The Half Shekel Offering 2


The Half-Shekel Chamber



The shekels that were brought to the Holy Temple were submitted to the treasurers and they would store them in a special chamber in the Holy Temple. Several opinions were stated regarding this chamber.

Maimonides writes that there were two chambers which were dedicated for the storage of the half-shekel donations: One chamber which was the general treasury for the half-shekel donations. This chamber is called the ‘Chamber of the Shekels.’  This chamber housed three large collection boxes, each containing nine se’ah of half shekel coins. (Each se’ah is the equivalent of about 7.2 liters.)

Coins were withdrawn from this chamber three times a year; before the three festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Each time three boxes which contained the weight of three se’ah of coins each were withdrawn from this chamber.  This money, which was designated for the purchase of communal offerings, was then transferred to the ‘Chamber of the Offering’.

In contrast, there are those that understood that all the half-shekel coins were placed in one chamber and from that chamber they would separate the amount into the three smaller boxes.

This chamber was guarded and its doors were securely locked. In addition, its doors were sealed with a stamp. This would serve as proof that the doors had not been opened.

The coins that remained in the collection boxes, after all the yearly funds were withdrawn, were called the ‘Leftover of the Chamber’ (Hebrew: ‘Shayarei Halishka’). These coins were used to support other purposes for the betterment of the Holy Temple and the city of Jerusalem.



There was an additional designated place in the Holy Temple where individuals could submit their half-shekel donation. Apparently this was a chamber that had several collection boxes for funds that served different purposes, including the collection of ‘old’ half-shekel donations of people who gave after the collection date had passed. “There were thirteen collection boxes in the Temple… The box labeled ‘new shekels’ was designated for the half-shekel donation that was brought every year for the needs of that year. The box labeled ‘old shekels’ was for one who did not bring his half-shekel the previous year, who would contribute his shekel for the following year.” The location of this chamber is not specified in the sources.

Maimonides wrote: “There were always thirteen collection boxes available to the public in the Holy Temple. Each box was in the shape of a ‘horn’, the first was for the collection of the half-shekel donations of the current year. The second was for the collection of the previous year’s half-shekel donations…” The collection boxes were in the shape of a ‘horn’, narrow on top, to prevent thieves from reaching inside and taking money.

The Chamber of the Shekels and the Chamber of the Offerings




The funds which were gathered from the half-shekel donations were allocated by the treasurers of the Temple to purchase all that was needed for the service of in the Holy Temple: Animals for the communal offerings, such as the ‘Tamid’ - Daily Offering and the holiday Additional Offerings, wine for the libations, fine flour and oil, salt for the offerings, spices of the incense, the ingredients for the Showbread, the Omer offering, and the Twin Loaves, a red heifer, the scapegoat and a strip of wool dyed crimson for the service of the Day of Atonement service.

Additionally, certain salaries were paid out from these funds such as the salary of the craftsmen and workers of the Holy Temple; those that prepared the incense and the showbread, proofreaders of the Torah scrolls in Jerusalem and judges.

Other endeavors were funded from the left-over of the half-shekel donations, such as:

Funding for the building of the Holy Temple, the courtyards, the Sanctuary and the Outer Altar. Additionally, these funds would pay for projects in the area surrounding the Holy Temple: The bridge which led to the Mount of Olives for the preparation of the red heifer, a ramp on which the scapegoat was led away from the Temple. The funding to build and upkeep the water aqueduct in Jerusalem, the surrounding walls and towers, and all that was needed for the building and upkeep of the city of Jerusalem.

Moreover, this funding enabled ample accommodations for the hosting of pilgrims in Jerusalem; providing water sources, sleeping accommodations and so on.

The 48 wooden beams of the Tabernacle, plated with gold. Each beam stood upon two sockets of silver, fashioned from the silver half-shekels collected from all of Israel.




A topic that needs clarification is in regard to the purpose of the half-shekel donation that the People of Israel were obligated to give in the desert, after the exodus from Egypt.

Was this donation for the Tabernacle or for the Offerings?

From the sources it is understood that this commandment was for the funding of the building of the Tabernacle, as it is written (Exodus 30:13-16): “This they shall give - everyone who passes through the census - a half-shekel of the sacred shekel... and give it for the work of the Tent of Meeting”

Early commentators clarify that the “work” referred to in this verse is not the offerings, rather to make the silver sockets for the base of the wall-beams (‘adanim’).

The source for this is in the words of the Sages who say that the commandment to give a half-shekel was announced when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai on the Day of Atonement, as it is written: “He [Moshe] came down on the tenth of the (Hebrew) month of ‘Tishrei’ and that day was the Day of Atonement, and he revealed to them that he was accepted before God… “after that, all the Children of Israel would approach; he would command them regarding everything that God had spoken to him on Mount Sinai.” - This is referring to the commandment to build the Tabernacle!

The commandment was to donate a half-shekel for the making of the sockets for the base of the beams, as it is written (Exodus 38:25-27): “a ‘beka’ for every head, a half-shekel… to cast the sockets of the Sanctuary.”

And it is likewise written in the Yerushalmi Talmud, “The contribution for the sockets is for the sockets.”

