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What's the value of the biblical half shekel?

What's the value of the biblical half shekel?


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 contribution 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


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 Ask the Rabbi team.
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Darren Malo Mississauga December 19, 2016

what would a shekel from 300 worth today? Reply

Anonymous toronto February 10, 2015

amount This is the amount that should be collected from the people of Israel. No other amount should be collected from other nations nor any covenants should be formed with them. Reply

Anonymous Virginia 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. Reply

William Corum Simi Valley, CA 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 Reply

abraham benayoun kew garden hills , ny 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 Reply

Anonymous Bellevue, WA 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. Reply

Menachem Posner for 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. Reply

Anonymous Nassau, Bahamas September 19, 2010

Atonement Rabbi Eli is it safe to give $5.00 as an offering for the above feast Reply

Menachem Posner for 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. Reply

Josephine Cullman, al September 15, 2010

the half shekel where would one go to give this half shekel to G-D today? Reply

Michoel HaKohein March 11, 2010

Shekels in the Desert Could it not be that they gave Egyptian coins? After all, shekels were pretty universal ("over lasokher"). Reply

Anonymous Berkeley, CA 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? Reply

Menachem Posner for February 28, 2010

RE: THe half shekel Bear in mind that these half shekels were pouring in from all over Israel and the Diaspora. While one or two half shekel is not much, millions of half shekels equal quite a bundle.

Also, the half shekels were not used for the maintenance of the building. Rather they were used to purchase the animals and other supplies for the public sacrifices. Reply

Anonymous Sherwood, AR/USA February 27, 2010

the half shekal How could $5 or $10 a year meet the expenses of the temple, or any building for that matter? Reply

Pastor Poole January 23, 2010

shekel todays value That was the asnwer I needed
Thank you Reply

TY Harlem November 16, 2009

half-shekel=tithe? A tithe is when you give a tenth of your income. The Half-Shekel was a contribution, not a tithe. Reply

Mr Maranatha Columbia, MS August 29, 2009

thank you That was precisely the answer I needed. Reply

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