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3 Teves 5765 - December 15, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Value of a Prutoh — How it is Computed

by HaRav Yechiel Avrohom Zilber and R' Elchonon Cohen

Many people ask how the going rate of silver is reckoned. We have, therefore, found it relevant to explore this subject in depth, though much more remains to be said in Halachic works on the topic, which the interested reader is advised to pursue.

The commandment of pidyon haben, redeeming the firstborn son, as well as that of agricultural tithes, involve knowing the going rate of silver or coins etc. These even apply to such weighty matters as the status of a woman (whether she is married or not) and many other laws in the Shulchan Oruch.

The Rishonim are divided in their opinion regarding the value of the dinar as mentioned by Chazal. The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpot, Perek 8:1, Evven Hoezer 27:10) rules according to the geonim, and according to this, the weight-measurement of a prutoh is half a barleyweight (grain) of pure silver. Therefore, the weight of a dinar, which is 192 prutos, is 96 barleyweights. The weight of a mo'oh of silver, 32 prutos, is 16 grains. And thus in the Rema Yoreh Dei'ah 294:6. According to this, the measure for pidyon haben which is five selo'im (which is twenty dinar = 3840 prutos) is a weight of 1,920 barley grains.

Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l wrote that the weight of a barley grain is 1/20th (5%) of a gram. A prutoh is then 1/40th of a gram. HaRav Chaim No'eh concurred with this. Thus the measure for pidyon haben (which is the equivalent weight of 1920 barley grains) is 96 grams of pure silver. See Chazon Ish (Choshen Mishpot siman 16 s.k. 22). Thus, the measure for pidyon haben which is given as 5 1/3 Polish Lot is based on the fact that a Lot weighs 360 barleygrains.

When the Chazon Ish measured for himself, he found that a Lot weighed 432 barleygrains. Nonetheless he decided that his barley was small and he concludes that 360 barleygrains is the correct amount. If s.k. 39 the Chazon Ish writes, "And I heard from someone reliable that a gram weighs 20 barleygrains. According to this an emperor's Lot is 18 grams, and 5 1/3 Lot is 96 grams of pure silver, which is 1920 barleyweights. One uses coins for pidyon according to their value in the equivalent of pure silver."

The Chazon Ish on Choshen Mishpot was printed in 5702 (1942) and the following year the first edition of HaRav No'eh's Shiurim Shel Torah was published. His result is quite close to that of the Chazon Ish, though he arrives by a different route (see p. 286). The Shulchan Oruch says that the amount for pidyon haben is 30 drams, and HaRav No'eh says that a dram is 3.205 grams, which makes the amount for pidyon haben 96.15 drams.

HaRav No'eh cites the sefer Pri Ho'adomoh as saying that the custom in Yerushalayim is to give the Cohen 31 drams of silver. The reason may be that in the Peirush Hamishnayos on Bechoros the Rambam says that the amount for pidyon haben is 31 1/2 drams, which is just about 101 grams. The Steipler wrote in Shiurim Shel Torah that he saw that some have the custom to give 100 grams for pidyon haben. That also seems to be based on this alternate amount.

The Rambam (Hilchos Eruvin chapter 1) also gives another calculation for the weight of a dinar, saying that a revi'is of water holds the weight in water or wine of almost 17 1/2 dinars. According to the Chazon Ish's independent way of calculating the volume of a revi'is (based on the width of a finger), the amount of silver needed for pidyon haben is over 171 grams.

In fact, in Adar 5704 (1944) HaRav Kalman Kahana published an article in Tevunah that said that according to the Chazon Ish, one should give 175 grams of silver for pidyon haben. However four months later in Tammuz, HaRav Kahana wrote that the Chazon Ish had changed his mind and left the amount for pidyon haben at 96 grams. The Chazon Ish himself wrote this amount in his Kuntres Hashiurim (Orach Chaim 39:9). Also, the Steipler wrote in his work on shiurim published during the lifetime of the Chazon Ish and reissued later that the amount for pidyon haben is 96 grams.

In general, the accepted amount, according to both the Chazon Ish and HaRav Chaim No'eh, is that the amount for pidyon haben is 96 grams but it is ro'ui to be mehadeir and give 101 grams, as the Steipler writes and as HaRav No'eh brings according to the custom of Yerushalayim brought in Pri Ho'adomoh. (Further discussion can be found in Birur Halochoh Teliso'i, Yoreh Dei'ah 305.)

