In another essential step forward towards practically bringing the Third Temple, the Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Israel has set the current value of the Biblical half shekel every Jewish male was required to give to the Temple. This mitzvah (Torah commandment), performed in a merely symbolic manner for 2,000 years, is making a rapid comeback in many ways.
Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef issued a letter on Wednesday in response to inquiries from the public as to what sum to give to charity as a gesture symbolizing the Biblical commandment. In the days of the Temple, every male in Israel was obligated to donate a half-shekel of silver in the beginning of the month of Adar, which began on Wednesday. Based on the present market value of silver, Rabbi Yosef set the value of the Biblical half shekel at 23 NIS, or $6.23.
This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary–the shekel is twenty gerahs–half a shekel for an offering to Hashem. Exodus 30:13
The rabbi addressed the modern tradition of giving charity in place of this donation, which in Biblical times was used to pay for the operating expenses of the Temple.
“Wise men throughout the generations have been accustomed to commemorate this mitzvah,” Rabbi Yosef wrote in the letter. “But it is important to say that the money is a donation and not an atonement. Similarly, when giving the money, it is important to emphasize that it is in memory of the mitzvah, and not the actual mitzvah. As such, the giving of this money in our times is not a requirement or a mitzvah.”
This mitzvah has re-appeared in more than a symbolic incarnation. For 20 years, Reuven Prager, a tailor specializing in Biblically-styled clothing, has minted silver coins adhering to the Biblical requirements for this mitzvah. The mitzvah requires the coin be donated to the Temple. Prager sells the coins, and the purchaser then returns them to Prager. Once donated, the coins have the status of being sanctified for the Temple and may not be used for any purpose other than the Temple. Prager deposits them in a vault, saving them for the Third Temple. To date, he has collected over 200,000 coins.
“In the times of the Temple, every Jewish male was required to bring two dinar of pure silver, which is nine grams,” Rabbi Yosef said.
At the time of his announcement, silver was valued at 69 cents per gram.
The chief rabbi cited Rabbi Chaim Palag, the chief rabbi of Turkey in the nineteenth century, who wrote extensively on this custom.
“Whoever gives a donation of a ‘half-shekel’ is promised a portion in the Next World, and he will not come to harm that entire year, and if God forbid a harsh decree has been sentenced over him or his family, it is nullified. He will not become poor in the coming year and he will see success in all his endeavors. He will be beloved from up High and liked below. And one who is careful to fulfill this mitzvah each year will merit to see offspring and live a long life.”
The rabbi concluded by blessing Israel, saying, “May God merit us to see the building of the Temple, the Kohanim (Jews of the priestly caste) doing the Temple service, very soon, amen.”
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