What the Newspapers Say About the Shekel
From "Yom Ha-Shishi" Ultra-Orthodox Weekly
(A play on words
Shekalim, shekels and Shikulim, considerations)
by Yom Hashishi Staff Writer
Many of Reuven Prager's ideas, some amusing and unusual, have aroused on more than one occasion the ire of rabbis against him, but the most problematic initiative of all, which he is bringing to fruition this Purim, Parshat Ki Tissa, received accolades without anyone realizing the inherent dangers. Prager minted "Half Shekels" designed according to original Tyrian shekalim found in excavations and coordinated with Tractate Shekalim, and has been blessed by halakhic personages. They do not seem to have been aware that on Purim eve Prager is going to set up special boxes at the entrances to the Kotel, into which the coins will then be dropped for the needs of the "Third Temple", and posekim warn that this step may treat real hekdesh disrespectfully. The Pope has other problems with it ....
"Yom Ha-Shishi" Correspondent
The organizers of the celebrations of the bimillenium can keep their calm. Pope John Paul II, who is planning to come on his first historic visit to Israel, has no bad intentions. He has just abrogated, by means of his own signature, the "right" that he and his colleagues and his Christian believers claim to this land, or at least to parts of it, such as the disputed lands in Jerusalem on which churches were built and Christian spiritual items were stored.
According to him, in his official letter which has just reached Reuven Prager, the head of the "Beged Ivri" organization, the Pope seems to be abrogating officially all the places of control once in the hands of foreign, Christian rulers in holy sites all over the country.
A Purim farce? - Not really
Reuven Prager, a disputed figure, has succeeded doing this time that which no one else has ever succeeded in doing before. It all began exactly one year ago, on Purim, when the young Jerusalemite saw the bloodshed at the Apropo cafe and two years ago at the Dizengof center, and he decided to restore joy to Israel... Prager, whose impure projects have already angered more than one rabbi in Israel, has taken up a new initiative and restored the minting of a Half-Shekel in a form that was used in the Temple. Because in his poor opinion, from the moment the first half-shekel slides into the special cashbox, "we will have entered upon a process of redemption", here, then, is a means of restoring happiness to the Jewish people ....
He brings into this "rejoicing" the Prime Minister, the ministers, the chief rabbis, the judges and other leading officials, to whom he sent a copy of the half-shekel coins he himself has designed. The rabbis, it should be noted, were not aware of what he was doing nor that he intended to set up a "real" cashbox that would turn the coins into real hekdesh, without quotes, and so sent him thank-you notices for his initiative. We shall return to this point later.
A Verbal Confrontation
One of the letters leaving Prager's home in Jerusalem was addressed to the Vatican and directed to the Pope. Unlike his letters to officials in Israel, here Prager described the constant war waged by Esau and Amalek, and their descendants, against the Jewish people, and after confronting Christianity verbally, he proceeded to present John Paul II with something like a "Document of Concession" referring to all the centers of government which existed in Eretz Israel from the very beginning, including those of Titus and Hadrian and their ilk.
"I didn't believe anyone in the Vatican would pay any attention to my letter," Prager says, "but the moment I opened the official letter that arrrived from the Office of the Pope and I read its contents, I realized that I had done something for the Jewish people". The Pope, who is due to visit Israel in the year 2000, blesses Prager for his letter and thanks him warmly for what he wrote.
While those who plan the Pope's visit can breathe more easily after the publication of this letter for the first time in "Yom Ha-Shishi", well known posekim with whom we have spoken after visiting Prager at home are not resting comfortably after hearing of Prager's most provocative initiative which may well lead to serious obstacles involved in me`ila b'hekdesh - abuse of hekdesh.
Prager's initiative concerning the half-shekel must be treated on two levels. The minting of the original coins, for the first time in 1928 years, and introducing awareness of thse matters in certain populations, is not deficient in any way, as long as it involves only a ceremonial process of presenting the concept as it is, so that people will hear of it and learn.
The Criminal Side of the Coin
But the moment that Reuven Prager, who calls himself "a Levi on duty", plans to set up a cashbox into which these half-shekel coins will roll, with the real intention of dedicating them to the Holy Temple, his actions involve a serious offense liable to lead to "abuse of hekdesh", one of the more serious violations of Temple law. If no last-minute change takes place, this cashbox will be place on the night of this Purim on the Jewish Quarter steps down to the Temple Mount - this, too, for the impure intention of dedicating the coins as true hekdesh.
