By Rabbi Jonathan Gross
In last week’s parshah, Moshe starts raising money to build the mishkan. I was wondering, if we were to start building a mishkan today, how much would it cost? Here are some calculations I came up with. Please feel free to comment and correct me if either my facts or math are wrong.
Let’s start with the structure of the Mishkan.
The tent itself was made up of 48 gold plated beams that were connected. 20 on each side plus 8 across one wall.
The beams were 10 x 1 x 1.5 amos. That comes to a surface area of 50 x 48 = 2,400 amot squared.
Although there are many opinions, let’s say an ammah is 18 inches. So the perimeter of the Mishkan required 43,200 square inches of gold plating.
The beams were made of gold plated wood. With current technology gold can be hammered into extremely thin sheets called gold leaf. The price of gold leaf depends on the thickness. An ounce of gold hammered into a sheet of 100th the thickness of aluminum oil could cover 100 square inches.
So for 43,200 square inches of gold plate we would need 432 ounces of gold.
Today gold is about $1,235 an ounce. So the gold plating for the perimeter of the Mishkan would cost $533,520.
That doesn’t seem so bad. But that is just the gold plating.
The silver adanim were the sockets that kept the beams together. There were 100 of them. Each one was a solid kikar. A kikar is 3,000 shekels. So they needed 300,000 shekels. They collected 1/2 shekel for the census. There were just over 600,000 people counted, bringing in just over 300,000 shekels of silver. Exactly enough for the adanim. (and some left over for the curtain hooks.)
A shekel is about 1/2 and ounce. 3,000 shekel is 1,500 ounces.
An ounce of silver today costs about $15.75.
300,000 shekel of silver for the adanim would cost $2,362,500.
So we are at about $3 million. The beams were made of lumber, there were some other hooks, poles, and extensions made of precious metals, and then there’s the labor involved.
The Aron was made of gold plated wood.
With dimensions of 2.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 the surface area needed comes out to 15.75 square amos, and it was plated inside and outside so double that is 31.5 square amos x 18 equals 567 square inches.
Gold plating at 1 ounces per 100 square inches comes out 5.67 ounces.
With gold at $1,235 per ounce = $7,002.45
That does not include the cover of the ark, the Kaporet.
It is not clear from the Torah if the kaporet was solid gold, or if it was gold plated wood like the rest of the Aron. We are also not told the height of the Kaporet, The Gemara assumes that it was 1 tefach (there are six tefachim in an amah, making a tefach 3 inches).
If it was a solid slab of gold 2 amot x 1 amah x 1 tefach.
That means that the kaporet was 36 inches x 18 inches x 3 inches = 1,944 inches cubed.
In gold mass 1 inch cubed = .7 pounds.
That means that the kapores weighed 1,360.8 pounds.
At 16 ounces in a pound and gold at $1,235 an ounce that’s $26,889,408 And that does not include the keruvim, the twin statues on the kapores that were made of solid gold and stood 30 inches high. Assuming that they were only 1 inch thick they would cost $778,050 each. $1,556,100 in materials alone, before the artist’s costs.
(I think we can assume that the kapores was either a thin sheet of gold or made of gold plated wood. It doesn’t seem practical otherwise. Can you imagine being called on to open the ark in shul and when you get up there the gabbai tells you that you have to lift something that weighed 1300 pounds? If I am right then the kapores would have been closer to about $600 before the keruvim.)
The menorah was 1 kikar of gold.
At 3,000 shekel per kikar, and 1/5 an ounce per shekel, that’s 1,500 ounces of gold.
At $1,235 an ounce that comes to $1,852,500 in materials, before the artist’s fee.
Leaving out the kapores, we see that the more expensive vessels of the Mishkan cost upwards of $2 million at today’s prices. The price of gold plating, thanks to current technology, is considerably cheaper. The rest is lumber, fabrics, labor, and artistry.
Without doing a final tally, the Mishkan would be expensive but not astronomical.
The Beis Hamikdash was much bigger and way more expensive.
Hashem should bless us and bring about the day where we have to raise funds for projects like these soon.