Tomorrow Night, A Fun Holiday for Jews
Merry Nittel Nacht!
Today, Slate discussed Nittel Nacht, the unofficial Jewish “holiday” that takes place on Christmas Eve. Jews celebrate Nittel Nacht, according to the article, by avoiding Torah study, lest the spiritual joy it produces rub off on nearby Christians. Instead, Jews play games like chess (or dreidel—some scholars believe Hanukkah’s proximity to December 24th explains the spinning top’s origins), pre-rip their weekly Shabbat toilet paper, or generally do anything other than study religious texts.
In this month’s Text/Context—a joint production of The New York Jewish Week and Tablet Magazine parent Nextbook—Moshe Sokolow also offered the Nittel Nacht basics. He traces its origins to 200 C.E., when Jews were barred from trading with Gentiles on Gentile holidays for fear that commercial success would enhance their false celebration. So, instead, you play games:
It may be only a coincidence that card playing is first noted among Jews in 1415, around the time that Nittel is first mentioned, but, once introduced, card playing, like all games of chance, cast an addictive spell over European Jewry. Numerous communal attempts to ban the practice succeeded only in abating it, with exemptions formally granted on minor festive occasions including Rosh Chodesh (new moon), Chanukah, and Purim. It was also specifically sanctioned on Christmas.
So Jews have the Christians to thank for their love of gin and mah-jongg. Merry Christmas, indeed!
A Nittel Debate [Text/Context]
The Little-Known Jewish Holiday of Christmas Eve. Seriously. [Slate]
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.