Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.” Exodus 30:15 (The Israel Bible™)
After nearly 2,000 years of waiting, it is now possible to purchase a silver half-shekel that can be displayed at home and stored in a vault for use in the Third Temple. Or it can be given to IDF soldiers to protect them from their enemies.
Over 20 years ago, Reuven Prager, the tailor specializing in Biblically-styled clothing who sells such coins, started minting silver half-shekel coins for the purpose of performing the Biblical commandment incumbent upon every Jewish male. Regardless of personal wealth, every Jewish man was required each year to give a half-shekel coin to the Temple.
The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.” Exodus 30:15
In Temple times, the half-shekels funded the costs of the Temple service. It was also required in order for public offerings to be considered communal since every Jewish household had contributed towards its purchase.
The half-shekel was described in the Bible as weighing 20 geira.
This is what everyone who is entered in the records shall pay: a half-shekel by the sanctuary weight—twenty giera to the shekel —a half- shekel as an offering to Hashem. Exodus 30:13
Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, a renowned Torah scholar from the Middle Ages, who is more famously known as the “Rambam,” said that the weight of the coin was equal to 160 grains of barley, which in modern measurements would be approximately eight grams of silver. The value of the coin is dependent upon the whatever the market’s value is on silver.
Even after the destruction of the Second Temple, the practice was continued until 135 CE when the Roman Emperor Hadrian outlawed it.
Prager’s deep desire to recreate this mitzvah (Torah commandment), despite its having been out of practice for almost 2,000 years is reflective on how dear the commandment is to Jews. Due to the significant time gap from when the half-shekel was last given, Prager conducted research on a subject many modern rabbis have not covered.
Every year, Prager chooses an image for the coin based on the utensils for the Temple. While has placed featured images of the musical instruments and vessels on the coin, he has avoided using the image of the seven-branched menorah (candelabra) that stood just outside the Holy of Holies.
“I only wanted images of vessels that actually exist now and stand ready for the Third Temple,” Prager explained to Breaking Israel News. “The menorah that stands in the Old City is supposed to be used for Third Temple, but it is is only gold-plated. The Bible states specifically that the menorah be made out of beaten gold.”
Prager is scrupulous about the Biblical requirements, and since the menorah is such an essential part of the daily Temple service, he has refrained from using its image on his half-shekel silver coins.
“This year, I received a Halachic (Torah law) ruling concerning my Biblical wedding ceremonies that surprisingly, also applied to the half-shekel,” Prager explained. “It referred to the halacha that states that in the absence of a menorah made from beaten gold, a menorah made from any metal could be used in the Temple service.”
Prager applied this ruling to the half-shekel project, and for the first time, he chose a menorah as the image for the face of the coin.
Performing the mitzvah requires sanctifying the coin to the Temple. This changes the status of the coin, making it
forbidden to use the coin for any other purpose. Since there is currently no Temple for sanctifying the coin, performance of the mitzvah today is typically completed by handing such a coin to “Otzar Hamikdash” (the Temple treasure), an organization that was established for the purpose of storing these coins until the building of the Third Temple.
Three times a year, a ceremony called Trumat HaLishka is held in which the coins are given over to Otzar Hamikdash, and are officially considered to be sanctified to the Temple. The next ceremony will be held on Thursday, just prior to the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nissan.
Otzar HaMikdash has thousands of coins stored in a vault to be used for the Third Temple insured for 125 percent of their value, taking into account the fifth that must be added to replace anything sanctified.
And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. Leviticus 27:31
Five years ago, Prager added another Biblical aspect to his endeavor.
“Whereas every other commandment incumbent on adult men begin from the age of 13, the mitzvah of the half-shekel is unique in the Torah in that it is incumbent from the age of 20,” Prager noted. “This is because initially the mitzvah was intended as a way to count the men available for battle.”
Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give Hashem’s offering. Exodus 30:14
Prager decided to reconnect the mitzvah to its military roots by setting up a fund called, “MASHAL” – Mahatzit Shekel L’Chayal – (half-shekel for a soldier). Prager uses the funds to purchase silver-half shekels. He then goes out to the streets of Jerusalem and distributes the coins to young IDF soldiers, religious and secular while explaining to them the mitzvah and the significance of the coin.
Also, a confirmation email is sent to the donor when his coin is given to a soldier.
“The packaging for the coins distributed to soldiers was designed so it fits into their military identification card that they carry in their uniform at all times,” Prager said.
“They can take it into combat. The Bible wanted to have them do this mitzvah so they have an insurance policy for their soul from the moment they go into the army.”
To purchase coins, contact Reuven Prager by email at [email protected].