Similarly, the Midrash states: “Go and learn about this issue from the sockets, as it is said ‘a ‘beka’ for every head, a half-shekel’. When did they bring the shekels [for the sockets]? On the day after the Day of Atonement! Within two days all the donations were given for all the work of the Tabernacle.”

This is stated more explicitly in ‘braita d’melechet hamishkan’: “There were ten donations… the donation of the shekels was for the sockets!”



From the very beginning, the People of Israel donated their half-shekel coins for the building of the Temple, and only the extra funds were used for the purchase of the offerings. As it is written regarding the donation that was gathered in the days of King Yoash: “Why have you not seen to it that the Levites bring from Judah and Jerusalem the tax ordained by Moshe, servant of G-d, upon the congregation of Israel for the Tent of the Testimony?”

Nachmanides clarifies: “From this it is understood that ‘the tax ordered by Moshe’ is the half-shekel donation which is a precept for all generations, to donate for the upkeep of the Holy Temple! The coins are collected even when there is no need for a census. In addition, the coins are used for the purchase of the offerings - as the Sages have said.”

In other words, the use of the funds of the half-shekel donation for the offerings is a Rabbinical instruction. The commentator Radak wrote: “The ‘tax ordered by Moshe’ is the half-shekel donation… and were you to ask, ‘If the half-shekel donation was used for the upkeep of the Holy Temple, then which funds would support the offerings?!’ The answer is that the money from the half-shekel was enough to fund both the upkeep of the Temple and the offerings.”

The words of the Tosefta also support this understanding: “When the first day of the Hebrew month of Adar comes out to be on the Sabbath, the portion from the Torah which is read [in synagogues] is the portion regarding the half-shekel donation and the portion from the Prophets which is publicly read afterwards is the portion regarding the half-shekel donation in the time of Yehoiada the kohen (priest)." Meaning, ‘the tax ordered by Moshe’ that  Yehoiada collected for the upkeep of the Holy Temple is called the ‘portion of the shekels’, because the funds of the half-shekel donation were intended for the building. As stated, also animals for the offerings were bought from these donations, as the purpose of the building is for the bringing of the offerings. However, the obligation to donate was fundamentally for the sockets for the beams (meaning, the building of the Sanctuary) and for the upkeep.

The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Elijah the son of Solomon Zalman) also writes that the money was used for the building, whereas we learn from the Oral Law, as imparted by Moshe from Mount Sinai, that these funds also supported the offerings. He writes, “It was not written in the Torah that the shekels were for the offerings! Rather, this practice is according to the Oral Law as given down by Moshe from Mount Sinai.”

In light of these teachings, later commentators wrote regarding the quote from the Sages, “These are the three donations: For the altar… for the sockets… and for the upkeep of the Holy Temple…” Meaning, the half-shekel donation for the beam sockets is explicitly written in the Torah, however the donation which was allocated for the purchasing of the offerings is learned from an indirect reference.

In light of all this, we understand that those sources which relate to the half-shekel donation used primarily for the source of funding for the offerings, refer to a situation when the Holy Temple is already built. It is for that reason that the obligation to make this donation is announced on the first of the month of Adar and the offerings which are offered from the beginning of the month of Nisan are purchased with these newly collected funds.

Making offerings upon the altar while the 2nd Temple is still under construction.




In the Mishnah, Tractate Shekalim, it is written, “The obligation to give half-shekels each year…  is practiced only in the presence of the Holy Temple.”

There are those that understand that the concept ‘in the presence of the Holy Temple’ to mean when the Holy Temple and altar are fully built - only then is it an obligation to give the half-shekel donation.

However, from the words of the early commentators, we learn that this was not the intention of the Sages. Rather the concept ‘in the presence of the Holy Temple’ refers to a period of time. Meaning, the time in which there is the obligation to build the Holy Temple. This is how it was in the time of the Tabernacle. The half-shekel donations were collected in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, not in ‘the presence of the Temple’ and the Tabernacle was completed with these funds half a year later, on the first of the month of Nisan.

Early commentators wrote a similar definition: “‘In the presence of the Temple’ means in the presence of an altar and not necessarily the structure of the Temple.”

The commentators on the Mishnah also wrote along these lines: “The First Fruits are brought in the presence of the Temple… it is clarified in the Torah… that there must be an altar in order to be obligated to bring them”

Meaning, ‘In the presence of the Temple’ refers to a time period in which the building of the Holy Temple is about to be renewed.


The People of Israel who returned from the Babylonian exile, after the destruction of the First Temple, acted accordingly. They collected the half-shekel donations, built an altar and brought on it the Daily Offerings and Additional Holiday Offerings, even though the Sanctuary still lay in ruins. The rebuilt Sanctuary was inaugurated only twenty-two years later. This way they performed the commandment of bringing the offerings, according to the ruling: “The offerings are brought even without the presence of the Sanctuary,” and this is the law for all generations to come. Meaning, this is the essence of this commandment; to donate the half-shekel for the building of the Holy Temple. And with these funds the altar will be built and animals for the ‘Tamid’ - Daily Offerings will be supplied. And what is written in the Mishnah “The obligation to give half-shekels each year…  is practiced only in the presence of the Holy Temple” refers to a time period when the actual building of the Holy Temple is a feasible reality.