AskDefine | Define shekel

Dictionary Definition

shekel n : the basic unit of money in Israel

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From sc=Hebr < sc=Hebr.


  • /'ʃekəl/
  • Rhymes: -ɛkəl
  • Hyphenation: shek·el


  1. A currency unit of both ancient and modern Israel.
  2. In the context of "informal": money.
  3. An ancient unit of weight equivalent to one-fiftieth of a mina.

Derived terms


currency unit in Israel
  • French: shekel
  • Spanish: shekel

See also

Extensive Definition

Shekel also rendered sheqel, refers to one of many ancient units of weight and currency. The first known usage is from Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. One explanation is given for the origination of this word as to have originally applied to a specific mass of barley, and the first syllable of the word, 'she' was Akkadian for barley. A shekel was originally 180 grains (8.33 grams). Another explanation is given, that the word Shekel in Hebrew means to weigh; and the English word "scale" and the Persian "sigloi" is thought to derive from it.
The earliest shekels were not money, but were a unit of weight, used as other units of weight such as grams and troy ounces for trading before the advent of coins. Early coins were money stamped with an official seal to certify their weight. Coins were invented by the early Anatolian traders who stamped their own marks so that they would not have to weigh it again each time it was used. Silver ingots, some with markings on them were issued. Later the stamping was taken over by official authorities who designed the coins. (Detroit Institute of Arts, 1964) Herodotus states that the first coinage was issued by Croesus, King of Lydia, spreading to the golden Daric (worth 20 sigloi or shekel), issued by the Persian Empire and the Silver Athenian obol and drachma.
The plural can be shekels, sheqels or sheqalim. In some regions of the United States, the term is used informally for "money," particularly in situations where value is an important consideration.
It most commonly refers to an ancient Hebrew unit of weight. As with many ancient units, the shekel represented a variety of values depending on date, domain and region. Sources quote weights between 9 and 17 grams and values of 11, 14, and 17 grams are common. It can be a gold or silver coin equal in weight to one of these units, especially the chief silver coin of the Hebrews.
The shekel was commonly used among other western Semitic peoples as well. Moabites, Edomites and Phoenicians all used the shekel, the latter as coinage as well as for a unit of weight. Punic coinage was based on the shekel, a heritage from their Canaanite ancestors. The Aramaic spelling tekel appears with a symbolic meaning in the writing on the wall during the feast of Belshazzar, according to the Book of Daniel.
Silver Tyrian shekels are thought to be the infamous "30 pieces of silver" in the New Testament.
Since 1980, the sheqel has been the currency of the modern state of Israel, first the Israeli sheqel, then (since 1985) the Israeli new sheqel.
The shekel is also a unit of measurement in New Crobuzon, the setting of China Miéville's Bas-Lag series, and the nickname of one of the main characters in The Scar.


  • Detroit Institute of Arts, 1964 Coins of the Ancient World


shekel in Catalan: Sicle
shekel in Czech: Šekel
shekel in German: Schekel
shekel in French: Shekel
shekel in Galician: Novo Sheqel
shekel in Italian: Siclo
shekel in Hebrew: שקל
shekel in Japanese: シェケル
shekel in Dutch: Sjekel
shekel in Polish: Szekel
shekel in Portuguese: Shekel
shekel in Russian: Шекель
shekel in Finnish: Sekeli
shekel in Swedish: Shekel
shekel in Yiddish: ניי-שקל
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