The Story of Hanukkah Gelt

Gelt is a Yiddish word which if translated means “money.” Hanukkah gelt is distributed to children during Hanukkah celebrations. Grandparents would usually give gelt in amounts of small coins. In Israel, gelt is known as dmei Hanukkah.

Legend has it that the Hasmoneans minted national coins to celebrate their freedom from the ancient Greeks. It is also believed that eighteenth century Eastern Europeans gave money to religious teachers as token of gratitude. It was in 1958 that the Bank of Israel issued commemorative coins for use as Hanukkah gelt.

According to Rabbi Abraham Bloch in his book The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies, “The tradition of giving money (Chanukah gelt) to children is of long standing. The custom had its origin in the seventeenth-century practice of Polish Jewry to give money to their small children for distribution to their teachers. In time, as children demanded their due, money was also given to children to keep for themselves. Teenage boys soon came in for their share. According to Magen Avraham (18th cent.), it was the custom for poor yeshiva students to visit homes of Jewish benefactors who dispensed Chanukah money (Orach Chaim 670). The rabbis approved of the custom of giving money on Chanukah because it publicized the story of the miracle of the oil.”

In the twentieth century, makers of chocolates in the United States popularized the coin concept of gelt by creating chocolate gelt. Loft’s, an American company which produces candies made the first chocolate gelt wrapped in gold and silver foils in pouches that resembled money bags.

Gelt hunt is one exciting activity that you can do with family and friends. Gelts (money) are often given to children as holiday gift. Chocolate gelts are used in playing dreidel.

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