Q. What are the correct amounts for machatzit hashekel and matonos laevyonim this year?
A. On question 1024 we wrote: Rema (O.H. 694: 1) rules that we donate besides Matonos Laevyonim, also Machatzis Hashekel, but the amounts differ. Mishna Berura (694: 2) asserts to follow the opinion of the Ritvo (Megila 7b) that one fulfils the matonos laevyonim obligation even with two prutos (one prutah per indigent) or its equivalent in food. (“shaveh Prutah”)
The value of a perutah according to the opinion of the Chazon Ish is 1/40 or .025 of a gram of silver, and according to the Masoro it is .0182 of a gram of silver (Masores Hashekel p.119)”
At today’s (Adar 5780) price of silver (about $0.56 U.S.D. per gram) it would result in $0.0128 or $0.0092, a bit more or less than a penny.
Although one fulfills one’s obligation with a prutah, nonetheless, Poskim write that it’s proper to give each poor person a significant and meaningful gift (Maharsho – Megila ibid.) Others maintain that it should be enough to purchase three egg volumes of bread (Shaarey Teshuvo 694, see also other opinions on Nitey Gavriel Purim 33:2)
Yeme Mishteh VeSimcha (p. 244 published in 5766) quotes Rav Elyashiv zt’l as saying that even though one fulfills one’s obligation with a prutah, nonetheless, it’s proper to give each poor person about 5 shekalim which is an amount which would make the poor person happy. Halichot Shlomo (chap 19, note 62) quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l as having said that in order to fulfill all opinions one should give an amount which is significant by the giver and by the taker’s standards.
In question #507 in this forum we wrote that Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a advises to give at least a dollar (Canadian) for matonos loevyonim, (a Zichron Binyomin paper equivalent dollar is also good). The reason is that you can still acquire a roll of bread with something in it, to be used for a minimum seudah. The Rov maintains that on this year, (5780) the above still stands.
The Rov also recommends that one with limited resources should give two dollars to two needy persons, then divide the rest of the money available and donate to as many recipients as possible, even if it less than a dollar, since every act of giving constitutes a new separate mitzva.
A machatzis hashekel (see question 1274) is the value of 9.6 grams of silver lechumra and 7.5 grams in leniency. The price of silver was yesterday (March 6, 20), approximately $0.56 USD per gram. So the value of machatzis hashekel is between $5.38 and $4,20 USD.
Horav Shlomo Miller’s Shlit’a opinion is that you can use the lower figure. However, the Rov mentioned the accepted minhag that where no coin designated as a half-shekel, it is customary for the gabbaim to bring three halves of silver coins which are issued elsewhere, and to give these coins in exchange, to anyone who makes his contribution in the coins or money available to him. After performing the mitzva, the giver returns the three half-shekels to the plate so that others may also be able to observe the minhag properly.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as revised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a