UPDATE - Shavuoth 5766
By Reuven Prager
On 26 Iyyar 5766 (May 24, 2006) I received a phone call summoning me to the upcoming weekly meeting of the Sanhedrin, followed the next day by a written invitation to appear.
This was followed by two more calls that day preparing me for the meeting. I was told that I should be patient. It was likely that I would be the last called to speak, and the possibility existed that because of the amount of work covered at each meeting, they might not even get to me, and I might need to come to a subsequent meeting to speak, I shouldn’t take offense. Asked if this was okay with me I responded with “of course”. I was also told that I would have a maximum of 15 minutes to speak, without exception.
I was informed that there was at least one Chaver Sanhedrin that was already predisposed to rejecting my entire work on behalf of the restoration of the Holy Half Shekel, who had himself created a Half Shekel coin. I asked if it was possible to purchase two of his coins for our archives. I was also told that it would be recommended at the meeting that a committee be appointed to deal with the whole subject of the Half Shekel, on an ongoing basis, to act as liaison between the Sanhedrin and Beged Ivri.
What prompted the summons was a discussion at the previous session in which ideas were raised as to how to create a means of income to support and expand the activities of the Sanhedrin, and the idea was raised to institute a levy of 1/2 NIS as a monthly donation given by Jews resident in the Land. The discussion led to one Chaver Sanhedrin suggesting that since they were talking in terms of a half shekel levy, they should contact Beged Ivri, as an expert in the field, to come to the next meeting to discuss it.
Wow. After nine years of minting, distributing, collecting, and performing 26 Trumat HaLishka ceremonies, the Holy Half Shekel was to have its ‘day in court.’
It was clear to me that the intention of the Sanhedrin WAS NOT to discuss the restoration of the fulfillment of the commandment of giving the Half Shekel. Nonetheless, I also knew that this was exactly what it would become.
I spent the week preparing for the meeting. I put together 23 packets which each included the following;
1) 1 Year 58 Half Shekel
2) A list of 29 questions (that have arisen since the reinstitution of the fulfillment of the commandment, that are to be the first in a series of questions and answers that will eventually become a guideline for the public, informing how to fulfill the commandment.)
3) The packaging for the “MASHAL” (Machatzith Shekel L’chayal – Half Shekel for Soldiers) program we instituted three years ago, which allows the public to sponsor soldiers, providing them with free Holy Half Shekels.
40) Two flyers prepared years ago promoting the reinstitution of the commandment.
What was to be my goal here? After all, I was being summoned, I hadn’t asked to appear. I certainly wasn’t seeking confrontation or permission. I knew the reason I was invited. So how to make the best of the opportunity? It became clear to me that my goal for this initial meeting was to leave that room having taken the Half Shekel from ‘concept’ to ‘reality’. When I left, I needed to leave those people in attendance with a clear, unambiguous knowledge that the Half Shekel was REAL, not just a concept, not something that was merely to be ‘used’ as has been the case for the last century, where the concept was used, in remembrance of the Half Shekel, to raise funds for various religious institutions in the month of Adar. How best to affect this? I put together from our archive’s collections, a fabulous selection of ancient weights, scale pans, and coins from the First and Second Temple Eras, actual ancient artifacts that were used by our ancestors to fulfill the commandment. In addition, I brought to the meeting the nine coins we have issued to date as well as photos of the Chests for New Shekels and Old Shekels, which have been used to collect the coins.
As the day of the meeting approached my thoughts became more concentrated on the upcoming encounter. This morning, 3 Sivan (May 30th) I awoke with just one thought; how to make the Half Shekel REAL in the minds and hearts of the Chavre Sanhedrin, and rather than start work or run errands, sat wrapped in Tefilin (phylacteries) for hours concentrating and focusing my energy on this momentous meeting. My thoughts flew at an accelerated pace.
Though the meeting was called for 1:30 – 4:00 pm, I was there at 1:00. I waited outside for 10 minutes, watching for the Chaverim to arrive. I saw one elderly gentleman arrive and enter the building. I waited outside trying to figure out whom from amongst the people passing the building would turn into it. The thought occurred to me that the Sanhedrin members ought to have a special dress appropriate for the office, just as judges who appear at the bench don robes to distinguish themselves from the public. At 1:10 I entered the building and made my way to the meeting room. There were two members present. When I entered the room one asked me who I was, and not recognizing my name, asked for what purpose I was present and when I replied the Half Shekel he responded; “ah Beged Ivri, please, have a seat.” A few minutes later a third Chaver entered and seeing me sitting there began to ask the other two members if it was correct to have a guest present for the opening of the meeting or if the invited guests should wait outside and be called when it came time for them to speak. I immediately arose and offered to wait outside so they could discuss this privately and they asked me to remain, and went into a huddle at the far side of the room to discuss it between themselves. They decided that I should come to them and discuss whatever it was I had to share with them, right then and there, and to be rid of me within minutes before the other members arrived and the meeting began.
Now I had prepared myself for what I thought was any eventuality; not being allowed to speak at all, being shot down, being given short shrift, and even fantasized a standing ovation for the exceptional contribution I had made to Am Yisrael. But this? Being treated with such disdain? Given five minutes to have my say and thrown out before the majority of attendees even arrived?
