The Holy Half-Shekel
The Half-Shekel is a Torah
Commandment first introduced by Moses
in 1289 B.C.E. In the Book of Exodus,
chapter 30:11-16 we read:
And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying:
When you take the sum of
the children of Yisrael after their number, then shall they give
every man a ransom for his soul to the Lord, when you number
them; that there be no plague among them, when you number them.
This they shall give, every one that passes among them that are
numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary, (a
shekel is twenty gera), a half shekel shall be the offering of
Every one that passes among them that are numbered,
from twenty years old and above, shall give the offering of the
The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give
less than half a shekel, when they give the offering of the
Lord, to make atonement for your souls.
And you shall take the
atonement money of the children of Yisrael, and shall appoint it
for the service of the Tent of Meeting; that it may be a
memorial to the children of Yisrael before the Lord, to make
atonement for your souls.
was donated anually, with some interuptions for
1,424 years until the custom was forcibly stopped by the Roman
Emporer Hadrian in the year 135 C.E. Given even after the
destruction of the Temple and sent in by the Jewish communities
of the Diaspora, Hadrian banned the fulfilment of this Divine
Commandment for he realized that as long as the Jews donated the
Half-Shekel, we had a sense of sovereignty over Jerusalem. What
an appropriate time in history for the Half-Shekel to make its reappearance.
Tractate Shekalim of the Mishnah describes in detail everything
relating to the Half-Shekel, how the public was informed, how it
was collected from Jewish communities in Israel and abroad, its
transferrance to the vaults in Jerusalem, its appropriations,
and permitted uses for the needs of Jerusalem in preparation for
the pilgrimage festivals. The last paragraph of the Mishnah
informs us that all the above is valid only in the presence of
the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, the Mishnah continues;
'one who sanctifies a Half-Shekel before the Temple is rebuilt,
behold it is HOLY!' And real and valid. This last line is
written for our generation, the generation that has returned to
Eretz Yisrael and who has re-established Jewish Sovereignty over
the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. We can now bring a new level
of Holiness to the world, a level of Holiness that has not
existed on planet earth for thousands of years; Temple Holy,
sanctified property given over to God.
In the Book of Second Chronicles, chapter 24:4-16, we read of an
earlier generation that restored the Half-Shekel in their day:
And it came to pass after this, that Yoash was minded to repair
the house of the Lord.
And he gathered the priests and the
Levites, and said to them, Go out to the cities of Yehudah, and
collect money of all Yisarel to repair the house of your God
from year to year, and see that you hasten the matter.
But the Levites did not hasten it.
And the king called for Yehoyada the
chief, and said to him, Why hast thou not required of the
Levites to bring in out of Yehudah and out of Jerusalem the tax
of Moshe the servant of the Lord, and of the congregation of
Yisrael, for the tabernacle of the testimony? ...
And at the
king's commandment they made a chest, and placed it outside at
the gate of the house of the Lord.
And they made a proclomation
through Yehudah and Jerusalem, to bring in to the Lord the tax
that Moshe the servant of God laid upon Yisrael in the
And all the princes and all the people rejoiced,
and brought in, and cast into the chest, until they had made an
Now it came to pass, that whenever the chest was brought
to the king's officers by the hand of the Levites, and when they
saw that there was much money, the king's scribe and the high
priest's officer came and emptied the chest, and took it, and
carried it back to its place.
Thus they did day by day, and
they gathered a great sum of money.
And the king and Yehoyada
gave it to such as did the work of the service of the house of
the Lord, and hired masons and carpenters to repair the house of
the Lord, and also workers in iron and brass to mend the house
of the Lord.
So the workmen worked, and the work prospered in
their hand, and they restored the house of God to its proper
condition, and strengthened it.
And when they had finished it,
they brought the rest of the money before the king and Yehoyada,
and of it were made vessels for the house of the Lord, vessels
for service and for offering, and spoons, and vessels of gold
You will find all the various teachings
relating to the spiritual significance of this commandment, and
as our translation work continues we will bring you everything
that we can find that sheds any light on this vital centerpiece
of our restored national Service.