We see that silver has been used even in the earliest times as
exhibited in the Old Testament when, in Genesis 23:15 Ephron tells
Abraham that he will sell the Cave of Machpelah, which is currently
in the modern city of Hebron, Israel, to him for 400 silver
When Abraham paid that significant sum of silver to Ephron
he noted to him that this silver was "Ovar La'Socher" which is
the Hebrew for "universally negotiable currency."
We see that even back then silver bullion was the worldwide
We also see that in Exodus 30:11-16, G-d tells Moses to take a
census of the Jewish nation by collecting a half a shekel from each
person, 20 or older, the amount not differing whether the person
was poor or rich.
This further backs up the point that silver was, at all
times, the world's currency. Interestingly enough, many Jewish
rabbis say that the reason why everyone gave a half of a
shekel was because a nation must be united as "one" to be full
and achieve greatness.
So this lesson was taught and reminded during the taking of
the census, where each individual would contribute only a
"half" shekel as opposed to a whole shekel, signifying his
dependence on his fellowman and the need to be united with
Nowadays, the Jews give half coins of their host country's
standard unit of currency, so Jewish Americans give U.S. half
dollars to charity during a certain ceremony, as a remembrance
of the collecting of the half shekel.
Various half dollars throughout U.S. history that would be
typically used include the Walking Liberty half dollar, the
Ben Franklin half dollar and the JFK half dollar.
Of course, coins that contain silver are preferred, but
modern day half dollars that do not contain silver are also
acceptable as a remembrance.
Further in the Bible, in several places in the
Old Testament, there is reference to a "Pidyon
Haben," which is a redemption of the first born male child or
animal with five silver shekels from a "Kohen," a Priest Levite. It
is referred to in Exodus 13:12-15; Exodus 22:29; Exodus 34:20;
Numbers 3:45; Numbers 8:17; Numbers 18:16; Leviticus 12:2-4; and
Numbers 3:9, 12-13.
Several kinds of coins or medals could
be used and some are even minted in Israel specifically for this
purpose. Most popular in the United States is the use of five U.S.
Silver Eagles which are each one ounce of .999 silver. But really
any five silver coins with at least 20 grams of silver
will do, including: the American
silver Eagle, the Vienna Philharmonic Silver bullion coin, the
Chinese Panda silver bullion coin, the Australian silver bullion
coin, the Maple Leaf Canadian silver bullion coin, the Israel Mint
Pidyon Haben coins that were minted by the Israeli Government in
the 1970's and two "Special Edition" Israeli Silver Israeli Coins
that are specifically used just for this ceremony.
Interestingly enough, at my Pidyon Haben
12 years ago, silver only cost $12.50 a troy ounce; currently,
silver is priced at about $22 a troy ounce. My father used U.S.
American Eagles in the ceremony.
Another subject that I found quite
interesting relating to the minting and use of silver coinage in
ancient times was The Great Revolt.
By the first century of the Common Era, Rome was the most
dominant country in the world. They had conquered most of
the "civilized" world, including Judaea.
The Romans tried to impose themselves, not only militarily
and politically, but culturally too. Sometimes,
they succeeded in bringing Jews to their culture using
One of these methods to propagate the Roman culture was the
minting and usage of Roman coinage in Judaea depicting the image of
the Roman Emperor.
In the year 66 CE and again in 132, there were rebellions
of the Judaeans against the power of Rome. During
the Second Revolt, a Judaean leader Simon (Shimon) Bar
Kochba was a brilliant military general.
Of great interest for numismatists about the rebellion was
that Bar Kochba and his followers minted their
own "Rebellion Coins."
They did this by rubbing or filing out the Roman Emperor
faces and verbiage on the Roman minted silver coins
on both the obverse and reverse of the coins and
imprinted their own images and words.
They imprinted images such as the Holy Temple in Jerusalem
and those of palm branches (lulav) and a citron (etrog),
which are used by the Jews on the Festival of Sukkot.
Also, the rebels imprinted words on the coins that spiked
along the success of the rebellion such as "Year One
of the Redemption of Israel" or "For the Freedom of
Jerusalem." Some of these coins have a value of around
So we see that for both centuries past and in modern times,
the large and important role that coins,
particularly coins that are made of valuable metals such
as silver, have significance not only as a monetary standard
but also are used to form and propagate religious,
political and socio-economic viewpoints.
This article was published in the December 2013 edition of