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The custom is to give 1 or 3 half-denomination coins to tzedaka on Taanit Esther to remember the yearly mitzva of machatzit hashekel (Rama 694:1).

How is this done in a country that has no half denomination coin? The first example I could find: Paraguay uses a currency called guaraní, which used to be divided into 100 centimos, but because of inflation, céntimos are no longer in use.

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I emailed Rabbi Feigelstock from the Chabad of Paraguay and Rabbi Bentolila from the Chabad of Central Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which doesn't mint any coins at all. They both said that they use US money instead.

Rabbi Feigelstock also mentioned that US money is accepted as currency in Paraguay. It looks like the same is true in the DRC. I'm not sure if this is legally required or just true in practice.

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    As a note, I'd be interested to hear what would happen in a place that doesn't accept outside currency, but that probably doesn't exist anymore. I was surprised to learn that even in North Korea euros are generally accepted. – Heshy Mar 6 '17 at 18:37
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    (Not that the question would be relevant in North Korea anyway, since they have 50 won coins and probably not too many Jews) – Heshy Mar 6 '17 at 18:49
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Nit'ei Gavri'el addresses this, quoting an opinion that the Ram"a may have been addressing it as well when he gave his examples of what coins people would give in various lands. The context in which he brings it up is the case of a person who does not have any coins. Despite recommending that that person use whatever form of currency they do have available (such as a bank note), anonymous mention is made of an opinion who insists on using a half denomination coin.

In defense of the position that the mitzva can be fulfilled without a half denomination, Rav Tzinner quotes Vayish'al Sha'ul with the following, apparently proactive, rationale:

נטעי גבריאל פורים פרק כו קטע ו הערה יב

ובזמנינו שנתחדשו המטבעות ואין לנו בכ״מ מטבע ששם מחצית עליה, שמעתי אומרים דכוונת הרמ״א ליתן המטבע היותר קטנה שבמדינה . . .

And in our times, as currency has modernized, and not every place has a coin called "half", I've heard they say that the Ram"a's intent was to give the country's smallest coin. . .

That author then rejects this interpretation of the Ram"a, based in part on earlier sources, and in part on the Ram"a's own words in Darkei Moshe. The conclusion is that using a half denomination really is crucial to the non-mikdash-time mitzva because it is meant to be a commemoration and the mnemonic is the very fact of it being called a "half" just like the "half shekel".

BUT THEN, he picks back up on an idea that had been raised by the Ram"a in Darkei Moshe of people who used the larger of two possible half denomination coins because its weight was closer to the equivalent weight of 10 gera that appears in the Torah. He extracts the latter from that line of reasoning to propose that if one had no half denomination the Ram"a would prefer them to still accomplish the mnemonic by some other means such as approximating the weight of 10 gera.

  • Is he saying you should always give the smallest (e.g. in the US you should give pennies)? Or only in a place with no half? – Heshy Mar 8 '17 at 15:08
  • @Heshy So perhaps we could answer that if somebody knows whether there was any coin smaller than a heler in קשאוי, קראלי, or מאגענדארף in the early 20th century. . . (The t'shuva is not dated.) – WAF Mar 9 '17 at 1:25

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