The Half-Shekel: Purim Coin and Megillah Reading

The Half-Shekel coin, or Machatzit Hashekel, might seem to be of no great value, but it is most significant to Purim customs, Esther Megillah reading tradition, The Temple in Jerusalem history and level of donation and generosity in Judaism. What is the "zecher le'machatsit ha'shekel" Mitzvah?

On Erev Purim, during Beit Hamikdash times, it was customary to give three coins to charity. Each coin should be the denomination of half the standard currency in that country (e.g. half a shekel, half a dollar, half a pound). The giving of exactly three coins is derived from book of Exodus 30:11-16.
"The Lord spoke unto Moses: When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel This they shall give… one half shekel The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel when they give an offering."

A Half-Shekel necklace in sterling silver is a wonderful replica of the ancient Half-Shekel coin, authorized and commissioned by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Wearing such a necklace will convey all of the owner's generosity and importance of Jewish history and charity in their life.

In this Torah portion the word ‘Terumah’, Hebrew for Donation, is mentioned three times. The tax was equal for all, rich and poor, because every person is equal before G-d. Half a Shekel and not a whole Shekel signified that a person cannot obtain completeness alone. If one doesn’t have the exact amount, he may give three whole coins and bear in mind that half of each coin is to fulfill the mitzvah, and the other halves are a gift to charity. Alternatively, two people could jointly give three whole coins.

This money is then given to the poor; the Mitzvah of giving Half-Shekel is prescribed to Purim alone and is a symbol of great generosity and charity. The Mitzvah is to be fulfilled on the fast of Esther, at Mincha, or on Purim morning, before the reading of Megillat Esther, if one forgets to fulfill the Mitzvah on the correct day.

Nowadays, the Poskim state that one should be careful in referring to this sum of money as “the Half-Shekel,” rather, “a commemoration of the Half-Shekel,” for if one would call it the former, there is concern that this money may be consecrated to the Bet Hamikdash and thus be prohibited to benefit from, thereby prohibiting its distribution to the poor.
Regardless of the level of observance of Purim customs, the Half-Shekel Mitzvah is well worth adding to your Purim festival. Teach the children and be an example in your community to generosity and charity, by commemorating this custom and sharing it with your community.

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