Haman and the Half-Shekel: Purim - General Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Haman and the Half-Shekel

I read that the Half Shekel that Jews give relates to Haman's offer to pay 10,000 "kikars" to Achashverosh for the right to annihilate the Jews (Esther 3:9).

My question: If one kikar equals 3,000 shekels, and Haman offered 10,000 kikars, then he gave 30 million shekels. But you wrote that he gave 300,000. If you could resolve this question, I would appreciate it.

Also, what is the approximate value of the biblical half-shekel in today's U.S. dollars?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You're right about one thing - the math here is confusing! Let's try to work through the steps:

A) Haman offered 10,000 kikars, and since one kikar equals 3,000 shekels, Haman was in effect putting a price tag of 30 million shekels on the Jews.

B) There are 600,000 main souls in the Jewish nation (see Numbers 2:32). At one half-shekel per person, that equals 300,000 shekels.

C) However, the "Holy Temple" currency is actually worth twice the value of a regular currency (such as that given by Haman). So actually the Jewish half-shekels totaled 600,000 of Haman's shekels.

D) Additionally, the obligation to contribute the yearly half-shekel begins at age 20 (Numbers 1:3). Given an average lifespan of 70 years, that means 50 years of giving half-shekels. Fifty (years) multiplied by 600,000 (main Jewish souls) equals 30 million - the exact amount offered by Haman to Achashverosh.

All this is explained by the "Bach" - Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (17th century Poland), based on the commentary of Tosfot to the Talmud (Megillah 16a).

Had enough? Another explanation is as follow: Since 50 shekels is the donation value of an adult male (as specified in Leviticus 27:3), this amount multiplied times 600,000 souls equals 30 million.

This and other explanations are given by Rabbi Yaakov Emden on the Talmud; Rabbeinu Bachaye - Parshat Pekudei; Midrash Chazkuni - Parshat Ki Tisa; Panim Me'erot 3:30; Binyan Tzion 144; Tzitz Eliezer XI 1:8.

As for the current value of a biblical half-shekel, Maimonides records it as weighing 160 grains of barley, which is equivalent to 8 grams, or 0.28 ounces. With the current rate of silver at about $28 USD per ounce, that means a biblical half-shekel equals about $8.

In other words, Haman was willing to pay about $200 million to annihilate the Jews.

Now don't you wish you'd been paying more attention in ninth grade math class?

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