1: Lexicon excerpt, Isaac Rivkind's "Yidishe Gelt," 1959, translation from Yiddish.
Isaac Rivkind, a librarian, antiquarian, scholar, and writer who served for 36 years as the head librarian of the Hebrew-Yiddish division of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library, compiled an ethnographic lexicon of words and phrases used in Yiddish to describe money and the exchange of money. In it, he argues that Jewish economic life in Eastern Europe was guided by a moral principle of co-responsibility, a belief that members of the community were required to support one another financially, which was a social response to economic segregation and stagnation. These excerpts come from his entry on the term “khanike gelt” ("Chanukah gelt").
Suggested Activity: Ask your students to think about the role of gift-giving in their own lives and society. What is the difference between a bonus, a charitable donation, and a gift? Do they think of these as separate or related acts of monetary giving? How do they think that the evolution of Chanukah gelt from a bonus given to clergy, into a gift given to children, reflects changes in Jewish culture and society?
Point out to your students that this definition of Chanukah gelt includes items other than money. In their own knowledge of Chanukah or other gift-exchanging holidays today, do other objects stand in for money? Do they think there is a difference, financially or emotionally, in exchanging money versus other objects?
Sources: Isaac Rivkind, Yidishe Gelt (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1959),102-107. Unpublished translation by Jessica Kirzane.