Wholesale and Retail

As in most commodities in the modern world, there are different prices for silver on different metals exchanges, and there can also be a significant difference between the price per ounce for tens of thousands of ounces bought on one of the big metals exchanges without any broker's fees, taxes, and processing costs, as against the price that an individual buying silver in Israel will pay, which adds onto the basic price on the metals exchange a broker's fee, the costs of processing the metal, the VAT (value-added-tax, a form of sales tax, currently in 2004 at 17 percent). Altogether these various expenses add about 39.5 percent to the cost of the basic metal on international metals exchanges.

Furthermore, if one buys his silver in a small town, he will normally pay about 12 percent more, representing the profit of the merchant.

The Steipler (Zeraim part II, 18) discusses whether one should figure the value for pidyon haben based on what one would pay to a small-town merchant or based on the price on an international metals exchange. He concludes that one should use the higher price. In Derech Emunoh (Hilchos Ma'aser Sheini 4:116) HaRav Chaim Kanievsky (quoting HaRav Eliashiv) also says that one should use the higher figure. In practice, one should use whichever figure is lechumroh. For example, in figuring how much a prutoh is so as not to require a get when someone has married a woman using a small amount, one should use the lower value. In most cases, one should use the higher value, such as for pidyon haben, or redeeming ma'aser sheini or revai.

The values that are published in Yated Ne'eman from time to time usually include calculations of the value of a prutoh according to both the high and low valuations.

The Price of Silver in Shekels

Since silver is not mined in Eretz Yisroel, the actual cost of a unit of silver in Israeli money depends on the value of silver on the international exchanges. Since those exchanges do not quote prices in NIS (shekels) but in dollars and other international currencies, the actual cost of silver will also depends on exchange rates.

The price of silver also fluctuates, sometimes by quite a bit. For example, on 15 Teves 5741 (1981) silver was $16.50 an ounce. At 8 Tammuz, about six months later, the price had dropped to $8.50 an ounce. Six months and ten years later, despite world inflation in most areas, the price of silver was only $3.96 (on 1 Teves 5751).

In recent years silver has also gone up and down by as much as 20 percent in the course of a year.

The dollar has also followed an independent course, both with regard to other currencies and with regard to the shekel. Although most people are used to thinking that the shekel will always go down against the dollar, it sometimes goes up as well. Now, at the end of 2004, the shekel has gone up against the dollar by almost 10 percent in recent months. This is because of the dollar's weakness in world markets. Many observers expect the value of the dollar in the world to fall even more in the months ahead.

The Published Amounts

The value of the prutoh that is given in Yated Ne'eman from time to time, is therefore computed as follows.

1. The value of an ounce of silver on world markets as quoted in US dollars is determined and . . .

2. This value is multiplied by the value of a dollar in NIS.

3. The result of this computation is divided into 31.1035, the number of grams in an ounce. The result is the wholesale price of a gram of silver in Israeli shekels.

4. To this is added the markups of 39.5 percent plus

5. The 12 percent profit of the merchant. The result is the retail price of silver.

Dividing this price by 40 gives the high value of a prutoh used for most purposes. Any other values are computed by multiplying them by the number of prutos that they contain.

There are some measures that are not customarily given. For example, one who has violated Shabbos beshogeig, chas vesholom, should give to tzedokoh the value of the korbon chattos that he would bring if the Beis Hamikdosh were built, according to the Ramo (Orach Chaim 334:26). The value of this is given as 18 peshitim. The Ramo says that in some cases one can "pay" for a ta'anis (a private fast for teshuvoh for example) by donating the value of the food to tzedokoh. The Ramo gives this value as 12 peshitim.

The Mishnah Berurah (80, there) gives the value of the chattos as 80 mo'os and the value of a fast as 18 mo'os. Thus to figure the current amount of a chattos of 27 mo'os = 864 prutos = 21.6 grams. The value of a ta'anis is 14.4 grams.

(The following calculations were added by M. Plaut.) On the first night of Chanukah, December 7, 5765-2004, the price of silver was $7.85. The value of the shekel was NIS 4.31 per dollar, giving NIS 33.8335 per ounce of silver. Dividing by 31.1035 gives NIS 1.088 ($0.252) per gram of silver for the wholesale price of silver. Adding the 39.5 percent markup gives NIS 1.518, and adding on another 12 percent gives NIS 1.70 ($0.393) per gram for the retail price of silver to the consumer.

According to this, the value of a day's food is NIS 24.48. That is not enough to eat in a fancy restaurant, but it is enough to eat at home and probably more than most people spend on a regular day for their own food.

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