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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.