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Zionist Shekel  Definition

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Zionist Shekel- The certificate of membership received after paying dues or "tax" members of the Zionist movement in former times. The "Shekel" took its name from the ancient coins of Israel (see Shekel) . A "Shekel" (actually  a half-Shekel coin it seems) was also paid to the temple as a tax and a means of taxation.

The Zionist Shekel was first instituted by Herzl, Theodor at the first Zionist congress. Any Jew of at least 18 years of age  could buy a Shekel, and any member aged 24 years or older could be elected as a delegate to the Congress. The revenue from the sale of the Shkalim was used for Zionist activities. The number of delegates that each country was allowed to send to the Congress was based on  the number of Shkalim sold in that country. After the establishment of the state of Israel, the shekel was discontinued. Elections to the Zionist Congress were carried out on the basis of a census of members of Zionist federations. The decision to abolish the shekel was made official only at the 27th Congress in 1968.

Following is excerpted from a publication of the Zionist movement in 1945:


... Dr. Herzl, the Founder of political Zionism and herald of the Jewish revival, proclaimed the re-introduction of the Shekel at the First Zionist Congress. By doing so he associated the new Eretz Israel with a lofty tradition which had been in existence not merely during the most glorious periods of Jewish independence, but also during the cruel and numerous wanderings in the course of two thousand years.

The Shekel Nowadays

When the First Zionist Congress was convened in 1897 by Dr. Herzl, the foundation was laid for the establishment of the World Zionist Organisation, which has brought about the great wonder of the Jewish national revival after two thousand years in exile. Jews in all parts of the world heard the clarion call of Herzl, responded to it and for the first time in Jewish history gathered together in order to think unitedly of the tragic fate that has befallen all Israel, to take counsel together and to seek ways and means of rescuing the people from extermination. Herzl and his collaborators felt in their hearts that the Jewish Nation was standing on the verge of the abyss, and that there was no place for the complacency prevalent in extensive Jewish circles, who had lulled themselves into the illusion that emancipation would offer the Jews all that they required.

The call issued from the forum of the First Zionist Congress not only made an idelible impression on the Jews throughout the world, but also moved the conscience of the best of the non-Jews. From that time the idea of the Zionist solution to the Jewish question began to engage many statesmen, and the Jewish question began to receive international consideration. One important stage in its development closed when the League of Nations entrusted to Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine,which includes the Balfour Declaration whereby Great Britain undertook to help the Jews in establishing the Jewish National Home in Palestine.

As an outcome of the deliberation at the First Zionist Congress the World Zionist Organisation was established and undertook the difficult task of preparing the Jewish people for redemption from the servitude of Exile, and the return of independent life to the Jewish People in their Homeland. The Zionist Organisation pulled down barriers of space and environment and united the entire nation in a common purpose.

A Badge of Citizenship

When the First Zionist Congress proclaimed the existence of the Jewish People as a national entity and its desire to be redeemed, together with its own plan for liberation, it likewise proclaimed the right of every member of the Jewish people who so wishes to participate in those liberation activities and to influence their character and progress. The Establishment of the Zionist Organisation restored Jewish Citizenship, and the Jewish citizen became the Guardian of his own destiny. He elected the leaders of the Zionist Organisation, which was the Jewish State in the making, as Herzl called it. The members of the Zionist Organisation were the Citizens of that State, possessing the rights and duties responsible for it.

Zionism aspires to find a solution to the Jewish question on an international basis according to international law; which means that the nations of the world should recognise the justice of our aspirations and our right to national freedom. The Nations of the world are likely to, and indeed would, give consideration to the expressed will of the Jewish masses. We must therefore prove that the masses of the people are with us; that Zionism is not the dream and vision of a scant handful, but expresses the firm resolve of the Jewish masses. The first proof of this aspiration of the Jewish masses and of their unflinching resolve for a Zionist solution to the Jewish problems is the Shekel, the symbol of Zionist citizenship.

The Shekel, established at the First Zionist Congress at Basle in 1897, serves as an annual tax to the World Zionist Organisation for every Jew who recognises the Basle programme, which aims "to erect for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law."

The Shekel is the symbol of membership of the World Zionist Organisation, which has restored to the Jewish people its honour and its place in the family of nations.

The Shekel serves as the instrument of a Zionist census. Every Jew who acquires the Shekel demonstrates that he shares in Zionist aspirations and in the redemptive activites of the Movement. At the same time he strengthens the Zionist Movement for its hard fight ahead.

The Shekel provides the right of participation in the elections to the Zionist Congress. Every Shekel-Payer of either sex, aged 18 and over, is entitled to a vote in the election of delegates, while those aged 24 or over may also be elected to the Zionist Congress, the supreme legislative institution of the World Zionist Organisation. The final decision in respect of all the activities of the Zionist Organisation is in the hands of the delegate to the Zionist Congress. Thus the Shekel-payers directly influence the development of the Zionist Movement and are responsible for the conduct of the affairs of the Zionist Organisation like the sovereign peoples of the democratic countries.

Here are some Zionist Shekel certificates in a variety of languages - English, Hebrew and Yiddish. The one at lower left is a "Jubilee" Shekel from 1948. It states, "The aim of the Zionist Movement is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured in public law" - a poor translation of the major resolution of the first Zionist congress in 1897." The German original referred to Volkerrechtig - apparently meaning "secured in international law." Literally, the Hebrew says , "The Zionist movement aspires to purchase a shelter secure by open law for the Jewish people in the land of Israel.  

Zionist Shekel Zionist Shekel
Zionist Shekel, 1948 Zionist Shekel

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: 

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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This work and individual entries are copyright 2005-9 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center and may not reproduced in any form without permission unless explicitly noted otherwise. Individual entries may be cited with credit to The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

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