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SHEKEL , coin minted in Ereẓ Israel.


Originally the shekel was a unit of weight for means of payment in gold and silver. In the third millennium b.c.e. one already finds this unit of weight in Babylonia, weighing there 8.4 grams; it was divided into 24 giru (Heb. gerah). 60 Babylonian shekels were a mina (Heb. maneh) and 60 mina a biltu (Heb. kikkar). This system was introduced in Canaan with some alteration, as the maneh generally consisted of 50 shekels only. As the kikkar was equivalent to 60 maneh, it amounted to 3,000 shekels in Canaan, instead of 3,600 in the Babylonian system. The shekel as a unit of weight for gold is mentioned in Genesis 24:22 and Joshua 7:21 (for the shekel as a unit of weight for silver, see Gen. 23:16; ii Sam. 14:26; ii Kings 15:20; Zech. 11:12–13).

There were two standards of shekel weights, namely the Babylonian and the Phoenician. Both standards had a heavy and light system: Babylonian – heavy, 22.0–23.0 grs.; light, 11.0–11.5 grs; Phoenician – heavy, 14.5–15.3 grs.; light, 7.3–7.7 grs.

The shekel weight during the First Temple period relates to the light Babylonian system. In the fourth century b.c.e. Phoenician silver coins, such as the Sidonian double shekel and Tyrian stater, circulated in Ereẓ Israel. The former, whose average weight was 26.43 grams, relates to the Phoenician heavy weight, though being somewhat lighter. It may be compared with the Tyrian staters of that period, which are of an average weight of 12.9 grams, two of which would approximate the Sidonian double shekel.

Ptolemy ii (285–246 b.c.e.) reformed this coinage by reducing the weight of the tetradrachm from the Attic standard (17.46 g.) to the Phoenician standard (14.30 g.). Thus, the tradition of the Phoenician shekel was kept alive and adopted later by the city of Tyre, which issued shekels from 126 b.c.e. until about 56 c.e. These had an average weight of 14.2 grams and were of good silver. They were therefore recommended by the sages for payment of the Temple tax (Shek. 1:7). During the Jewish War (66–70 c.e.), due partly to a shortage of Tyrian shekels, which had not been issued by then for about ten years, the Jewish authorities issued silver shekels of their own, with the legends Shekel Yisrael, Ḥaẓi ha-Shekel ("half-shekel") and Reva ha-Shekel ("quarter shekel").


The only Jewish coin denomination mentioned in the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash besides the shekel is the perutah. Numismatists identify this denomination with the Hasmonean and early Herodian coinage, that of the Roman procurators, and the smaller coins of the Jewish War. The Hasmoneans undoubtedly adjusted their coinage to the Seleucid standard. Their perutah had an average weight of 2 grams and an average size of about 15 mm.; it may be compared to the Seleucid dilepton. The Hasmoneans also had a lepton, or half-perutah, and a trilepton, or 1½ perutah. The perutah of that weight and size was retained until about 30 c.e. From the time of Agrippa i (42 c.e.) onward, the perutah increased in weight and size to an average of 2.55 grams and 17 mm.; this brought it close to the weight and size of the Roman quadrans, which under Nero weighed 3.21 grams and was 17–18 mm. The relation of the perutah to the silver coinage is mentioned in the Talmud (Kid. 2a, 12a) in two variations:

(a) 192 perutah in a dinar, which corresponds to the Seleucid system and therefore refers to the Hasmonean period, and

(b) 144 perutah in a dinar, which reflects the situation after 30 c.e. when the weight and size of the perutah were increased and Ereẓ Israel was under Roman control.

Ḥezi and Revi'a

The only bronze Jewish coins that bear an indication of their denomination are those of the fourth year of the Jewish War (70 c.e.). Ḥezi ("half") appeared on the large bronzes and revi'a ("quarter") on the smaller sized coins, but it is not known of what denomination these coins were halves and quarter. All suggestions to solve this problem remain hypothetical.