The matter of the cashbox was kept a secret, and so the rabbis who received Prager's letter with the half-shekel coin supported the project, which is yet another of Prager's activities in his "Beged Ivri" organization which works to bring Temple matters to the public eye, but not by merely learning the halakha or by restoring concepts in concrete fashion. If Prager engaged in this part of the coin only, we might give our agreement to his actions, but what he does is actually very serious, since as long as the Third Temple is not built, it is not for every individual to do as he pleases and chisel out cashboxes for the half-shekels, thus tripping up many Jews who don't realize how serious an offense it is, says one of the rabbis who contacted Prager at his home and tried to persuade him at the last moment not to transfer the cashbox to the foot of the Quarter steps. To this day Prager and his colleagues have engaged in seemingly positive activities. They restored the "Apirion", the bridal coach, in which bride and groom were led during the Second Temple period, based on the verse "apirion asa lo ha-melekh Shelomo" - King Solomon made himself a coach. He also restored the fringes with techelet and other things aimed at "restoring the Temple to the Jewish people", a strange thing to say in itself. But this time we are talking about practical things which are liable to trip up many visitors to the Kotel who remain unaware of the initiator's true intent.
The Coins were Hurled into the Dead Sea
During the Yom Kippur War, people say in Jerusalem, a simple woman turned up at the women's section of the Beith Midrash "Zikhron Moshe", threw a package of coins into the study hall and called out from above that she dedicates the sum to the Beith HaMikdash, so that her son, who was serving at the front, would return home safely ....
Rabbi Yosef Shelomo Elyashiv, so his son-in-law, Rabbi Silberstein, relates, did everything he could to liberate the coins from the severe hekdesh which had been applied to them. But even after studying the books of the Rishonim and the Aharonim he found no solution but to destroy them and cast them into the Dead Sea.
Such happenings occurred a number of times over the last few decades, and the Rabbis rose up against the great obstacles that came with them. It can be expected that this time, too, as soon as Prager's cashbox is placed in the Jewish Quarter the rabbis will make their opinion known in all seriousness. "Yom Ha-Shishi", visiting Prager this week, heard the man say: "What do you imagine? I'm not going to place this box in Meah Shearim ... for there they would throw me out in shame ...."
The Eleven Signs
Prager designed the half-shekel according to original Tyrian shekel coins found in excavations. Even Prager's opponents admire the way he always manages to put his hand on rare original items and to derive from them a new and original design for the items he fashions in the "Beged Ivri" organization. This way he found original Tyrian half-shekel coins with all the inscriptions the Mishna discusses in Tractate Shekalim, and they, too, are hereby made public for the first time.
From the size of the original coins Prager determined the size of his coins, on which there is impressed the figure of a 10-chord lyre, which - as the Sages say - will be used in the Third Holy Temple, as well as verses from this week's Torah portion which includes the rules of the half-shekel. Some of the verses were inscribed on the coins in the ancient Hebrew script.
In his home we found the 11 components of the incense, and the master of the house suggested that we pronounce for the first time the benediction "who has created pleasant oil" - boreh shemen arev over the Afarsimon oil he was successful in obtaining after much hard effort, while the entire apirion - wedding litter - stands in its full glory in a corridor of the house, as well as Levite clothing and more besides.
In his initiative to station the cashbox, Prager is acting contrary to the opinion of all the posekim, Rishonim and Aharonim, who rule that today as well, in exile, when the Temple is not yet erected on its proper site, abuse of hekdesh is still forbidden, and money dedicated to the Temple is hekdesh in all respects.
The halakhic discussion does not interest the Pope, of course, and perhaps for that reason - because of the severe prohibitions which are liable to stem from this - the Pope... blesses Reuven Prager and describes his activities as practical, wise steps.
Prager intends to symbolize with his half-shekel coin the Jubilee Year celebrations of the State of Israel as well, and for this reason he had inscribed on the coins the letters shin nun, i.e. sh'nat ha-hamishim, the fiftieth year of "Jewish sovereignty" as he puts it, and he did so because when the Temple stood, they also used to inscribe on their coins the year of their rule over Eretz Israel.
"Yom Ha-Shishi", who brought this initiative before rabbis and
posekim, heard their enraged reactions, and one may assume that
when this article is published, the posekim will overturn heaven
and earth to keep Prager from completing his initiative.
17th Adar, 5758
The overall tone of your article "Metoch Shekalim Zarim (Purim 5758) as well as the lies, exaggerations and ommisions contained therein, are symmptomatic of an underlying "disbelief" in the very 'faith' we believe in.
Make no mistake, there is now Hekdesh Vadai on planet earth. Hekdesh is not an Issur (Prohibition). Meilah is Assur (Forbidden). The only way we could get to Meilah, G-d forbid, is by way of laziness. Laziness is not an excuse!
In presenting the Sages with a Bidieved (after the fact) situation, we must now concentrate on learning the laws of Hekdesh and Meilah for practical application rather than for learning for its own sake.
Every consideration has been taken into account on this project. I have over 71,000 hours invested in it, and that is just my own work.
