During Hanukkah it is customary to give gelt (money) to children, so that we can teach them to give some of it to charity—and just to keep things festive and happy. Some have the admirable custom of gelt-giving each weeknight of Hanukkah. In Chabad, it is customary to give gelt every night, but to hand out a heftier sum on the fourth or fifth night.

See: Must I Give Gelt Every Night?

On Hanukkah, it is also customary to increase one's daily disbursement to charity.

Why We Give Gelt

  • We read in the Talmud1 that the Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah money—and not counting it near the menorah—is a reminder of the primacy of Torah, which is "more precious than gold and silver."2
  • When discussing what a poor man is to do if he does not have enough money to purchase both Hanukkah candles and kiddush wine, the Talmud3 states that Hanukkah lights take precedence because they serve to publicize the miracle. The widespread custom of giving Hanukkah gelt to the poor4 enabled them to get the money they needed for candles without feeling shame.
  • 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 Hanukkah 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 Hanukkah 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. Hanukkah gelt celebrates the freedom and mandate to channel material wealth toward spiritual ends. This includes donating part (10%) of the gelt to charity and using the remainder for kosher, wholesome purposes.7 Gelt giving is a great opportunity to teach your kids about this important Jewish value.

P.S.: Should you be looking for a worthy cause for your Hanukkahgelt tzedakah donations, Chabad.org would be honored to be included.