“One who is diligent in lighting Chanukah candles will have children who
are scholars” (Shabbat 23b).

The desire for scholarly children
was actually one of the motivations for the custom of giving
Chanukah gelt(money). In modern times, money has been
replaced by Chanukah presents. What is the connection between Chanukah lights,
intelligent children and gelt?

Publicizing the
miracle of Chanukah is so important that even a pauper, who has no money at all,
is required to borrow money in order to buy oil for lighting. People therefore
began to give a little money (gelt) to the poor so that they would not
be embarrassed or forced to ask for assistance. Because the idea of “being
diligent in lighting the Chanukah lights” is primary in both giving to the poor
and meriting wise children, it became the custom to give
children gelt as a reward for studying. Children who were
diligent in their studies were rewarded with a shiny coin.

While gifts
are an offshoot of the holiday, they represent an important element of
Chanukah–chinuch, Jewish education.

The Maccabees fought so
that their children and their children’s children would be able to study Torah
freely and be knowledgeable about their Jewish heritage. Jewish children are
taught about Judaism not only for today, but for posterity as well, as it says
in Proverbs 22:6: “Educate a young person in his/her own way, when he/she grows
old he/she will not turn from it.”

Over time, the simple practice of
giving gelt (coins or presents) became a Chanukah custom – and not just
for children. In truth, however, it is not surprising that gift giving has moved
beyond just children. In our own day and age, we, the adults, also need
encouragement to learn about who we are and what our Jewish heritage

*This Treat was originally published on December 22,

Copyright © 2012 NJOP. All rights reserved.