KHANIKE GELT — SMALL GIFTS OF MONEY — HAS ROOTS IN DAYS OF JEWISH POVERTY when children rarely had a penny of their own. It was also a means of paying kheyder teachers and helping them get around the halakhic injunction against profiting from the teaching of Torah. In contemporary times of Jewish prosperity (for most of us), Khanike gelt can be meaningfully transformed into a tsedoke discipline, a way of sharing our wealth to build justice in conjunction with themes of the Khanike holiday. When my kids were young, we not only gave them Khanike gelt, we encouraged them to help us give to the many non-profit groups that were clustered in our mailbox, as follows:
The Miracle of Oil — one day’s worth burning for eight days — is a wonderful metaphor for how human beings must pool resources to create prosperity. Have a discussion as the candles burn about the local economic reality of your community — and give tsedoke to a low-income community development project.
Women are said to have played a special role in resisting the Hellenists, so women are traditionally excused from work when the candles are burning. Have a discussion while the candles are burning about women, work, and family — and give tsedoke to a feminist cause.
Khanike foods are poor people’s foods — fried potatoes (Ashkenazic) and fried dough (Sephardic). Have a discussion while the candles are burning about food and hunger in our world — and give tsedoke to a hunger relief project.
Khanike was truly a minor holiday until the new Zionist and Bundist movements at the turn of the century began promoting an ideal of Maccabean self-defense. Have a discussion while the candles burn about the meaning of Jewish security today — and give tsedoke to an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization.
The Khanike menorah is to be publicly displayed in a window or doorway. Have a discussion about the realities of pride, visibility, and persecution for Jews, LGBTQ people, and other minority groups — and give tsedoke to a civil rights organization.
Khanike coincides with the darkest time of the year (in the northern hemisphere) and has roots in ancient winter solstice festivals. Have a discussion while the candles burn about issues of ecological renewal — and give tsedoke to an environmental organization.
Khanike is briefly debated in the Talmud, where Shammai urges lighting the candles in diminishing order, while Hillel urges increasing the light each night. Have a discussion while the candles burn about the role of interpretation and creativity in Judaism — and give tsedoke to a Jewish cultural or activist group.
On Hanukkah, we commemorate the Maccabean victory over Greek-Syrian oppressors who banned full religious expression. Have a discussion while the candles burn about the meaning of ethnic and religious freedom in the world today — and give tsedoke to a human rights organization.
Over the course of eight nights, you have 36 candles to light and many more themes to choose from for your discussion. Do it! It’s a great way to turn your end-of-year charitable giving into moments of learning and sharing.
Lawrence Bush is the editor of Jewish Currents.