By Rabbi Ariel Abel
What does the Torah say about…the new pound coin?
In 2017, the Royal Mint will strike a new £1 coin in a bid to create the “most secure coin in the world”.
The coin has in past decades been vulnerable to much counterfeiting and, according to estimates, there are more than 45 million fake £1 coins currently in circulation.
So what is the Torah view on minting counterfeit money?
The Torah promises a long life for three practices: honouring parents, being merciful to wildlife and honesty in weights and measures. It may be difficult to honour parents who are imposing, and relatively easy to love pets.
However, the temptation to gain extra money quietly but illicitly may prove a greater temptation for some.
Coin clipping and counterfeiting is associated with one of the most painful chapters in Anglo-Jewish history.
When in 1275 Edward III passed severe laws against moneylending, some of the Jews turned to coin clipping.
On November 17, 1278, all the Jews of England were subjected to arrest and search of their homes on suspicion of coin clipping and counterfeiting. Out of a total Jewish population of 3,000, some 680 were imprisoned in the Tower of London, and 300 were executed in 1279.
This episode also led to the total expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.
Counterfeiting is forbidden by Torah law, whether or not the stealing taking place is considered negligible on a national scale, and irrespective of whether the cheated parties are Jew or gentile.
When Abraham purchased a cave in which to bury his wife Sarah, he paid up in currency described as “acceptable to the traveller”.
Clearly, there were coins that were only locally accepted. There may have been a concern not only for the economy, but the amount of silver in the coin.
In ancient times, traders would bite coins to tell whether or not they were forgeries. The Talmud even warns against the health hazards of sucking coins.
In 2008, archaeologists in Jerusalem found a shekel dated 22 BCE down an ancient drain beneath the Temple.
The Talmud defines coins used in Jerusalem as made of Tyrean silver in Lebanese foundries, because it had the highest silver content in the Greco-Roman period and was therefore the only such coin usable for transaction involving Torah law.
The rabbis also, therefore, assessed the amount of money in a ketubah by this standard. • Rabbi Ariel Abel is consultant to the Abrahamic Ethical Curriculum, part of For Life Projects