I've heard there is a story. The story is that David got angry to a civilian because the civilian doesn't obey him.

However, he is told by somebody that his coins didn't circulate yet.

So the circulating coins decide who the king is.

I've heard that there is a rabinical ruling for that.

I wonder where I can learn more about it.

People talk about it when it comes to crypto coins and stuff.

  • 2
    It's megilla 14b
    – Double AA
    Apr 25, 2021 at 1:00
  • You would not want to press this point too far, given the use of Tyrian shekels to pay the Temple tax.
    – Henry
    Nov 21, 2022 at 9:01

1 Answer 1


To back up a few steps, per the comment's request.

Governments have the right to tax. Check out I Samuel 8:11--17, and backing up to Deuteronomy, it says the king can't amass "too much gold and silver, or too many horses" -- which means he has the power to amass some. The Jewish Bible was generally concerned with Jewish governments.

The broader formulation of "the law of the kingdom is the law" (dina demalchuta dina) is described as such by the Talmudic sage Shmuel, who lived around the year 200. The Talmud thus says that if there is a reasonably-fair system of taxation and consistently following its laws, the tax collectors take your ox and then later say "oops, you overpaid, here's your refund -- take this lamb" -- the lamb is not "stolen goods" and you're free to use it normally.

This appears not to be the rabbis coming along and decreeing something new (e.g. "the Torah prohibited kindling fire on Sabbath, we will tell you not to carry matches so you don't space out and use them"), but rather their understanding of Biblical law -- but the particular formulation of "the law of the kingdom is the law" wasn't written down as such until the year 200ish. (They had also previously dealt with corrupt, self-appointed tax collectors and ruled that Jewish law per se did not obligate obedience to such ruffians.)

"Megillah", literally, is a scroll of the Book of Esther; in this context, we are referring to the book of the Talmud (the Talmud is divided into lots of books); in this case, the story was included in the final edition of the Babylonian Talmud, so it was written sometime before the year 500 or so.

The criterion of using currency as a determination of a government's legitimacy per se appears to have been developed by consensus by rabbis in the Gaonic period, so probably between 700 and 1000. Maimonides then included it in his code, which was written around the year 1200 (he died in 1204).

Mind you, currency is a criterion that was suggested for use in determining if a government was legitimate, especially when there's a coup or junta or whatnot. If a new boss shows up in town and no one is interested in his fiat currency, that means he's not really a government. Presumably it is not the only possible way to be a legitimate government. Millions of Ecuadorians today happily consider themselves Ecuadorian, vote in Ecuadorian elections, pay taxes to and receive services from the Ecuadorian government -- it just happens to be that Ecuador uses US Dollars.

The story is Megillah 14b -- David has been anointed king and perhaps could claim to be so de jure, but de facto, Saul still occupies the throne. Here's Sefaria's text and translation:

מוֹרֵד בַּמַּלְכוּת הוּא וְלָא צְרִיךְ לְמֵידַּיְינֵיהּ אָמְרָה לוֹ עֲדַיִין שָׁאוּל קַיָּים וְלֹא יָצָא טִבְעֲךָ בָּעוֹלָם אָמַר לָהּ בָּרוּךְ טַעְמֵךְ וּבְרוּכָה אָתְּ אֲשֶׁר כְּלִיתִנִי [הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה] מִבֹּא בְדָמִים

Nabal, your husband, is a rebel against the throne, as David had already been anointed as king by the prophet Samuel, and Nabal refused his orders. And therefore there is no need to try him, as a rebel is not accorded the ordinary prescriptions governing judicial proceedings. Abigail said to him: You lack the authority to act in this manner, as Saul is still alive. He is the king in actual practice, and your seal [tivakha] has not yet spread across the world, i.e., your kingship is not yet known to all. Therefore, you are not authorized to try someone for rebelling against the monarchy.

The word seen here is teva, which is "nature", but it appears others did have the reading matbea, coin.

