09 Feb KASHRUTH QUESTIONS OF THE WEEK
Regarding the custom of Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel, I have a difficult time finding fifty cent coins. Can I give two quarters, or is there a different way to perform this mitzvah?
The Rama (OC 694:1) writes that before Purim one should give to charity a coin that is half the value of the standard currency of the time, as a remembrance of the half shekel that was collected every year for the communal sacrifices. It is proper to give three such coins, since in Parshas Shekalim the word teruma (donation) is repeated three times. This alludes to three separate collections that were made (see Rashi, Ki Sisa 30:15). The Maharsham (Daas Torah 694:1) writes that if one cannot find such coins, i.e. half dollars, then one should find a friend to pair up with and together to give three one dollar coins (based on the Mishna, Shekalim 1:6). However, Rabbi Yosef Greenwald, zt”l (Va’yaan Yosef OC 407) writes that strictly speaking, one can give 3 nickels for Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel, since a nickel is half of a dime. He maintains that a better solution is to give two quarters instead, since a dollar is a more primary currency than a dime. Although, altogether, one is giving six coins and not three, he writes that this too is acceptable, since it is merely a zecher (commemoration) of the original mitzvah.
When is the proper time to give the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel?
The Gemara (Megilla 13b) teaches us that the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people in the time of Purim was in the merit of the mitzvah of Machtzis Hashekel (the half shekel given each year for the communal sacrifices). Although we can no longer bring the sacrifices, as a remembrance for this mitzvah and the salvation, there is a custom to give a Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel each year before we read about the evil decree of Haman. Maseches Sofrim (21:4) writes that the coins should be given before reading Parshas Zachor. However, the Rama (OC 694:1) writes that this is no longer the custom. Instead, the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel should be given on Taanis Esther before davening Mincha. Some explain that we specifically give the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel before Purim and not on Purim so as not to confuse these coins with Matanos L’evyonim. It is customary to give the coins as close to Purim as possible. When Purim is on Sunday, and the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel cannot be given right before Purim (because it is Shabbos), one should give the Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel on Thursday (when Taanis Esther is observed). Sefer Divrei Yatziv (OC 293) writes that in such a case, it is best to give Zecher L’Machtzis Hashekel twice, on Thursday and again on Purim day before reading the Megillah.