I heard that what makes Chanukah different and special is that you get gifts for eight nights. Is that true? Am I really obligated to give a gift every night?


Actually, there is no obligation to give gifts at all. The mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah each night. We do this to commemorate the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian armies, as well as celebrate the great miracle that G‑d performed for the Jews when they rededicated the Holy Temple. There was only one flask of pure olive oil to be found, and miraculously the oil burned for eight days. Click here to learn how to light the menorah.

But yes, in addition to the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, there is a custom to give “Chanukah gelt,” a gift of money, especially to children. Now, should this money be dispensed only once during the holiday, or on a daily basis?

For the most part, the widespread tradition was to give Chanukah gelt once during Chanukah. However, the Lubavitcher Rebbe proposed that Chanukah gelt be given to the children every night of Chanukah, even if the gifts are small. Here’s why:


An underlying theme of Chanukah (and Chanukah gelt) is Jewish education.

One of the reasons why the small band of Maccabees rose up against the mighty Greek-Syrian forces is that the Greeks were determined to stamp out Judaism by prohibiting the teaching of Torah to the children and forcing Hellenism upon the Jewish population. Once the Maccabees were victorious and defeated the Greeks, it was necessary to renew and redouble the efforts in Jewish education. In fact, the Hebrew word Chanukah shares the same root as chinuch, “education.”1

One of the components of education is providing pupils, especially those who are less inclined, with rewards and incentives for their learning. Thus, during Chanukah, it is customary to give Chanukah gelt to children as an incentive to increase in their Judaism and Torah study.2

However, the connection between education, Chanukah and Chanukah gelt goes much deeper.

Infusing the Materialism with Spirituality

When the Greeks occupied Israel and entered the Holy Temple, part of their intention was to eradicate the concept of holiness and spirituality and place the emphasis on materiality and hedonism. So rather than simply destroy the holy oil, they defiled it, symbolizing their attempt to “infuse Greek ideals” into the lives—and very possessions—of the Jewish people.

Therefore, Chanukah represents our rejection of materiality for its own sake. The best way to highlight the victory of the Maccabees and how the Jewish ideals triumphed is to impart the lesson that our material possessions, and especially our extra luxuries, are meant to be infused with a higher spiritual purpose.

Thus, when we give Chanukah gelt, we both celebrate Chanukah and teach the recipients to channel their material possessions toward spiritual ends. This is accomplished by teaching them the importance of giving at least 10% (maaser) of the money to charity,3 as well as using the remainder for wholesome purposes.4

Everyday Education

Based on the above, the Lubavitcher Rebbe emphasized that especially in these times, when the challenges of education and materialism are so great, this important lesson of Chanukah should not be limited to just one night but rather every night (except for Shabbat, when it can be given either before or after Shabbat). However, since the prevalent custom was to only give Chanukah gelt once, usually on the fourth or fifth night, and since if one gets the same reward repetitively it loses its educational value, the Rebbe proposed giving a larger amount on the fourth or fifth night.5

Since giving gifts every night is a means to educate our children, and part of the education involves teaching children about giving a portion to charity, it isn’t necessary that the gifts be large, but they should seemingly be actual monetary gifts.