Jerusalemite Restores the Holy Half ShekelAug 22nd, 2010 | By Melech ben Ya'aqov | Category: Your Jerusalem Archives
Editor’s introduction: Reuven Prager is a Jerusalem visionary. For years, he has worked relentlessly on restoring ancient Israelite traditions such as Biblical dress, which he calls “Beged Ivri”, and the Holy Half Shekel mentioned in Exodus 30:13. I have known Reuven for years, he wrote for the print version of Your Jerusalem in the late 1990’s, and it is my privilege, once again, to allow him to use the pages of this newspaper to speak about some of his latest projects. In the following series of articles, Reuven will update us on his work with the Holy Half Shekel. -MBY
Though I am writing this on the 24th of Av 5770 (4 August 2010), I am actually writing it for you, dear talmid/ah, who is researching the origins of the restoration of the Holy Half Shekel one hundred years from now, in the year 5870 (2110 if these years are still counted.) I am writing this for you because during my generation, back in the 2010’s, we did not appreciate, recognize, or listen to our innovators while they were still with us.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, taught that the Holy Half Shekel was “the foundation of our entire Service to G-d.” He taught this, and it was duly recorded, repeated, printed, and ignored by his hasidim (followers). Though he himself never fulfilled the commandment of donating the Holy Half Shekel, he did not leave this world without first assuring us that it would be restored in the near future.
The Rebbe based his teaching on the fact that the very first time we fulfilled the commandment of the Holy Half Shekel in the desert, the silver donated by the Israelites was used to make the sockets that held up the walls of the Tabernacle. Since the Tabernacle represents our Service to G-d, the Holy Half Shekel is the very foundation of our Service to G-d.
In the following editions of Your Jerusalem, I will write a series of articles that will cover the entire history of the Holy Half Shekel, from its ancient genesis in the period of the Tabernacle, through the First and Second Temple eras, to its period of exile for 1,927 years and, finally, to its restoration, on Purim of 1998, for the upcoming Third Temple era.
THE PRE-COINAGE PERIOD
Anywhere that the Torah refers to shekalim (shekels), it is never, ever, referring to money. The shekel was not a currency, but a weight. Just as an ounce is broken down into grams, so the shekel was broken down into gera: there are 20 gera to the shekel. The concept of money was only introduced to the world in the 6th century BCE in Persia, today’s Iran. The concept of money made its way to the Holy Land only in the 4th century BCE, introduced by the Greeks.
“Even when Avraham Avinu paid 400 shekels for the cave of Machpelah as a burial site in Hebron, he did not whip out a wad of bills, he weighed out silver bars and nugget against stone weights.”
During the entire period of the Tabernacle, the First Temple period, and for one hundred years into the Second Temple era, the way we weighed out the Holy Half Shekel (Exodus 30:11-16) was by weighing silver nuggets against stone weights. In fact, not only the donation of the Half Shekel for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), but any commandment that required the payment of shekels of silver, was paid by weighing out silver bars and nugget against stone weights. This includes the 5 shekels for the Redemption of the First Born (Numbers 18:16), the 50 shekels for the bride’s price (Deuteronomy 22:29) and the 30 shekels for the slave’s price (Exodus 21:32). Even when Avraham Avinu paid 400 shekels for the cave of Machpelah as a burial site in Hebron, he did not whip out a wad of bills, he weighed out silver bars and nugget against stone weights.
Israelite weights were always made out of stone, never out of metal, because stone cannot acquire or impart ritual impurity, and anything offered in the Temple had to be offered in a state of ritual purity. The stone weights were flat on the bottom so they would not roll off the scale pans, and they were dome shaped, often inscribed with their weight value. You may remember seeing similar weights before the invention of the digital scale. When you went to the jeweler to buy or sell a gold bracelet, the jeweler would put the bracelet on one side of the balance scale, then place a ten gram weight, a five gram weight, and a two gram weight on the opposite side of the scale until the two sides balanced out. Likewise, the Israelites, in order to donate the Holy Half Shekel, would put a half shekel’s worth of stone weights on one side of the scale and then pour silver nugget onto the other side until the scale balanced. Then, the silver nugget would be given over to the Tabernacle or to the Temple to fulfill the commandment.
For more information on the Holy Half Shekel and to learn about Reuven Prager’s other projects, you may visit his website at www.begedivri.com. In part 2 of this series, Reuven will take us through the history of the Holy Half Shekel during the First and Second Temple periods.