As for halachic literature -- the real government is the one whose coin is used -- see Maimonides' Laws of Loss and Theft Chapter 5, where he addresses government's legitimate right to tax. (I've excerpted and translated my own here; see Sefaria's link for full text and their translation.)

ה,יא [יב] וכן מלך שהשים מס על בני העיר, או על כל איש ואיש, דבר קצוב משנה לשנה, או על כל שדה ושדה דבר קצוב, ... וכל כיוצא בדברים אלו--אינו גוזל, וישראל שגבה אותן למלך אינו בחזקת גזלן, והרי הוא כשר: והוא שלא יוסיף ולא ישנה כלום, ולא ייקח לעצמו כלום. ...

ה,יד לפיכך גבאי המלך ושוטריו שמוכרים השדות במס הקצוב על השדות, ממכרן ממכר....

ה,יז מלך שכרת אילנות של בעלי בתים, ועשה מהן גשר--מותר לעבור עליו; וכן אם הרס בתים, ועשה אותן דרך או חומה--מותר ליהנות בה. וכן כל כיוצא בזה, שדין המלך דין....

ה,יח במה דברים אמורים, במלך שמטבעו יוצא באותן הארצות, שהרי הסכימו עליו בני אותה הארץ, וסמכה דעתן שהוא אדוניהם והם לו עבדים. אבל אם אין מטבעו יוצא, הרי הוא כגזלן בעל זרוע, וכמו חבורת ליסטים המזויינין, שאין דיניהן דין; וכן מלך זה וכל עבדיו, כגזלן לכל דבר.

Similarly, a king who taxes the city or all the people, a fixed amount from year to year, or fixed amount per field ... and the like -- is not stealing, and a Jew collecting these sums for the king is considered "kosher" and not a thief, provided the tax collector not add, modify, or take some more for himself. ...

Therefore the king's collectors and officers who sell fields that were collected as part of the tax, their sale is valid.

If a king cut down citizens' trees to make a bridge, the bridge may be used; or tore down houses to build a road or wall -- these items may be used, or anything like this. As the law of the king is the law...

When was this said? Regarding a king whose coin circulates in those lands, as the people of that land have agreed upon him and accepted him as their master and they be his subjects. But if this king's coin does not circulate, he is just a strong-armed robber, like a band of armed bandits -- their law is not the law! In this case this king and his servants would be treated like thieves.

  • I need more contexts for my christian friends. What is megillah? Also is this rabbinical ruling? Maimonides live much latter than that right? When is the rabbinical ruling and where?
    – user4951
    Apr 26, 2021 at 1:25
  • So the rabinical ruling is developed way at 800? The reason I asked, is when a pharisee asked Jesus whether jews should pay tax to caesar, Jesus pretty much ask them to show some coins. So I thought he's following previous rabbinical ruling.
    – user4951
    Apr 28, 2021 at 16:16
  • 1
    @user4951 there are rabbinic scholars who study the time period and compare Talmudic law to what's described as common in the "New Testament"; maybe someone like Prof. Lawrence Schiffman. Afraid that's far beyond me.
    – Shalom
    Apr 29, 2021 at 0:36
  • Also Abigail complained that David's coin didn't circulate much earlier. Another motivation of this question is the crypto currency market that mint their own coins. I wonder if using crypto currency will mean the market is "king", either practically, or even halachaly.
    – user4951
    Apr 29, 2021 at 1:20
  • 1
    @user4951 Abigail's conversation with David is recorded in the Book of Samuel, which says nothing about this. We are discussing the Talmud's colorful, expansive retelling of the story a thousand years later, and even that -- the common text is "nature" not coin. So it's just not that clear-cut from that source. Even with the medieval sources -- if you have two factions vying for power, look at the economics to see who's really in charge. That's all it's saying.
    – Shalom
    Apr 30, 2021 at 1:10

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