Q. What is the reason that children receive Chanukah Gelt, special monetary gifts, on Chanukah? Why do some have a custom to give Chanukah Gelt only on the 5th night of Chanukah?
A. The word Chanukah is related to the word chinuch (education). The Greeks wanted to make us forget our holy Torah. When they were defeated, it was necessary to begin reeducating the Jewish people, especially the children. Monetary gifts were given to the children with the intention of strengthening their love of Torah. As a reminder of these past events it has become a tradition to give monetary gifts during Chanukah to our precious children (Sifsei Chaim, Moadim vol. 2, p.134 in the name of the Ponovizher Rav zt”l).
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l offered a slightly different explanation. Initially the minhag was to give a monetary gift to the child’s rebbe on Chanukah because he played an integral role in the chinuch process. Subsequently, the custom evolved and the “delivery boy” was given a gift as well (Emes L’Yaakov Siman 670 in the footnote).
Rav Belsky zt”l related that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l used to give money to his children on the fifth night of Chanukah (see Piskei Halacha Vol. 1 p. 120). Many choose the fifth night for Chanukah Gelt distribution since this night can never fall on Shabbos, when the distribution of money would be prohibited.
This column comes from OU Kosher’s Halacha Yomis dedicated in memory of Rav Chaim Yisroel ben Reb Dov HaLevy Belsky, zt’l, Senior OU Kosher Halachic Consultant (1987-2016). Subscribers can also ask their own questions on Kashrus issues and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. These questions and their answers may be selected to become one of the Q and A’s on OU Kosher Halacha Yomis.