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As the month of Adar II begins on this 1st day of 5784 (March 11, 2024), the Jewish community turns its attention to an ancient practice that has bound us together for millennia – the giving of the Half Shekel commemoration. This sacred tradition takes on even greater poignancy as we approach the joyous festival of Purim, a time when we celebrate the deliverance of our people from existential threat and reaffirm our resilience in awaiting redemption.

Traditionally, many observe this custom by donating before or immediately after the Mincha prayer on Ta’anit Esther, though there is flexibility to give anytime during the month of Adar. If one happens to miss giving during Adar, the sages instruct that the Half Shekel commemoration should still be given even after the month passes. As we prepare to fulfill this timeless mitzvah, imbued with the spirit of Purim’s miracles, let us reflect on the profound symbolism and spiritual significance behind the Half Shekel – a practice that has served as a powerful embodiment of our collective responsibility, shared destiny, and unwavering faith as a people throughout the centuries.

The Origins: A Unifying Obligation

”זֶה יִתְּנוּ כָּל הָעֹבֵר עַל הַפְּקֻדִים: מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ, עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה הַשֶּׁקֶל, מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל תְּרוּמָה לַה’” (שמות, ל’, י”ג).

The Book of Exodus (30:11-16) details the divine instruction to take a census of the Israelite nation by collecting a half-shekel from every adult male, rich or poor alike.  This equal contribution was not merely a practical means of funding the Tabernacle’s operations; it carried a profound symbolic weight, representing the equal standing of all individuals before God and their shared stake in sustaining the sacred communal institution.

Echoing across generations, the Half Shekel tax fostered a sense of collective ownership and accountability, reminding each person of their integral role in preserving the spiritual heart of the nation. It was a tangible expression of mutual support and unity, transcending individual wealth or status.

The Talmudic Significance: A Spiritual Defense

אמר ריש לקיש: גלוי וידוע לפני מי שאמר והיה העולם שעתיד המן לשקול שקלים על ישראל. לפיכך הקדים שקליהן לשקליו, והיינו דתנן “באחד באדר משמיעין על השקלים ועל הכלאיים”.
— מסכת מגילה, דף י”ג, עמוד ב’

The Talmud (Megillat Esther) draws a powerful connection between the Half Shekel and the miraculous events of Purim. As Resh Lakish states, “It was revealed and known before the One who spoke and the world came into being, that Haman would one day weigh out shekels against the Jews. Therefore, [the Jewish people] preceded his shekels with their own.” This profound teaching suggests that the Jewish people’s commitment to the Half Shekel tax served as a spiritual fortification against Haman’s wicked plot, foreshadowing the communal solidarity and divine providence that would ultimately triumph over existential threats.

In our current times, as the world grapples with conflicts and Israel faces ongoing security challenges, this connection between the Half Shekel and the Purim story resonates deeply, reminding us of the enduring power of unity and shared sacrifice in the face of adversity.

Contribute the half shekel

Contemporary Relevance: Sustaining Communal Institutions

While the ancient practice of the Half Shekel tax was specific to the Tabernacle and Temple, its essence lives on in the modern era through our collective efforts to sustain vital communal institutions. From houses of worship and educational facilities to social welfare organizations and emergency response initiatives, we continue to uphold the principle of shared investment in the foundations that serve the greater good. One such embodiment of this ethos is the crucial work of Zaka, an organization dedicated to search and rescue operations, emergency response, and community support. Just as the Tabernacle/Temple served as a unifying force for the ancient Israelites, Zaka’s efforts represent a collective responsibility to safeguard and uplift our communities, echoing the spirit of the Half Shekel tax.

Who Should Give and How Much

According to rabbinic authorities, the commemorative giving of the Half Shekel holds significance for all members of the Jewish community:

  • Timing: The announcement is made on 1st of Adar, and contributions can be given anytime from Rosh Chodesh Adar until Erev Purim before the Megillah reading.
  • Women and Children: While the original commandment was for adult males, it is praiseworthy for women to give on behalf of themselves and their children, as they were included in the original miracle. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled that this even extends to a pregnant woman giving the half-shekel commemoration for her unborn child, affirming that every life is part of the communal whole deserving of representation.
  • Amount: The value of a half-shekel in 2024 is approximately $9.10. For children under 13, giving is considered a good custom but not an obligation.
  • What to Say: When giving, one should say “zecher l’machatzit hashekel” (commemoration of the half-shekel) to distinguish it from an actual Temple donation.

How the value of half-shekel was calculated?
Regarding the calculation of the half-shekel value for 2024 (5784), there are varying opinions among rabbinic authorities:

  • Rabbi David Chai HaCohen wrote that the value should be ten grams of pure silver, which is the ideal way to fulfill the mitzvah.
  • Rabbi Dov Lior responded that the value is 8.5 grams.Rabbi Yehuda Halevi Amichai, in a detailed explanation, wrote that according to Torah law, the half-shekel should be considered 9.6 grams of silver, while for commemorative or rabbinic purposes, the weight is 8.5 grams.

As of 1 Adar 5784 (2024), one gram of silver costs 2.8 NIS. Therefore, 10 grams of silver are worth 28 NIS, and with the addition of VAT, the total is 32.76 NIS (approximately $9.10).
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The half-shekel tax is a powerful symbol of our collective responsibility and shared destiny as a Jewish community. By giving to Zaka for this commemoration, you participate in an ancient tradition that has united our people for millennia.

Give your half-shekel to Zaka today.

When you donate to Zaka, it is a continuation of this sacred legacy – your contribution sustains vital institutions serving the greater good, just as the half-shekel funded the Tabernacle and Temple. Your generosity echoes our ancestors’ commitment to communal unity and solidarity.
Contribute the half shekel
Let us embrace the spirit of the half-shekel tax by pooling our resources for Zaka’s lifesaving mission. Together, we uphold a sanctuary of compassion that will endure and inspire, reflecting the divine presence the Tabernacle embodied. This is our sacred calling – to transcend self-interest through the powerful truth of our shared destiny.

Donate now to HELP save lives! Donate now to HELP save lives!