Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Though this word automatically conjures up the image of money – both ancient and modern – its original meaning is more connected to weight than to value. That is because before coins were invented, trade was conducted by weighing precious metals, most commonly silver. In fact, many other cultures’ currencies, such as the British Pound (more properly Pound Sterling, as in silver), betray their history in exactly the same way.

More interesting than the word’s derivation, however, is the idea that it naturally brings into the world but that only seems to be fully harnessed in Judaism. That idea is quantification of value. While everybody intuitively understands that different objects’ values can be compared by attaching a relative number to it, outside of Judaism it is rarely applied to the ethical and spiritual dimensions. Ask a Bible-knowledgeable Christian, for example, how many children fulfills the command to be fruitful and multiply and they will likely not even understand the question.


In Judaism, quantification is everywhere. That is because halacha understands that just like offering too low a price for an object belittles it, so too does effort incommensurate with the value of an ethical act belittle it as well. And though we sometimes speak about the limitless value of a mitzvah, it is important to note that overvaluing the performance of an ethical or spiritual act can sometimes be equally problematic, especially when it comes at the cost of another more pressing mitzvah. Quantification allows us to prioritize, an extremely critical skill in negotiating a world in which neither our time nor our capabilities are infinite.


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Rabbi Francis Nataf ( is a veteran Tanach educator who has written an acclaimed contemporary commentary on the Torah entitled “Redeeming Relevance.” He teaches Tanach at Midreshet Rachel v'Chaya and is Associate Editor of the Jewish Bible Quarterly. He is also Translations and Research Specialist at Sefaria, where he has authored most of Sefaria's in-house translations, including such classics as Sefer HaChinuch, Shaarei Teshuva, Derech Hashem, Chovat HaTalmidim and many others. He is a prolific writer and his articles on parsha, current events and Jewish thought appear regularly in many Jewish publications such as The Jewish Press, Tradition, Hakira, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Action and Haaretz.