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The Tanakh, the Talmud and the midrashim are full of references to the cost of things. But can comparisons be made, or was there an inflation factor that devalued the currencies?

Consider:

-Abraham pays 400 shekels for the cave of Machpelah.

-King David pays only one-eighth of that, fifty shekels, to buy a site on which to build the Temple. [2 Samuel 24:24-25].

-And the prophet Jeremiah pays only 17 shekels of silver for an entire field. [Jer. 32:9]

-And King Omri pays only 6,000 shekels for the entire territory of Samaria. [1 Kings 16:24]

Are these prices comparable in any way?

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  • I seem to remember that Shekalim 2:3 (6a) is based on inflation, at least according to some opinions.
    – Eliyahu
    Oct 31, 2021 at 2:08
  • You have to be able to compare the priced items themselves before you can determine if inflation (or deflation) accounts for a difference in prices. If Jeremiah's field was otherwise identical to the Temple site, one could conclude that prices were deflated. If Jeremiah's field were only 1/10th the size of the Temple site, maybe prices are inflated, or maybe the land is more valuable in terms of potential use.
    – chepner
    Oct 31, 2021 at 16:01
  • Even accounting for the fact that shekel was a unit of weight rather than strictly a unit of currency, one might have to consider the relative abundance of silver at each time, not just the items being priced.
    – chepner
    Oct 31, 2021 at 16:02

2 Answers 2

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Kiddushin 12A refers to the value of money going up and down

אֲמַר לֵיהּ בֵּין דִּידִי וּבֵין רָבִין אַלִּיבָּא דְּתַנָּא קַמָּא וְלָא קַשְׁיָא הָא דְּאִיַּקּוּר אִיסּוּרֵי הָא דְּזוּל אִיסּוּרֵי הָא דְּאִיַּקּוּר אִיסּוּרֵי קוּם עֶשְׂרִים וְאַרְבַּע בְּזוּזָא הָא דְּזוּל קוּם תְּלָתִין וּתְרֵין בְּזוּזָא

Rav Dimi said to Abaye: Both my statement and that of Ravin are in accordance with the opinion of the first tanna, and it is not difficult. This statement of mine is referring to when the issar increased in value in relation to silver coins, and this statement of Ravin is referring to when the issar decreased in value. The Gemara elaborates: When the issar increased in value, twenty-four issar stood at one dinar; when they decreased in value, thirty-two issar stood at one dinar. If so, there is a set ratio between the value of a peruta and the value of silver, and there are 192 perutot in one dinar. By contrast, the ratio between the value of a copper issar and silver dinars fluctuates, so that sometimes an issar will be worth eight perutot while at other times it is worth only six.

Rashi there explains:

אליבא דת"ק - דהיינו כסתם מתני' והך דרבין לאו שהוסיפו על הפרוטות אלא האיסרין הוזלו ועמדו שלשים ושתים בדינר בימיהם

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  • Is that inflation proper or just currency exchange rates? Sure metal-X changed price over time as regards metal-Y but that's not alone what inflation is.
    – Double AA
    Nov 1, 2021 at 0:18
  • Rashi says that the Issrin went down in value
    – Chatzkel
    Nov 1, 2021 at 0:32
  • ...relative to dinarim. that's the copper to silver exchange rate.
    – Double AA
    Nov 1, 2021 at 0:33
  • If the shekel goes down in exchange rate to the dollar, isn’t that inflation? If that’s not inflation, then the additional cost of goods would have to be, but your comments to the other answer indicated that it wasn’t inflation either but just an exchange rate. If everything is just an exchange rate, what on earth would you call inflation??
    – Chatzkel
    Nov 1, 2021 at 0:36
  • I'm not an economist but wikipedia says "In economics, inflation refers to a simultaneous progressive increase in all prices (including wages) in an economy." If wheat changes price because of a famine unrelated to the local changes in price of chickens and bricks and labor and water, that's not inflation. Same with copper vs silver after the discovery of a silver mine or after being looted by a silver-phile enemy. Maybe I'm missing something here.
    – Double AA
    Nov 1, 2021 at 0:41
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Yes.

The Gemara mentions inflation repeatedly.

An example of comparisons being made and inflation factor that devalued the currencies would be the Mishna Bava Metzia 75A which says

לא יאמר אדם לחבירו הלויני כור חטין ואני אתן לך לגורן

A person may not say to another: Lend me a kor of wheat and I will give it back to you at the time the wheat is brought to the granary

The issue is that is a chance of Ribis (interest) if there is inflation and the currency is devalued with regard to the price of wheat then when the borrower pays back he violates the prohibition of interest .

The Gemara immediately preceding the Mishna says

תנו רבנן אומר אדם לחבירו הלויני כור חטין וקוצץ לו דמים הוזלו נותן לו חטים הוקרו נותן דמיהם

The Rabbis learned A person may say to another Lend me a kor of wheat, for a set price. If the price of he wheat depreciates in value, he pays back the quantity of wheat that he borrowed, and if it appreciates, he pay back the pre agreed amount of money.

In Gemaras like the one above comparisons are being made between the purchasing power of money at different times and the devaluation of currencies due to inflation

The Gemara mentions currency fluctuation in the beginning of the Perek

Bava Metzia 60B

ותיסברא דאיכא נשך בלא תרבית ותרבית בלא נשך נשך בלא תרבית היכי דמי אי דאוזפיה מאה במאה ועשרים מעיקרא קיימי מאה בדנקא ולבסוף קיימי מאה ועשרים בדנקא נשך איכא דקא נכית ליה דקא שקיל מיניה מידי דלא יהיב ותרבית ליכא דלית ליה רווחא דדנקא א אוזפיה ודנקא קא. שקיל מיניה

And can you understand that there is nesech without tarbis, and tarbis without neshekh? (Doyraysa) If he lends him one hundred perutos with the agreement to be repaid one hundred and twenty, and at the time of the loan perutos are worth one-sixth [bedanka] of a dinar, and when he pays, one hundred and twenty perutos are worth one-sixth of a dinar, this is not an example of one without the other. etc

(It is both)

ותו תרבית בלא נשך היכי דמי אי דאוזיף מאה במאה מעיקרא קיימי מאה בדנקא ולבסוף מאה בחומשא

Additionally, what are the circumstances in which there could be tarbis without neshekh? If it is in a case where one lends one hundred perutos with the agreement to be repaid one hundred, and initially one hundred perutos are worth one-sixth of a dinar, and ultimately, when he is repaid, one hundred perutos are worth one-fifth of a dinar, etc.

(It is also not an example of one without the other.)

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  • 1
    Is that inflation proper or just currency exchange rates? Sure wheat changed price over time but that's not alone what inflation is.
    – Double AA
    Oct 31, 2021 at 1:07
  • 1
    I agree with @DoubleAA. A plain reading seems to indicate just fluctuations in the market price of wheat. Oct 31, 2021 at 1:31
  • I don't agree but I will edit the answer to give an example where the Gemara discusses currency fluctuation
    – Schmerel
    Oct 31, 2021 at 1:48
  • Again, is currency exchange rates varying all that inflation is? Your new example adds nothing new that I can see
    – Double AA
    Nov 1, 2021 at 0:17

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