In Jewish history in the period of Roman rule two categories should be distinguished under this heading: (1) mokhesim, farmers-general (see publicani), by preference of the equestrian order, and (2) gabba'im, their agents employed in collecting the taxes (sometimes also called publicani,
As the burdens of taxation became ever more intolerable, so did the tax farmer or collector become a more hateful and dreaded personality (cf., Sanh. 92b, where a gabbai is likened to the bear in Amos 5:19). At times they even contrived to extract payments by torture (see Num. R. 17:5; cf. Philo, Spec. 3, 153–63). Being so unpopular, the collector's job was no easy one; indeed at times he ran great personal risk, as an enraged populace was quite likely to lynch him (Gen, R. 42:4). Since both mokhesim and gabba'im were classed with "robbers," talmudic law disqualified them from acting as witnesses (Sanh. 25b). Neither was their money accepted for charity (BK 10:1). Sometimes however, tax collectors were unwilling agents of the publicani. Thus, Tosefta Demai (3:4, et al.) reads: "At first [the sages] said, 'A ḥaver who becomes a gabbai is expelled from the order.' Subsequently they declared, 'As long as he is a gabbai he is not trusted, but if he withdraws from being a gabbai he is [again] trusted.'" A number of Jewish tax collectors and farmers are mentioned, e.g., Johanes from Caesarea (Jos., Wars, 2:287), Zechariah on the Jordan near Jericho (Luke 19:2), the tax gatherers at Capernaum on Lake Tiberias, probably responsible for customs, port duties, and fishing tolls (Matt. 9:9), etc. Tax collectors formed themselves into companies (societas publicanorum), each member taking a share (a quarter or less) of the collection and its profits, according to the capital invested.
F.M. Heichelheim, in: An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, ed. by T. Frank, 4 (1938), 231–45; ET, 5 (1953), 46–51; A. Schalit, Koenig Herodes (1969), 290ff.; A. Inlak, in: Tarbiz, 11 (1940), 114–22; idem, in: Sefer Magnes (1938), 97–104.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.