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Purim Torah

How am I supposed to pay *half* a coin? Question

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This Shabbat we read Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16), in which we're instructed to pay a half-shekel to avoid plagues. I'm not very skilled at cutting silver, so I want to know how exact the half-coin needs to be. If, after I cut my coin, I find that the two pieces aren't exactly the same, can I just pay the larger one and call it good, even though it's more than half a shekel? Can I pay the smaller piece and make up the difference with further cuttings from the larger piece? And what am I supposed to do with the leftover piece? Would disposing of it be a violation of bal tashchit?

Or can I avoid the whole problem by submitting payment for myself and a partner together and just paying one coin?

How, practically speaking, are unskilled silversmiths to implement this half-coin payment? I don't want to do it wrong when the next census comes.

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Could you proffer a whole shekel and expect to receive a half-shekel in change (and then proffer that half-shekel next time)? Peter Taylor‭ 12 days ago

2 answers

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The Torah there answers your question:

עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה הַשֶּׁקֶל מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל תְּרוּמָה לַה׳

Twenty chews to a shekel. Half a shekel is a donation to God.

That is, you bite and nibble at the coin twenty times to get it to just the halfway mark and donate what's left. The rest, of course, was eaten.

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Oh, of course! I'm surprised that HKBH wants chewed-upon coins, but who am I to question His intent? (I, uh, might have follow-on questions. :-) ) Monica Cellio‭ 20 days ago

If a shekel is 20 chews, a half shekel would be 10 (the Torah restricts it to age 20+ to make sure that even the slowest students already learned fractions so that they don't take too many bites and waste the coin) user8078‭ 20 days ago

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Exodus 24:6 states:

ויקח משה חצי הדם וישם באגנת, וחצי הדם זרק על המזבח.‏

And Moses took half of the blood and placed it in buckets, and half of the blood he threw on the altar.

Rashi on Exodus 24:6:1 explains:

מי חלקו? מלאך בא וחלקו.‏

Who divided it? An angel came and divided it.

We derive a Gezeirah Shavah of חצי חצי to מחצית השקל; from here we infer that so long as one attempts to split the coin properly, an angel will help one to split it properly.

The Torah promises as such explicitly in Exodus 30:15:

העשיר לא ירבה והדל לא ימעיט ממחצית השקל

The wealthy will not increase, nor will the poor decrease, from a half-Shekel.

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Thank you! I did not know this Rashi, which seems key to understanding the half-shekel. Monica Cellio‭ 19 days ago

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