Gelt and Gifts: A
Tradition of Giving
By: Rivka C. Berman, Contributor
Click Here for More Holiday Articles
One of the major reasons Chanukah has become so centered around gifts is
because of the holiday's proximity to Christmas.
But even before the ho-ho hegemony Chanukah was a traditional
time of giving, but in a different way than is popular today.
- Gifts are the modern incarnation of the tradition to
hand out Chanukah gelt, Yiddish for money. There
are many different suggestions for the source of this custom.
First, the legal
technical viewpoint. The
Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, explains that the chanukiyah’s
candles may only be viewed to recall the miracle and not for any
other purpose. The
Shulchan Aruch’s author, Rabbi Josef Caro, includes counting money
as an example of what the chanukiyah lights cannot be used for.
Giving out Chanukah money was a way to remember this
The Talmud refers
to money on Chanukah when it cautions Jews that they must light at
least once candle, per household, per night on Chanukah – even if
they must go door to door for candle funds.
The widespread custom of giving Chanukah gelt enabled the
poor to get the candle money they needed without feeling great
As the battles
over the adoption of the Euro proved, a distinctive coinage is part
of a nation’s pride. Twenty-two
years after the Maccabees won the battle, their descendants, who
became a royal family, minted coins to celebrate the county’s
autonomy. Temple images
such as the menorah and showbread were embossed onto the coins as
reminders of the national glory that had been restored.
Giving out gelt recalls this high point of Jewish freedom.
FYI: Each year the Bank of Israel mints special Chanukah coins
featuring a Jewish community from around the world.
Chanukah has the
same three-letter root word as the Hebrew word for education, which
is chinuch. This was
the time of year, in the dead cold of winter, when poorly paid
Jewish teachers would receive a bonus from their students’
also comes in the lull between holidays, during a long stretch of
in-school time. Around
Chanukah parents offered their children a little prize money to
reward them for studying hard.
Thinking Books for Kids? Check out
Highly Appropriate for Chanukah
The Taste of Hebrew for English Speaking Kids
And Jewish Holiday Books for KIds
Mazor Guide for Chanukah brings you much more about the holiday, its
meaning and its traditions... See the links below.