How much is a 'perutah' worth in modern currency?


I believe for most Halachic topics today that require "one prutah's worth" of cash, goods, or services (e.g. the minimum needed to effect a wedding), we go with an economic definition: the smallest amount of money that can buy something. Despite inflation, there are plenty of things you can still buy today for fifty cents or less, so fifty cents is certainly shaveh prutah; I'm not sure whether it's a nickel, dime, or quarter, but fifty cents certainly is enough. Or as someone once said to my father:

You mean instead of a gold ring, a guy could march down the aisle and give the bride the little metal tab off his soda can?

My father replied:

No, that's not nearly enough. He'd have to give her the entire can of soda.

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    Party City (at least my local branch) sells Hershey's Kisses in the checkout lanes at fifteen for a dollar. That's the cheapest regular price (maning that that's always the price, and the thing is always for sale) that I know of (except for that of things sold by weight, which I suppose can be cheaper if small enough: nuts, perhaps). – msh210 Feb 2 '11 at 3:54
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    msh210, all you have proven is that a dollar can buy 15 Hershey Kisses. If you cannot buy one Kiss for 6.7 cents on its own then you cannot tell me that 6.7 cents is a shaveh perutah. – Yahu Feb 2 '11 at 4:50
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    Sorry, I should have clarified: They're sold by the piece, so seven cents (plus tax) gets you one. – msh210 Feb 2 '11 at 7:16
  • I stand corrected! – Yahu Feb 2 '11 at 8:20
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    I can testify that I once bought 100 sheets of loose leaf notebook paper at an Office Max for 1 penny, and I paid in cash! – Double AA Jan 29 '12 at 21:59

The weight of a p'ruta was half that of a barleycorn, and it was silver. Assuming — without justification — that barleycorns weigh now what they did then, and other unjustified assumptions, we have: Wikipedia gives the weight of a barleycorn as about 65 mg. At about 31,103.4768 mg per troy ounce and a current price of silver of about USD28.20, that gives about 2.9 cents to a p'ruta.

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    R'Shalom's answer, below, deals with "[h]alachic topics today that require 'one prutah's worth'", and I don't claim that mine does. That is, my answer is not an halachic answer but a monetary one: I'm not answering how much a shave p'ruta is in halacha but how much a p'ruta is actually. – msh210 Feb 1 '11 at 18:38
  • Will mentions elsewhere that a Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a posek, says that a p'ruta is "the monetary equivalent of 1,000th of an ounce of silver". This accords approximately with what I write in this answer. – msh210 Dec 18 '11 at 20:03
  • Thanks for cross-referencing me. At today's rates, a US nickel still suffices as a prutah - but when visiting Israel, 10 agorot no longer cuts it. Better reach for two 10ag coins, or better yet, a big half-shekel, when asked by assorted beggars in the Holy Land. – user1095 Dec 18 '11 at 20:10
  • R' Chaim Naeh evaluates a perutah as 1/40th of a gram of silver (25mg), which would make it's USD value 2 cents at the time of posting – Michoel Mar 30 '13 at 10:19
  • @Michoel, that's about the same as Rabbi Willig and as what I wrote in this answer. Thanks for the info. Might I suggest you post it as a separate answer here? – msh210 Mar 31 '13 at 1:57

R' Chaim Na'eh in his Shiurey Torah (3:42) calculated the weight of a Talmudic era peruta coin as 1/40th of a gram of silver (25mg). According to WolframAlpha this is worth 0.02 USD at the time of posting. However, this may not be the contemporory understanding of "shaveh perutah" in Halacha.

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