Where Can I Get Help?

Dear Rabbi Schochet, 

Having recently discovered that my husband has Aspergers Syndrome. Do you know if there are any Jewish support groups to help the husbands understand their condition, and for the wives to get support?


Dear Anon

I commend you for being brave and looking to deal with the matter rather than enduring this in silence. Might I suggest you get in touch with JAMI, which is the mental health service for the community. They will certainly be able to guide you along. Wishing you the best of luck.


My Family or My Business?

Dear Rabbi

I am travelling on Chanukah for business and my family is very upset with me. I have several children at home and my wife thinks I should forgo this business trip for the sake of the family. How important is this festival such that I should forfeit a business opportunity for the sake of my family?



Dear Gerard

The question is not, how important is the festival but rather how important is your family to you, and indeed how important in this trip for the sake of your business. If the family are upset about you going, then you need to weigh that up in balance. If the trip is, in some way, vital for your business and cannot be postponed, then you need to share that with your family and explain the circumstances to them – with intent to make it up to them in some other way. You’re going to have to be your own judge and jury on this one.



The Origin of Chanukah Gifts

Dear Rabbi

Chanukah presents. Is it a Jewish thing or have we just copied that from “the other side?” When I was growing up my parents wouldn’t hear of it. However, my kids certainly expect it from me. What say you?



Dear Shloimie

I am reminded of the kids standing around with their Jewish friend in school. The first boasts: “I’m getting a new iPhone XR for the holidays!” The second chimed in: “I’m getting a new Xbox!” Yet another added: “I’m getting a new Ninetendo switch!” They all then looked to their Jewish friend rather mockingly: “And what might you be getting for the holidays?” To which he replied: “My Dad owns the store that’s selling all the stuff to your parents. He’s making a killing then we’ll go to Miami for the holidays!”

To be sure, there is a popular Jewish custom to give money to children on Chanukah, otherwise known as Chanukah gelt. The exact origin of this custom is uncertain, but it is still practiced and cherished. The generally accepted approach is that the custom is related to the mitzvah of charity. One is encouraged to give extra charity on Chanukah and this is a way of encouraging children to do just that. Moreover, the word Chanukah is from the root word chinuch meaning education. The money given is an incentive to encourage the children to spend some extra time studying. This in turn, and indeed owing to the “season” evolved for some into presents as well. And that’s the story. So says I.


A Spinning Tale

Dear Rabbi

Is there a Jewish reason for the playing of dreidel on Chanukah or is it just another one of these Johnny-come-lately add-ons to an ancient holiday?



Dear Rachel

The standard reason given for playing this game is because of the Hebrew letters contained on the dreidel – nun, gimmel, hey, shin. This stands for nes gadol haya sham meaning “a great miracle happened there,” while in Israel the dreidel says nun, gimmel, hey, pey, which means “a great miracle happened here.”

Of course that doesn’t explain the actual origins of the game itself. Some maintain that Jews played with the dreidel in order to fool the Greeks if they were caught studying Torah, which had been outlawed. But I am not sure where that would have been sourced from in the first instance. Furthermore, based on the above significance of the letters, it would not make sense to have had them on the dreidels at the time as no miracle had transpired yet.

That said, the four aforementioned letters make up the numerical value of 358 which is the same numerical value of the word Moshiach (Messiah) reflecting a yearning for salvation.

Moreover, the letters the four letters also represent the four ancient kingdoms that sought to destroy us: N: Nebuchadnetzar, King of Babylon; H: Haman, Prime Minister of Persia; G: Gog representing ancient Greece and S: Seir which is another word for Rome.

As a final point, the dreidel has its handle at the top. This as opposed to the gragger used on Purim which has its handle at the bottom. This reflects the difference in the nature of the miracle. The Chanukah story was an open and manifest miracle with obvious Divine intervention – from above (the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, and a large army falling into the hands of a small band of men). On Purim the miracle was more manifest in nature, coming about as it were through a series of coincidences down below.

The message is one and the same: Whether more or less obvious, G-d is with us every step of the way.

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