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Why the Chanukah Gelt?

Why the Chanukah Gelt?

Reasons for giving Chanukah gifts

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Question:

My wife thinks that giving gifts during Chanukah is just an imitation of what everyone else is doing at this time of year. Are Chanukah gifts Jewish?

Answer:

The original Jewish custom is to give “Chanukah gelt” (money) rather than presents. There are a number of reasons given for this practice:

  • We read in the Talmud1 that the Chanukah lights are sacred and may not be used for any other purpose. The example given there is that one may not count money by the candlelight. Giving out Chanukah money—and not counting it near the menorah—is a way to remember and exercise this rule.2
  • When discussing what a poor man is to do if he does not have enough money to purchase both Chanukah candles and kiddush wine, the Talmud3 states that Chanukah lights take precedence because they serve to publicize the miracle. The widespread custom of giving Chanukah gelt enabled the poor to get the money they needed for candles without feeling shame.4
  • The Hebrew word Chanukah shares the same root as chinuch, “education.” The occupying Greek forces were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jewish population, at the expense of the ideals and commandments of the holy Torah. Unfortunately, they were quite successful in their endeavor. After the Greeks were defeated, it was necessary to re-educate the Jews—to reintroduce a large part of the population to Torah values. Appropriately, during Chanukah it is customary to give gelt to children as a reward5 for Torah study.6
  • There is also a deeper reason for this age-old custom. In his record of the Chanukah events, Maimonides writes: “The Greeks laid their hands upon the possessions of Israel.” The Greeks invaded the possessions of Israel in the same spirit in which they defiled the oil in the Holy Temple. They did not destroy the oil; they defiled it. They did not rob the Jewish people; they attempted to infuse their possessions with Greek ideals, so that they be used for egotistical and ungodly purposes, rather than for holy pursuits. Chanukah gelt celebrates the freedom and mandate to channel material wealth toward spiritual ends.7

Now, to get back to your question, it is true that the practice of giving gifts on Chanukah has been popularized largely due to Chanukah’s proximity to the Christian holiday season. As such, to maintain Jewish tradition, many Jewish families make a point to give Chanukah gelt as opposed to other presents. Your wife knows what she’s talking about.

Footnotes
1.
Shabbat 22a.
2.
Likutei Levi Yitzchak, Igrot, p. 358.
3.
Shabbat 23a.
4.
Magen Avraham, preface to Orach Chaim 670.
5.
This subtle form of “bribery” is an essential component in the educational process. Maimonides discusses the importance of using incentives and prizes until a child is old enough to independently understand the importance and beauty of the Torah and mitzvahs (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 10:5).
6.
Likutei Levi Yitzchak ibid.
7.
Likutei Sichot, vol. 10, p. 291.
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Nechamah Goldfarb Brooklyn December 27, 2016

another POV I had learned that after the victory, Jews melted down Greek coins that had pictures of deities or at least their leaders on them, and made new coins with Jewish depictions. They gave them as gifts to celebrate that their money was now theirs, that the economy was under the dictates of the Jews. So they gave cons, and that continued in different forms over the millennia. Reply

Laura Temecula December 24, 2016

Double-Chai We give our children gelt, in an amount corresponding to the night of Chanukah. On the first night, they get a dollar. On the second night, they get a two dollar bill. By the eighth night (do the math), they have $36 - double-Chai. Perfect! Reply

Aaron Jerusalem December 11, 2015

Origins of Hanike gelt The real tradition of Hanike gelt, starts in the 17 century, in the Jewish communities in Poland. When Hanuka came, the Shameshim of the Synagogues received an extra money that was related as Hanike guelt. It was also customary to send additional money to the Yeshiva students during this time of Hanuka.Finally money was given to the children to give their Melameds or Teachers in the Heiders. Soon the children were also demanding money for themselves. This way the tradition extended to give money to the children, calling it Hanike Gelt and the other customs lost popularity. Reply

