of the 21st century may comment, or even grumble, about the
pervasiveness of Christmas in our society, but, let’s be honest, in this
day and age, the effects of the holiday season are rather benign. Of
course, we must still deal with frequent questions from our children
about festive trees and the jolly guy in the red suit. But, nowadays,
people do their own thing.

It might surprise some to know that Christmas Eve actually has a name in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition: Nittel Nacht. In many Ashkenazi communities, particularly in Chassidic communities, it is customary NOT to learn any Torah on Nittel Nacht from sundown until midnight. After midnight, however, one is encouraged to study.

Nittel (which may mean either hanged/crucified or birth) Nacht (night)
is a custom whose origins are, unfortunately, lost. Many believe that
the custom of not studying Torah on December 24th arose as a pragmatic
act of protection. On a night of religious fervor among their Christian
neighbors, and during days when one needed no real excuse to start a
murderous pogrom, it was safest, perhaps, for Jews to stay inside their
darkened homes rather than venture out to study collectively in a
hall/synagogue. Other opinions believe it may be a custom that was
established to minimize any feeling of holiness on that night. Still
others opine that it is an act of mourning, commemorating the suffering
of the Jewish people during various periods of the “Christian Age.”

In Jewish life, customs have a strength of their own. Whatever the reason for Nittel Nacht, it is a custom that is still followed in various Ashkenazi communities around the world.

This Treat was last posted on December 24, 2012. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.