BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel
RABIN MISHNAH STUDY GROUP
A poor person travelling from place to place should not be given less than a one-pundyon loaf, at [the rate of] four se'ahs for one sela. If he spends the night he must be given sleepover necessities. If he spends Shabbat he must be given food for three meals. Anyone who has food for two meals must not take from the soup kitchen; [if he has] food for fourteen meals he must not take from the cash dole. The cash dole is collected by two and distributed by three.
The two mechanisms we refer to are termed tamĥui and kuppah. The kuppah was in order to provide cash assistance to the needy whereas the tamĥui was in order to provide them with ready-cooked food. For the sake of clarity we shall call the kuppah 'dole' and the tamĥui we shall call 'soup kitchen' (even though it was not an 'eatery' as such).
The 'dole' is collected by two [officials] and distributed by three. It is collected by two because less than two people [working in tandem] may not impose authority over the public; it is distributed by three as in dinei mamonot,. The 'soup kitchen' is collected by three and [also] distributed by three, for its collection and distribution are equal. The 'soup kitchen' [operates] daily [but] the 'dole' is every Friday. The 'soup kitchen' is [available] for all poor people [whereas] the 'dole' is [intended only] for the local needy. But the councillors are entitled to treat the 'dole' as 'soup kitchen' and the 'soup kitchen' as dole and to make as many [such] alterations as they deem necessary.
Every Friday morning two officials appointed by the leaders of the community would go the rounds of all the households in the township or village and they would collect from them money for the 'dole' (or 'community chest' if you will). However, the monies received were not really a donation, because these two officials had the authority to make an assessment how much each householder was to give. This assessment would take into account not only the estimated income of the householder but also the depth of poverty that had to be addressed by the community that week. There was no appeal from this assessment and if the householder refused to co-operate these 'collectors' [gabbaïm] were entitled to confiscate suitable property from the house in question until such time as the communal debt was paid. This power of assessment and confiscation was conferred on two officials acting together: it was felt that one person exercising such power alone could be seen as communal tyranny. (The biblical 'peg' upon which the presence of two assessors was required was based on the fact that we are told [Exodus 28:5] that when the Israelites were required to donate money and articles for the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert "they shall take the gold" etc - and the minimum number for a plurality is two.