It’s one of the most popular traditions of one of the most well-known holidays of the year. But the reasons behind the giving of Chanukah gelt can leave most people scratching their heads. Today, some Chanukah gelt explanations.
There is a direct connection between gelt and Chanukah, according to the Jewish Outreach Institute. After the Temple was recaptured, the Jewish population was able to mint coins as an expression of their newly won independence. Centuries later, the State of Israel revived a similar tradition. “In a brilliantly conceived move to link the modern world with the ancient history of our people, the first Chanukah coin portrayed exactly the same menorah that had appeared on the last Maccabean coins of Antigonus Matityahu, 1,998 years earlier.” [http://bit.ly/cgelt12]
You can view drawings of antique coins on the American Israel Numismatic Association website [http://bit.ly/cgelt11] and the lovely, modern variations minted by the State of Israel. [http://bit.ly/cgelt13]
Tina Wasserman explains that linguistically, Chanukah is “related to chinuch, which means education. Perhaps for this reason, some Jewish communities chose Chanukah as the time to celebrate the freedom to be educated Jewishly. Maimonides made the education/gelt connection when he described Chanukah gelt as ‘an incentive for you [children] to study Torah properly.’” [http://bit.ly/cgelt14]
Eliezer Siegel adds that rabbis in 18th-century eastern Europe would tour remote villages during Chanukah to strengthen the townsfolk’s Jewish education. Reluctantly, they would accept tokens of appreciation for lost time. Eventually, these gifts or gelt became almost obligatory to rabbis, other pillars of the community, and then in the 19th century, to children. Siegel adds, “Needless to say, an immense gulf separates the customs described here from the shopping frenzy that is associated with the North American Chanukah.” [http://bit.ly/cgelt15]
Nowadays, most gelt exchanged at Chanukah isn’t made of gold or silver but of chocolate. Many fond memories are wrapped up in mesh bags of foil-covered coins. [http://bit.ly/cgelt16]
How about a batch of Chanukah Gelt Cookies? Be careful because these treats have real gelt inside. [http://bit.ly/cgelt17] Not decadent enough? Then whip up a Chanukah Gelt Double Fudge Chocolate Layer Cake. [http://bit.ly/cgelt18]
Speaking of decadence, in Reframing Chanukah Gelt, Rabbi Goldie Milgram suggests that you gather up the tzedakah boxes bursting with coins in your home. On a holiday night, invite friends over and let each suggest worthy charities for all that gelt. [http://bit.ly/cgelt19]
On a similar note, Got Gelt? A Conversation About Giving in This Season of Receiving is a classroom-based exercise that asks students to view themselves as philanthropists and to articulate how they make decisions about where to give tzedakah. [http://bit.ly/cgelt20]
Far be it from me to proclaim that any holiday food could be considered sacrilegious, but I did do a double-take when I came across one particular gelt coin recipe. Instead of chocolate and sugar, it calls for cheddar cheese and Worcestershire sauce. If you feel like developing a new tradition with Chanukkah Cheese Gelt Coins, be my guest. [http://bit.ly/cgelt21]
I’m sticking with chocolate.