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All About the Five Shekels

All About the Five Shekels



How much is five shekels in modern currency? And why does the firstborn child "cost" five silver shekels, why not ten or fifty?


Five ancient shekels amount to just about 100 grams of pure silver.

While it is customary to use silver, any movable property worth that amount (as opposed to promissory notes, paper currency, and real estate) may be used. In the US, five real Silver Dollars (such as the 1878-1921 Morgan Dollar or the 1921-1935 Peace Dollars) are used.

Many kohanim (priests) have sets of five silver dollars which they sell to others to use. If not, a visit to a coin collector or pawn shop should do the trick.

The source for an Israelite's obligation to redeem his firstborn son through giving the kohen (priest) specifically five shekels is the Book of Numbers (18:15-16): "You shall redeem the firstborn of man . . .the redemption [shall be performed] from the age of a month, according to the valuation, five shekels of silver."

Several explanations are given for the specific amount of silver shekels used for the pidyon haben. The following two are from the Talmud and Zohar, respectively:

  1. JosephRachel's firstborn son – was sold by his brothers for twenty silver pieces, the equivalent of five shekels. This established that the standard "price" for a (firstborn) human is five shekels, which are given to the kohen, G‑d's representative, to redeem the child.
  2. The number five is symbolic of the Hebrew letter hei (which has the numerical value of five), which was added to Abraham's name when the time came for him to father Isaac—and the Jewish nation (see Genesis 17:5). G‑d's choice of the Jewish people as His nation, which resulted in the consecration of the firstborn and the subsequent mitzvah to redeem them, was in the merit of our forefather Abraham. We, therefore, have an allusion to Abraham at the pidyon haben.
Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Wolf June 20, 2017

What is the source for the second reason given regarding specifically 5 coins?

Thank you Reply

Tzvi NY January 5, 2011

weight of silver You can also use four 1oz bars of silver bullion (or a 4oz bar) . Reply

Baruch S. Davidson (author) December 27, 2010

American Silver Eagle The American Silver Eagle is indeed pure silver and has the intrinsic value (obviously) of 28 grams of silver, and therefore can be used. In fact, as each American Silver Eagle coin weighs 28 grams of silver, one would only need four such coins and not five. Reply

Nochum Los Angeles, CA December 23, 2010

American Silver Eagle You mentioned many coins are not silver enough for Pidyon HaBen, what about the American Silver Eagle?

It states on the back that it contains 1 ounce silver. Are those coins alright to use? Reply

Baruch S. Davidson September 12, 2010

Re: Paper Currency Paper currency should not be used.

Like real silver coins, the item used must have intrinsic value (equivalent to about 100 grams of silver), such as a real gold watch. According to most Halachic opinions, paper money has no intrinsic value; its worth is only the promise that the government institutions would honor it as if it were real silver. The same is true of many of today's "silver" dollars, which are actually copper and only silver plated.

Many Kohens have real silver money for this purpose. Generally, a Kohen will sell the silver coins to the father. A real sale must take place and the coins must belong to the father. It is halachically acceptable for the father to pay for the coins by check when he buys them from the Kohen. The father then gives those coins to the Kohen for the redemption of his firstborn.

If one gives the Kohen five actual silver coins, the Kohen can exchange them for their cash value at a coin dealer. Reply

Phil lewisville, tx September 6, 2010

5 shekels So I can't use currency to pay it? I thought I could calculate the 100g and then pay the offering with actual money, what is the Kohen going to do with the silver if we are not supposed to use paper currency? Reply

Menachem Cylich Melbourne, VIC/Australia July 4, 2009

Maternal firstborns Yes, this answered my question very well.

Thank-you Yehoshua Reply

Yehoshua (Harvey) Plaut July 3, 2009

Re: Maternal firstborns The Pidyon Haben applies to maternal firstborns and therefore can be learned from Yosef, regardless.

Though unrelated, the rights of firstborn were transferred to Yosef when Reuven sinned.

Does this answer your question? Reply

Menachem Cylich Melbourne, VIC/ Australia July 3, 2009

Maternal firstborns Yosef was only a firstborn from the mother's side. Would they all have been considered firstborns? Reply

Pidyon Haben: We are commanded to “redeem” firstborn sons after they reach 30 days of age. What is the significance of this rite, and how is it done?
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