By HaRav Shimon Anshin shlit”a
A. Who is obligated to give Zeicher Machatzis Hashekel?
Each male from 20 years of age and above is obligated, but there are those that hold males from the age of 13 and above are obligated. There is however a minhag to give even for young boys under Bar Mitzvah, as well as for fetuses whose male gender is yet undetermined.
- If one has started the minhag to give for each of his male children described above, it is forbidden to stop in future years.
- If one wants to fulfill his obligation according to all opinions, he should give for his wife and daughters as well. However, one who does not give for the females in his household, has on whom to rely.
B. The required quantity for Zeicher Machatzis Hashekel
One who wishes to fulfill his obligation according to all opinions, should meet the following 6 criteria:
1. The coin itself should have a designated “name” of a “half” (for example “half” shekel coin in Israel or 50 cent coin in the US.)
2. The coin should be an established/circulated coin in the place in which it is given.
3. There should be three coins with a designation of “half” each.
4. The coins should have current “buying power” (worth).
5. The coins should be worth the amount of Machatzis Hashekel that was used during the time of Beis Hamikdash (between 8.5 & 9.5 grams of pure silver).
6. The coins should be made from pure silver.
However, in Israel there is no coin meeting all of the above 6 criterion, primarily because there are no coins in circulation made from pure silver and the half Shekel coin available has no real buying power. Moreover taking a coin from another country is not usable. (Even were one to argue that the US Dollar is in fact an established currency in Israel, the 50 cent coin (½ dollar) specifically is not used for purchasing anything in Israel.
One who wishes to perform the mitzvah in the best possible way should take heed of the following points:
a) Give three coins each of “half” a shekel designation since it is the only established half shekel available in Israel (one should do according to his country – e.g. three 50 cent coins in the US). In addition then, in Israel, one should give another three 50 cent (1/2 dollar) US coins since they do in fact have some worth in Israel (due to their currency exchange value).
b) If one wishes to be further scrupulous in the mitzvah, one should add more money in order to arrive at the value of the pure silver half-shekel which was used in the Beis Hamikdash. As of this publication, the total value of the pure silver according to that used in Machatzis Hashekel, is approx. 17.5 – 19.5 new shekels ($4.65 – $5.18 US)
c) If one does not have three “half” coins of worth in Israel (such as the 1/2 dollar US coin) and wants to add three such coins, one should purchase these additional coins from the Gabbai according to their currency exchange value and perform the mitzvah accordingly.
d) The time for performing the mitzvah is before Mincha of Taanis Ester according to most Halachic Authorities. Even when Taanis Ester is early (Not Erev Purim like this year), nevertheless this is the best time in which to perform the mitzvah. If one however did not have the time to give before Mincha, then he should give after Mincha but before Maariv. If one was not able to give between Mincha and Maariv, then he can still give on Purim day itself.
e) One who gives only three ½-shekel coins, even if only to cover himself, has on whom to rely. And even if one uses three ½ shekel coins in circulation today, he also fulfills his obligation according to essence of the law.
f) One should be careful when he gives NOT to say: “L’Machatzis Hashekel”, but rather should say “Zeicher L’Machatzis Hashekel”. If one made a mistake and did in fact say “L’Machatzis Hashekel”, it would seem then in practice that the coins do NOT become sanctified (Hekdesh) and one could in fact give them to the poor.
g) With regards to Medallions made and designated for Zeicher Mechatzis Hashekel, one cannot NOT fulfill his obligation what-so-ever as they have no “name” of Machatzis Hashekel, nor are they an established coin in circulation in the place in which one is performing the Mitzvah.
h) One should NOT give Machatzis Hashekel from his Maaser Money. However, if one adds to extra to his obligation according to the law(“ikkar Hadin” three ½ shekel coins), it is possible to give the additional money from Maaser.
C. To whom should one give the Zeicher Machatzis Hashekel money?
According to most Halachic Authorities, one should give the money only to the poor (especially B’nei Torah). Specifically, this money should not go towards the Shul. Even more so, it should not be used to perform other Mitzvos. If there are no poor people around at the time of performing the Mitzvah (before Mincha), one should place the money in his pocket and/or make sure it is distributed on Purim itself.