Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Money Changers

Money changing was very common in the Roman Near East, where there was a proliferation of currency systems and standards. In Palestine, as in Egypt, each district had its basilikai trapezai ("royal bank") retained from Hellenistic times (Jos., Life 38), and probably each village had its own money changer (cf. Sif. Deut., 306).

In the period of the Second Temple vast numbers of Jews streamed to Palestine and Jerusalem "out or every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5), taking with them considerable sums of money in foreign currencies. This is referred to in the famous instance of Jesus' driving the money changers out of the Temple (Matt. 21:12). Not only did these foreign coins have to be changed but also ordinary deposits were often handed over to the Temple authorities for safe deposit in the Temple treasury (Jos., Wars 6:281–2). Thus Jerusalem became a sort of central bourse and exchange mart, and the Temple vaults served as "safe deposits" in which every type of coin was represented (TJ, Ma'as. Sh. 1:2, 52d, and parallels). The business of money exchange was carried out by the shulḥani ("exchange banker"), who would change foreign coins into local currency and vice versa (Tosef., Shek. 2:13; Matt. 21:12). People coming from distant countries would bring their money in large denominations rather than in cumbersome small coins. The provision of small change was a further function of the shulḥani (cf. Sif. Deut., 306; Ma'as Sh., 2:9). For both of these kinds of transactions the shulḥani charged a small fee (agio), called in rabbinic literature a kolbon (a word of doubtful etymology but perhaps from the Greek κόλλυβος "small coin"; TJ, Shek. 1:6, 46b). This premium seems to have varied from 4 percent to 8 percent (Shek. 1:6, et al.). The shulḥani served also as a banker, and would receive money on deposit for investment and pay out an interest at a fixed rate (Matt. 25:27), although this was contrary to Jewish law (see below; *Moneylending ).

Thus the shulḥani fulfilled three major functions: (a) foreign exchange, (b) the changing of large denominations into small ones, and vice versa, and (c) banking. Three terms for "money-changer" are found in the New Testament: (a) kermatistēs (John 2:14), (b) kollybistēs (Matt. 21:12), and (c) trapezitēs (literally, shulḥani; Matt. 25:27, et al.) It seems probable that these three terms correspond to the three functions of the shulḥani outlined above. Thus kermatistēs, from kermatizō. "to cut small," is one who gives small change; kollybistēs, from kollybos, changed foreign currency; while the trapezitēs was a banker (from trapeza, "table").

The shulḥanim in Jerusalem used to set up their "tables" in the outer court of the Temple for the convenience of the numerous worshipers, especially those from foreign countries (Matt. 21:12–13). Excavations around the Temple walls have uncovered stores or kiosks, some of which, it has been surmised, were occupied by money changers. The Mishnah states that on the 15th of Adar, every year, "tables" were set up in the provinces (or in Jerusalem) for the collection of the statutory annual half-shekel, and on the 25th of Adar they were set up in the Temple itself (Shek. 1:3). The activity of the Jewish banker, shulḥani, was of a closely defined nature, as his transactions had to be in accordance with the biblical prohibition against taking interest (ribit). The Talmud records much information relating to his activities. An additional and interesting feature of his business was the payment on request of sums deposited with him for that purpose (BM 9:12).

See also: Ṣarrāf


F. Heichelheim, in: T. Frank, An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, 4 (1938), 224–7, 247–8, 256–7 (bibl.); F. Madden, in: Numismatic Chronicle (1876), 290–7; A. Gulak, in: Tarbiz, 2 (1931), 154–71. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Sperber, Roman Palestine, 200–400. Money and Prices (1974).

[Daniel Sperber]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.