tradition of giving gelt, or Hanukkah gelt coins, to children began in
Europe in the Middle Ages. Occasionally the gelt
is used to create a pot for a game of dreidels.
The dreidel is a spinning top with a different letter on each of its four
sides. The letters are the first initials of the words in the phrase nes
gadol haya sham, meaning "a great miracle happened there." Children
and parents play the game until someone wins all of the gelt. In modern
Israel the letters of the dreidel were changed to reflect the translation
"a great miracle happened here." The dreidel is called sevivon
Savings bonds, checks, and small chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil-these are the modern incarnations of the traditional gift known as Hanukkah gelt. Gelt is a Yiddish term for money.
Although it is an old and cherished custom, the roots of gelt giving go back much further than the Middle Ages, the era in which the custom is usually said to have originated. Even though it is not mentioned in neither the Talmud nor the Shulhan Arukh (the Code of Jewish Law), the importance of coins in the history of the Hasmonean period is undeniable.
The First Book of Maccabees records that in 142 B.C.E., 22 years after the Temple was recaptured, Simon the Maccabee, the surviving son of Mattathias, finally brought independence to Judea. Syrias King Antiochus VII declared to Simon: I turn over to you the right to make your own stamp for coinage for your country. (I Macabees 15:6) The ability to mint its own coins was a concrete expression of the newly-won independence of the Jewish people.
During the following years of the Hasmonean dynasty, the first Jewish coins in history were issued. Most depicted cornucopia, symbolic of the prosperity of the country during these years. One of the coins minted by the last of the Hasmonean kings, Antigonus Matityahu (40-37 B.C.E.), portrayed the seven-branched menorah on one side and the Table of Shew Bread on the other, both symbols of the restored Temple. Some scholars conjecture that these designs may actually have been intended to remind the people of Hanukkah, which had been neglected during the waning years of the Hasmonean dynasty.
Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., Jewish coinage ceased until modem
times, except for a brief period during the Bar Kochba Revolution (132-135
C.E.). So, no Jewish coins were available to distribute when the custom
of Hanukkah gelt giving emerged as an important part of the festival
during the Middle Ages. Then, it was traditional to give Hanukkah gelt
to the local Jewish teacher; in fact, it was his primary means of support.
When the tradition was expanded to include giving coins to children, it
became a way to emphasize the importance of Jewish education and the study
your source for Hanukkah gelt, it is always a wonderful tradition to put
some of what you receive into a tzedakah box in order to share your good
fortune with those in need or for a good cause.
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