Anonymous Middletown December 20, 2014

Presents A little context is important in the Chanukah/Christmas discussion. Gift giving among the Christians wasn't as widespread as it might seem today. Remember, we suffer from a sort of presentism, where thing seem to have always been as they are now. I imagine early Christians labored over similar discussions of how their holiday and gift-giving was too much like Saturnalia, which was also close in proximity.
Gifts in December started with the Roman pagans, and they probably adopted it from someone else as well.
There is nothing new under the sun. Reply

Anonymous November 30, 2014

In America, it's tough not to give the children presents on Chanukkah..We know that it has been changed because of the proximity to a certain holiday but honestly--the kids love it, they love Chanukkah--it doesn't hurt to get some presents.. ( : Reply

Christine Doris Truog Chur, Switzerland via chabadbasel.com November 21, 2013

Chanukah gelt Thank you for this precious lesson! Reply

DANNS Montevideo- ROU URUGUAY November 17, 2013

GELT or KESEF ? GELT or GELD (in GERMAN) comes from the same root of GOLD (ZAHAV in Hebrew)
The word used in the Hebrew is KESEF for this issue (for MONEY) that
has totally other linguistical origin
The article is very interesting like always Reply

MJ November 15, 2013

Nothing like learning a bit of history. Then many things make sense. By the way, mr.Anonymous, there's not a single moment I dislike the Jewish people. The reflexion, the study, why not the comfort and happiness that learning more and more about it brings me is priceless. I can only say Todah to all those involved in.Chabad.org project. The everyday teachings are the most precious gifts I could get! Reply

Anonymous December 13, 2012

. . . that awkward moment when nobody likes Jews . . . Reply

tracy New York, NY December 26, 2011

very interesting ...and educational! Reply

Esther Longmeadow, MA November 30, 2010

another reason I have learned that since the Chashmonaim minted coins when they reclaimed the Temple, the custom of gelt began to remind us of our independence from Hellenistic rule, spiritual, physical and monetary. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for chabad.org April 27, 2010

Re: carol It was the tradition of the Chabad Rebbe's to give 'Chanukah gelt' on either the fourth or fifth night. See Hayom Yom for the 28th of Kislev.

Additionally, one of the reasons given for the significance of the fifth night is that the fifth day of Chanukah can never fall out on the Shabbat. Thus we wish to add extra light on that day. Reply

carol atlanta, GA March 28, 2010

Giving Money on Hanukkah Why is it traditional to give a heftier sum on the 4th and 5th nights of Hanukkah? I had never heard that.
Thank you. Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org December 18, 2008

RE: gift giving Traditionally, money—called gelt—is given on Chanukah. It seems that a lot of the gift giving seen today is a spinoff of the non-Jewish culture, and not a Jewish custom. For this reason, many traditional Jews follow the age old tradition of giving money, as opposed to other gifts. Reply

Rebecca December 16, 2008

chosing gifts We're in a non-observant community, but our family tradition is mostly Jewish-themed gifts. This year we've gone for a number of books, some software, but all with Jewish themes. Though we lean toward "fun" rather than overly serious- though as my oldest gets older, they're getting more serious. Every year, I say that they didn't want us to learn, so we should learn to show they still haven't won.

We don't set it as building value of gifts or anything- in fact we put a number or symbol on each package and draw randomly what's getting opened that night. Reply

Carolina Deerfield Beach, Fl December 16, 2008

gift giving I heard that the less religious Jews give gfts and that more religious Jews do not. I also heard that some give inexpensive gifts are a way of gift giving without giving it importance and is thus done by people that are more religious than those that give expensive gifts. Of course, I have heard the opposite to this too. What is true?
Thanks Reply

Anonymous December 10, 2008

fourth or fifth night the 5th night can never fall on shabbat so it is customy to give gelt then Reply

Anon. NJ December 6, 2007

Fourth night I've heard it has something to do with having reached the majority (half or more) of Chanukah. Reply

me ny, ny December 5, 2007

fourth or fifth night of gelt Why extra? Reply

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