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No More Silent Night

Just Say No to Nittel Nacht

Not learning Torah on Nittel Nacht is a mistake.
The sixth and seventh Lubavitc Rebbes playing chess on Nittel Nacht.

The sixth and seventh Lubavitc Rebbes playing chess on Nittel Nacht.

Back in Yeshiva elementary school I was introduced to the holiday of Nittel Nacht, which happened to coincidentally always fall on the eve of December 25th.

There was excitement in the class, a night that it is assur (forbidden) to learn Torah!

“What do we do instead?” a fellow classmate asked.

And we nearly all fell off our chairs when the answer from the Rabbi was, “Stay home and play cards,” which was, of course, amazing, since we were taught that playing cards wasn’t even allowed on Shabbat.

What a great holiday.

And the Rabbi explained why:

The night of Nittel Nacht is one of great impurity, where evil and dangerous spirits run around outside, and we aren’t allowed to go outside, so they couldn’t harm us.

And since we must be inside with nothing to do, we should normally be learning Torah. But since we don’t want those evil spirits to get the Zechut (merit) for our Torah learning, since we can’t go outside because of them, we do meaningless things instead.

But I always wondered about one contradiction:

Since we were also taught that the world continues to exist only because there is always at least one person learning Torah at any time, if we’re telling everyone not to learn at the same time, wouldn’t the world be destroyed?

There are additonal customs associated with Nittel Nacht, such as eating garlic to ward off the demons (particularly you know whose), praying Aleinu out loud (since that is the prayer against idolatry), and not going to sleep all night. You can read about more Nittel Nacht customs on Hirhurim.

But now, lets step back a bit from the edge.

The custom obviously began in Jewish communities that lived among Christians.

On Christmas Eve (on whichever date they celebrated it on in that community), the Christians would get plastered (with spirits) and wander the streets beating up Jews and organizing pogroms, and killing more Jews.

So as a result, Jews learned that, on Christmas, don’t let the drunk goyim see you, and then they won’t kill you. So Jews didn’t go outside to the Beis Midrash or the Shul.

As to not learning, obviously, people started coming up with additional explanations as to why we don’t learn, though I think the most likely is that if the Christians saw a light on in your house (which you kept on for reading), they were likely to grasp that you were inside and then, maybe, try to burn the house down with you in it. And the same thing for not going to sleep. How would you see the drunk Christians  approaching to burn down your house if you weren’t awake to spot them coming — and run?

Voodoo explanations aside, historically there were very good reasons for Jews to not go outside on Nittel Nacht.

In fact, I would say that today (for people in America and Modi’in), the visual and audio spiritual impurity issues are far more relevant reasons why one should not go outside on Nittel Nacht, as opposed to the more traditional dangers of Christian violence and pogroms.

But, my original question regarding Torah learning has never been answered to my satisfaction. Because if I was planning to be learning Torah anyway, there is no way the evil forces should see any merit from my actions, and if there isn’t at least one person learning Torah, what would support the world?

So, tonight, on Nittel Nacht, I won’t be going outside, even though I’m in Eretz Yisrael and we don’t really have that problem here, but I will be learning Torah, because why should we allow evil forces to cause Bittul Torah (cancellation of Torah learning), and, perhaps, with everyone else not learning Torah, I could be the one who supports the entire world!.

So just say no to Nittel Nacht, or at least the part about no Torah learning.

About the Author: JoeSettler blogs at The Muqata.blogspot.com and occasionally on his own blog at JoeSettler.blogspot.com.


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52 Responses to “Just Say No to Nittel Nacht”

  1. There is a very famous story of Rav Hirschprung zt"l from Montreal. He wasn't makpid on not learning on Nittel and he was once on that night at an event with the Pupa Rav zt"l of Montreal and he scolded him for not following the minhag yisrael. When Rav Hirschprung left the event a black dog started chasing him.

