixth millennium in Germany. The responsa of Mahari were written about 200 years afterwards in Austria. The gloss of Rama to the Shulchan Aruch waswritten in Poland more than 100 years after the responsa of Mahari. How is it possible that despite this extended length of time and changes from country to country, the price of a sheep did not fluctuate from its value at the time of Maharam and [remained] eighteen peshiti, no less and no more?!