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What's the value of the biblical half shekel?

What's the value of the biblical half shekel?

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In terms of today's money, what would be the value of the biblical half shekel?

Maimonides writes (Laws of Shekalim 1:5) that the half shekel mentioned in the Torah – the annual tithe every Jew was required to give to the Temple coffers – is equal to 160 grains of barley, which, in modern measurements, would be approximately eight grams of silver.

It is impossible to know silver's value in biblical times. At today's rate of approximately 17 US dollars per ounce, 8 grams of silver is around five dollars.1

Rabbi Eliezer Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

There is a custom to give a half shekel to charity on the Fast of Esther (click here for more info on this tradition). This is symbolic, a commemoration of the biblical mitzvah, and therefore it is only necessary to give one half (or some give three halves) of the local currency—e.g. a half a dollar.

Eliezer Posner is a former member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (15)
March 12, 2014
Not "impossible".
Translating historical currency into it's modern equivalents is difficult and inexact, but by no means impossible. A "shekel" was a unit of weight, but the actual mass of that measure, and the purity of the metal, varied significantly over time and location.

The historical record tells us that during the Roman occupation of the middle east, a common soldier was paid 225 denarii per year, and that 1 denarius would buy 10 days worth of rations for that soldier. A denerius was about 4.5g of silver. Therefore we can say that a half-shekel was reasonably close to the value of a denarius at this time: enough to buy 10 days worth of food for an active man, or a bit less than 2 days pay for a common soldier.

As of 2014, an E-2 in the US military makes $1716.90/mo. Rounding off to the nearest denomination of US currency, we can reasonably conclude that a $100 bill is roughly analogous in to a half-shekel coin in terms of earning and purchasing power.
Anonymous
Virginia
April 25, 2012
Wages in the early days
At some time during my 76 years on earth, I was told that the shekel was a day's pay (as was the drachm (?).
I cannot find any substantiation of this comment, & will very much appreciate your input.
Thank you.
Pepperdine University Librarian Emeritus
William Corum
Simi Valley, CA
March 7, 2012
silver value
one oz. of silver on March 7 2012 is app. $33.35. One oz. = 28.3495 g. THus 1 g of silver app. $1.18. One shekel app. $11.76
abraham benayoun
kew garden hills , ny
November 15, 2011
tithe not monetary
The tithe had nothing to do with (monetary) income. It was a tenth of the herd, and a tithe of the harvest and products of the harvest. For the feast tithe, if one lived too far from Jerusalem, one could exchange your goods for money - but you had to buy produce/wine/oxen, whatever you wished once there and use them for the feast and to give to the levites- it wasn't the money itself you gave to the temple. The shekel set fee was the only monetary contribution, used for the services in the temple such as the showbread - wood was also supplied by the people by lots.
The priests and Levites survived themselves, I believe, by raising herds on borrowed land, and by their alloted portions of the firstfruits and sacrifices.
Anonymous
Bellevue, WA
September 22, 2010
RE: Atonement
It is always good to give charity, especially before the holidays. Give as much as you can with a giving and open heart. If $5.00 is an amount that you can give at the moment, then it is a good amount to give.
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
September 19, 2010
Atonement
Rabbi Eli is it safe to give $5.00 as an offering for the above feast
Anonymous
Nassau, Bahamas
September 19, 2010
RE: the half shekel
In the absence of the holy temple, there is no way to perform this mitzvah. However, as you may have noticed in the footnote, there is a custom to give one (or three) half dollar(s) to charity just before the holiday of Purim. This is a symbolic commemoration of what once and what will, G-d willing, be again.
Menachem Posner for Chabad.org
September 15, 2010
the half shekel
where would one go to give this half shekel to G-D today?
Josephine
Cullman, al
March 11, 2010
Shekels in the Desert
Could it not be that they gave Egyptian coins? After all, shekels were pretty universal ("over lasokher").
Michoel HaKohein
March 7, 2010
Where did the Jews get a half shekel if they were c
Did they mint them from the gold they borrowed from the Egyptians?
Anonymous
Berkeley, CA
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