Other Denominations

The Herodian tetrarchs Antipas and Philip ii, as well as the kings Agrippa i and ii, adjusted their coin denominations to the city coin system prevailing in Ereẓ Israel and therefore have no Jewish character. The same also applies to the coinage of the Bar Kokhba War (132–35 c.e.), which is overstruck on the money then in circulation, i.e., the Roman silver coinage, both imperial and provincial, and the Ereẓ Israel city coins. The silver tetradrachm, however, was called sela by the Jews and the silver denarius zuz. The various denominations mentioned in the Mishnah, Talmud, and Midrash refer mainly to Roman coinage (see *Coins, In Talmudic Literature).

[Arie Kindler]

In the Zionist Movement

The biblical name shekel was given by the First Zionist Congress (1897) to the fee and card of Zionist membership. Its price was fixed at 1 franc, 1 mark, 1 Austrian crown, 2 shillings, half a dollar, 40 kopeks, etc. The shekel also served as a voting certificate for elections to the Zionist Congress, and until the 25th Congress (1960) the number of delegates allocated to a certain election area (country) was calculated on the basis of the total of shekels sold there. Ereẓ Israel had the privilege of the "double shekel," being entitled to twice the number of delegates that any other country received for the same number of shekels. The reverse side of the shekel bore the text of the Zionist program and for 25 years, after the 18th Congress (1933), also the "discipline clause," meaning that the discipline of the World Zionist body takes precedence over that of any other Zionist body.

The growth of the World Zionist Organization is reflected in the number of shekel holders: 164,333 in 1907; 584,765 in 1923; 1,042,054 in 1939; 2,159,840 in 1946; and 2,148,029 in 1960. The new constitution of the World Zionist Organization (1960) retained the shekel as a token of Zionist allegiance and voting card, fixing its cost at between 15 and 50 cents or their equivalent, but making the size of congress representation independent of the shekel sales. The 27th Congress (1968), by resolving that each country may itself determine the system of congress elections to be held there, abolished the shekel as an obligatory institution and left it to the countries to decide whether to retain the shekel as a certificate of membership and voting card for the members of the local Zionist Organization concerned.

In 1970 a decision was taken by the Israel Knesset to call the unit of Israel currency "shekel," renamed "new shekel" in 1985 and equal to 1,000 old shekels in the face of runaway inflation.

[Aharon Zwergbaum]


F.W. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage and of Money in Old and New Testament (1864, repr. 1967 with Prolegomena by M. Avi-Yonah), incl. bibl.; idem, Coins of the Jews (1881); T. Reinach, Les Monnaies Juives (1887); A. Reifenberg, Ancient Jewish Coins (19472); idem, Israel's History in Coins (1953); S. Yeivin, Milḥemet Bar Kokhva (19572), 80f.; Ben David, in peq, 100 (1968), 145ff.; 80f.; J. Fraenkel, History of the Shekel (19562).

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shek·el / ˈshekəl/ • n. the basic monetary unit of modern Israel, equal to 100 agora. ∎  hist. a silver coin and unit of weight used in ancient Israel and the Middle East. ∎  (shekels) inf. money; wealth.

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Name of Israeli currency.

The word shekel derives from biblical times, when coins were called shekels. Shekel was the term used by leaders of the Zionist movement to denote the price of membership. For the purpose of designating this cost of membership, attendees at the First Zionist Congress pegged the shekel to a fixed rate of certain major Western currencies.

Until 1970, the Israeli currency was called the lira or pound. In 1984, following a steep devaluation, the name of the currency was changed to the new Israeli shekel (NIS).

bryan daves

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shekel silver coin and unit of weight used in ancient Israel and the Middle East; informally, shekels is used to mean money, wealth, perhaps originally as a quotation from Byron's The Age of Bronze (1823).

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shekel Semitic unit of weight, chief silver coin of the Hebrews. XVI. — Heb. šeḳel, f. šāḵal weigh.

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