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Home Columns Jewish on Earth Hey Buddy: Can you spare a zuz?

Hey Buddy: Can you spare a zuz?

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Next holiday season, you might consider buying your presents without US dollars. When you decide to buy something, you can also choose what you buy it with. It’s legal in the US to create our own currencies and exchange systems, and use them for trade — as long as no one confuses the created currency with US Federal Reserve Notes, and any taxes owed from transactions can be paid in US currency.

There’s a historical precedent.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were using talents, minas, shekels, bekas, gerahs, pims and kesitahs. That weight-based, precious metal system might make any modern gold standard advocate happy. However, even though shekel means “weight” in Hebrew, this “basic” unit of silver could weigh anywhere from 9.56 grams upward (for more info, see Biblical Currency).

There were at least three kinds of shekels — merchant’s rate (over la-socher), sanctuary weight (ha-kodesh), and king’s stone (b’even ha-melech).

And currency values varied by time period.

During the early Roman rule of Palaestina, for example, five gerahs made a talent, four talents a shekel, two shekels a beka, and 25 beka made one mina.

After Bar Kochba and the Temple’s destruction, however, one talent equaled 60 minas, which equaled 3,000 shekels, 6,000 zuzim, 12,000 sela and 24,000 perutahs.

Today in Israel, one shekel equals 100 agurot. Period.

The rest of this article is available in the IJN's print edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at (303) 861-2234 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated ( Thursday, 22 March 2012 10:41 )  

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