The way up is not as the way down. The giving of the Half-Shekel was not stopped by the Sages of Israel. It was forcibly stopped by Esau. The rulings of the Sages came later, as we lost the ability to safeguard Hekdesh. Today we have the ability to 100% safeguard Hekdesh.
Our Sages teach us that the restoration of the giving of the Half-Shekel is a cause for joy, not consternation. Hekdesh is not a problem, its a Gevalt!
The resistance to Redemption is passive. Those who cherish their Galuth (Exile) will simply not participate. There is no Titus, Vespasian, or Hadrian to tell us NO! Let us see who will rise to take their place.
Cowardice and laziness are not excuses.
With the drop of the first Half-Shekel into the chest for New Shekels this Purim, the Exile ended. Like it or not, we must now take responsibility and learn with zeal for practicle appplication and stop pretending to believe.
Is it really so hard to believe that someone would really believe in our faith, enough to act on it?
By the way, does anyone have a tradition on exactly when Rosh HaShana for Shekalim is (ie when is the last day to give New Shekels this year)? We have 11 months to find an answer.
Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Weekly
The Collection of Money Has Begun for the Building of the Temple
The extreme right wing organizations "Chai Vekayam" and "Beged Ivri" have begun an intensive campaign to amass funds for the Holy cause. "Beged Ivri" has managed to amass 200,000 Shekels so far, and hurriedly deposited it in the safe of the Chief Rabbinate.
The organization Chai Vekayam under the leadership of Yehuda Etzion has begun the project the "Treasury of the Temple", with the aim of collecting funds for the building of the Temple. The members of the organization will try to restore the Halachic basis for Hekdesh.
Hekdesh is anything of value that is dedicated to the needs of the Temple. Since the destruction of the Temple, Halacha forbids the sanctification of anything of value because of a fear of misapropriation, as it is impossible to use Hekdesh as long as there is no Temple. Therefore, the Halacha instructs us to destroy any Hekdesh in the Dead Sea.
The project that the Chai Vekayam organization initiated is the first of its kind. The members of the organization claim that since we are in the days of the beginning of the Geulah (Redemption), it is possible to turn to the Rabbis with the request to permit the Hekdesh. If the Rabbis can permit the Hekdesh, then it will be possible to dedicate money for the Temple.
Every Jew that donates money will receive a receipt from the organization, and with the funds they will buy gold and guard it until the building of the Temple.
Reuven Prager from the Beged Ivri organization claims that once something is dedicated [to Hekdesh] it is permissable to use it. Until now his organization has collected more than 200 thousand Shekels, that are guarded in the safe of the Chief Rabbinate.
Prager has minted a Half-Shekel coin that costs 37 Shekels, and passes the funds to the safe guarded in the Chief Rabbinate. From Purim until now there have been collected, according to Prager, more than 5000 coins, that are worth more than 200 thousand Shekels. A portion of the funds will be dedicated to the building of the Temple.
According to an oral agreement between Prager and the Director of Overseas Activities for the Jerusalem Foundation, Allen Freeman, it has been arranged so that the majority of the funds will be passed onto the municipality of Jerusalem for use in providing better services during the three Pilgrimage Festivals, and for the upkeep of the walls of Jerusalem.
In response Freeman said that the agreement is only in its initial stages.
21st day of the Omer
To the Editor,
Your article Hon Mekomi (29/4/98) misquoted me, and omitted most of what I did say. The giving of the Half-Shekel today is valid, regardless of the existence of the Temple, because it is an Israelite soldier's commandment, that serves as an atonement lest during military service, that soldier comes to take a human life, G-d forbid. As long as Am Yisrael fields an army, we are obligated to give the Half-Shekel. It was only after our defeat in the Bar Kochba War, in which 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva were killed, that the de-emphasizing of Jewish military service began, and the Half-Shekel was spiritualized away into fairytale land by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the other four students that made up the "new" generation of post war students of Rabbi Akiva. It was at this point that the emphasis shifted from Kopher Nafsho for soldiers to equating the Half-Shekel exclusively with Sacrifices, which only made up a small portion of the Half-Shekel expenditures during the time of the Temple. Even the death of Rabbi Akiva's students was spiritualized away from dying in battle to dying miraculously because of baseless hatred.
The funds from the Half-Shekel do not go to building the Temple. There is an extensive list of services enumerated in Tractate Shekalim for which the Half-Shekel funds go, some of which can already receive funding today from the Half-Shekels collected.
The Half-Shekel comes to teach the dormant Jew that they are at least half a shekel, and comes to remind the Haredi Jew, that they are only half a shekel. The Half-Shekel represents the ultimate equality of every Jew.
Your label of "extreme right wing" belies your immaturity and inability to deal with the subject in an intelligent manner. If your staff had a Jewish self-identity, you would have devoted the space that such a serious topic deserves in a paper carrying the name Yerushalayim.