It’s that time of year, between Purim and Passover, for the tradition giving charity recalling the half-shekel donation to the Temple.
The very name “shekel” reminds us that once, before the advent of coins, our ancestors weighed out pieces of silver. The shekel weight standard was the equivalent of 24 gera, a smaller denominational weight, while the ‘holy-shekel’ was of 20 gera. The ancient half-shekel – whether the weight used during the First Temple period, or the Second Temple period almost pure-silver Syrian coin that was the tradesman’s highest standard, or the coin bearing the picture of a triple cluster of pomegranates, minted during the Great Revolt just before the destruction of the Second Temple – was in no way comparable to the shekel coin in circulation in Israel today. In the First Temple Period, a simple worker earned between one and one and a half gera a day. If we compare this to the minimum wage payable to a worker in Israel today, around 250 shekel for a day’s work, then the ancient half-shekel used in the Temple, worth 10 gera, would have been the equivalent of roughly two and a half thousand modern shekel, or 750 US dollars! So the half-shekel donation to the Temple was a serious and very meaningful contribution to the Temple’s expenses!
Over the years at the sifting project, with the help of our many supporters and volunteers, we’ve merited unearthing examples of the half-shekel in its various manifestations – such as a silver half-shekel coin, minted during the first year of the Great Revolt, and Judean four-gera, four-shekel and half-shekel weights.
How many more historically priceless finds lie buried in the Temple Mount soil? At this time of remembering the half-shekel donation to the Temple, you can help unearth and publish artifacts from the site of the Temple itself by giving your symbolic ‘half-shekel’ donation to the Temple Mount Sifting Project. And while we’re on the subject of coins, our half-shekel donors’ website offers a gift of a replica of the very half-shekel coin unearthed in the sifting project! You can also sponsor the expert cleaning and reading of coins unearthed in the sifting. We have already processed over 100 coins in the adopt-a-coin scheme and hundreds more are waiting for donations to clean and decipher them. Who knows which coin we’ll find next?!