Of course I complied, came to the head of the conference table where the three Chaverim sat, asked if it wasn’t more sensible to wait till the meeting began so what I had to share could be heard by all those expected to attend? I was told – no, begin now and whoever comes while you’re talking comes. My head swimming with this unexpected slight, especially since I had invested so much thought into what I brought to share, I said “I would like to begin by giving you the historical background of what the Half Shekel was, so that we can better understand what we are talking about.” They agreed. I opened my briefcase and began to fill a tray with weights and coins, silently, and during the five minutes it took me to prepare the tray, several other members arrived. I began to explain the items on the tray and how they were used to fulfill the commandment in each of the centuries, each of the millennia. The first question asked, and repeated over and over again, was, “are these real”? Again and again I repeated that by me, everything is real. Forty five minutes later, after I had covered the historical background as well as the work of the last nine years I tied it to the reason I was invited. By this time the room was full, I had regained my composure and was speaking at full force, having completely established my credentials and the direction of the discussion.
When it was said that the Sanhedrin can not be involved in sales, I suggested that an affiliate group be established to distribute the coins, both regarding the soldier’s program and the general public, under the auspices of the Sanhedrin, which would earn an income for the Sanhedrin.
Questions were raised. How many coins have been collected by Otzar Hamikdash and what was their value? I answered that Otzar Hamikdash has not counted the coins collected in the last nine years, but that their value had increased threefold in the last year due to the rise in the price of silver, and that we were talking about thousands of coins. I was asked if I was willing to oversee the programs I was suggesting and I replied that by myself I would not be able to achieve these goals, but that working together with the Sanhedrin I could. This prompted one member to remark that nothing plus nothing is nothing (meaning that the Sanhedrin, as yet unrecognized by most, together with Beged Ivri’s efforts, also universally ignored by the Jewish People, would amount to nothing.) I replied; “our Aperion (Royal Wedding Litter) weighs about 350 pounds, and together with the bride, is a heavy load to lift. Individually our Litter bearers would not be able to lift it, but together they lift it easily. Likewise, two groups that come together can accomplish more than the individuals can working alone.” I emphasized that just as the public ignores Beged Ivri’s efforts, likewise they ignore the Sanhedrin, and that working together we can bring legitimacy to both endeavors.
I then went on with a vision track, how rather than the Sanhedrin meeting in such an incongruous venue, a first class, though temporary, venue should be established in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, big enough to house the Sanhedrin, Otzar Hamikdash and the Lishka (Treasury Chamber) with enough room to create the other 11 Chests for the collection of Temple related funds and how the Half Shekel could provide the means to accomplish this. I shared how the universal reinstitution of the Half Shekel would provide enough funds to replace the ridiculous security “fence/wall” surrounding Jerusalem with proper Walls of Jerusalem.
A latecomer, who also happened to be the Chaver who I was forewarned, was in opposition to my work, arrived during the last five minutes of my speaking. He asked if the Sanhedrin was considering the recognition of the restoration of the fulfillment of the commandment or was merely speaking about selling coins to raise funds. The chairman of the meeting replied “the latter” and another Chaver repeated several times “as a zecher” (as a remembrance), thereby allowing everyone present to accept the proposal. A committee was duly established to continue discussions with Beged Ivri, and I was dismissed.
It was mentioned in passing that this Chaver had also created half shekels, and that he had made copies of the ancient Tyrian Half Shekel as his suggested ‘restored half shekel’. (In the Talmud, bringing down teachings from the Second Temple Era, it is stated that “anywhere where the Torah commands payment of Shekalim, only Tyrian coinage can be used. This was because of the 95% silver purity of the coins, as well as the fact that we were under Roman Imperial rule forbidding us from minting our own coins. Of course with the outbreak of the First revolt, our first act of rebellion was to mint our own 95% silver coinage, without the face of a foreign god on the obverse, which obviously ignored the halachah quoted above.) The ridiculousness of reviving a coin depicting the face of a foreign god was so overwhelming at this point that this Chaver did not even offer his “revived” coin for consideration.
When I left the meeting I sat down to consider what had transpired. It became clear to me that I had succeeded in leaving the meeting with the Half Shekel as an absolute physical reality in the minds of everyone present, which I thought beforehand was my goal, and at the same time completely failed to make the half Shekel a spiritual reality in those same minds. They just weren’t ready for it. A complete disassociation between physical reality and spiritual reality, the same disassociation that haredi elements make regarding the State of Israel. The Half Shekel coins – yes, as a fund raising means, as a zecher (a remembrance) . The restoration of the fulfillment of the commandment – no way. And this from our revived Sanhedrin, which is exactly on the same plane as the Half Shekel. How amazing. And it doesn’t matter an iota. The fact is that whatever one wishes to call it, what has begun will eventually become the universally acknowledged fulfillment of the commandment of giving the Half Shekel, just as Hebrew has returned as the universal language of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael, over the objections of all the nay Sayers, just as the restoration of the State of Israel has become reality despite all those ‘holy warriors’ who still bury their heads in the sand with their muffled screaming Galut is our salvation!