Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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Half Shekel Mitzvah Information

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Someone in our synagogue WhatsApp group asked, “How much do we need to bring for the machazit hashekel? Per person or per family? Kids included?”

Explanation – On Purim we have a mitzvah of Machazit HaShekel, a mitzvah to give 3 half shekels to charity.  This is an annual required donation by every Jew to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – when it exists, which it does not at this time, and therefore is instead given to the “Mikdash Me’at”, the tiny sanctuary, the synagogue.  (See Rambam, Laws of Shekalim 1:5)

Ok, so how much are we required to give?

There are 2 opinions. 

Opinion 1 is one should give a 1/2 value of the local currency for each 1/2 shekel.  For example, in the United States this means $0.50 x 3, or $1.50 per family member.  Further, it should be given in three 1/2 currency coins, meaning in the U.S. 3 coins of 1/2 dollar type.  (This is usually done by having a sample 3 coins that you “buy” with your cash then re-donate.  The next person then “buys” the same coins, and gives them again, solving the problem of everyone bringing piles of 1/2 dollar coins.

For those living in Israel, this opinion says to actually use the 1/2 shekel coin in Israeli money per family member, being that the shekel is the local currency and is an actual shekel.  (Note when Israel started they named the Israeli currency the Israeli Lira, and only later changed to the Israeli Shekel, and after a period of hyper-inflation reformed their currency to the New Israeli Shekel – the currency still in use.)

Opinion 2 is a stricter opinion.  It says the amount to be given must be the value of a silver 1/2 shekel coin of biblical times.  According to the Rambam, a biblical 1/2 shekel silver coin equaled 160 grains of barley (of silver).  This is estimated to be equal to approximately 8 grams of silver.

At current rates (check today, erev Purim 5776 / 2016) this is US $3.92 of silver per 1/2 shekel, or NIS 14.94 per coin in Israel, equaling USD $11.76 or NIS 44.81 per family member.

In a coolness-wow factor, there are those who actually mint silver half-shekel coins that could be donated.  Of course they don’t sell these for the pure silver value, more like 5 times that amount.

If you have any questions about how to fulfill this mitzvah, don’t hesitate to consult your local orthodox rabbi.  The custom or approach to doing so may vary from country to country.

Happy Purim!

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