ILS is the international 3-letter abbreviation for the Israeli new shekel, the currency of Israel since 1986. The new shekel replaced the hyper inflated original shekel at a ratio of 1000 to 1. At the time it was identified by the abbreviation NIS to distinguish it from the old shekel. In recent years it has been valued at between 24 to 28 American cents.


The ILS is the nation of Israel’s fourth currency. The original currency after the country was founded in 1948 was the Palestinian pound, which became the Israeli pound in 1952. Both were pegged to the British pound (GBP) initially, but the Israeli pound ended its relationship to British sterling in 1954. Many Israelis pushed for a currency with a Hebrew name, but it took until 1980 for the country to drop its pound note and introduce the first shekel, now known as the old shekel. The word dates to biblical times and may once have been a measure of grain.

But from the beginning the old shekel was a weak currency, hobbled by the country’s state-based economy of the period. A full-blown financial crisis in the 1980s led to massive inflation. Eventually the government stabilized the economy and introduced free-market reforms along with the new shekel. Since then the ILS has been one of the more stable currencies in the world. It became freely convertible in 2003 and began trading derivatives in 2006 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Symbols on ILS Coins

The new shekel is made up of 100 agorot. Eight coins are minted, in denominations of one, five, 10 and 50 agorot; and one, two, five and 10 shekels. The coins have no images of people but rather feature various Israeli national symbols such as the menorah, the lily and the lyre.

Hebrew Poets Honored on Bills

The original one-shekel banknote carried an image of the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides; the ten-shekel note portrayed former prime minister Golda Meir. The current bills, introduced in 1914, are minted in four denominations, all of which portray Israeli poets on the obverse: Rachel Bluwstein on the 20-shekel note; Shaul Tchernichovsky on the 50-shekel note; Leah Goldberg on the 100-shekel note; and Nathan Alterman on the 200-shekel note. Each of the bills also includes micro printed poetry by the featured author on both sides. The current series was originally planned to include images of the deceased Israeli leaders Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. But after Begin’s family rejected the plan, the series was changed to honor only poets.

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