  2. In Belz they don't learn on the night after the fifth of January instead of the night after the 6th that most eastern European communities observed because of a story with the Belzer Rav zt"l with a bishop. The Belzer Rav once explained that really nowadays there is no longer the need for nittel because learning then is more effective, but because of not to be mevatel a minhag yisrael, you should refrain from learning the day before. He also joked once that he would have canceled it, but he doesn't want to take away the yom tov of the bachurim… Anyway, you can't decide such things without daas torah. Period. It's beyond your field of comprehension.

  3. On the behalf of all true Christians, who would never think of doing harm to anyone, let alone God's Chosen People, the Jews, I ask for forgiveness from every Jewish person for anything that has ever been thought, said or done to you. I am sorry. True Christians love the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel; and they love His Chosen ones, the Jews. God bless Israel forever!

  4. It is brought in "Sefer Taamei HaMinhagim" that the Gerrer Rebbe, the Chidushei HaRim, zy"a, would always tell the story of Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz zy"a, who was friendly with the local Bishop in his city. The Bishop asked him the same question you ask, if there is nobody in the world studying Torah then, according to the Jewish tradition, how does the world continue to exist? The Rov answered "Minhag Yisrael Torah". (incidentally, this shows that Nitel is not a Hasidic custom, but an Ashkenazic custom which predates Hasidism).

    Another answer is that there are different time zones, and it is only a few hours when we do not learn.

    If someone does not have a mesorah for this minhag, he does not need to follow it, but those who do have such a mesorah, which are the majority of Ashkenazic Jews, should probably follow it, certainly if they live outside of Eretz Yisrael. However, I said in shul this morning during my Dvar Halachah that I give after davening, that there are two minhagim as to when Nitel falls, so if someone wants to learn tonight, he can say he follows the other Nitel, and when the other Nitel comes he can say he follows the first one…

  5. Hadar Israel says:

    In Torah there is also the concept of MINHAG SHTUT which is CERTAINLY neither Torah nor Halakhà!… Too much pilpul at the wrong age [see Massecheth Avoth 5:21] and not enough TaNa"KH can do this to the best… Not by chance it is a minhag that was NEVER followed in non Ashkenazi Xtian countries: from Italy, to Yugoslavia, to Greece to Spain to Portugal, where Torah was learnt according to the above mentioned instructions from ChaZa"L: AT 5 TaNa"Kh, AT 10 Mishnah, at 13 Mitswoth (Dinim, Practical Halakhà), at 15 Talmud (Ghemarà, that is davar mitoch davar).

  6. Rajel Ventura says:

    Thank you. I wish you a significant xmas with your beloved ones!

  7. The simple answer for your contradiction is that since there are Jews all over the world in different time zones even if you're observing Nittel Nacht, somewhere else somebody can be learning torah since it's not NIttel Nacht there.

  8. Anya Khan says:

    What a BS article. Shane of JPress for publishing this BS.

  9. Joe Settler says:

    Turns out that the even simpler answer is that at least half the Jews (Sephardim) never had a Nittel Nacht.

  10. Joe Settler says:

    What exactly is BS about it?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Minhag Yisrael Torah Hu. The origins of this minhag is in the shtetl where going out was indeed life-threatening on nital nacht. That we do not give chayut to their shtik is the explanation nowadays. But minhag Yisrael…

    Might as well have said "say no to asara b'tevet." I might even second the motion. Fasting makes folks sick, nervous, leads to cancellation of 1/2 or full day of Torah learning, rarely to any kind of tshuvah. But minhag Yisrael Torah hu. So we cannot lightly dismiss it.

  12. Maybe we should spend more time making ourselves worthy of Moshiach instead of engaging in bittul Torah trashing other people and their faith. Because it was done to us does not require us to reciprocate.

  13. Rubin Katz says:

    There is no need to write about such unsavory matters in this day and age. This sort of thing can create 'rishus' which is a sin. "Be a Jew in the home and a mentsch in the street!" That's how I was brought up, and my father was a follower of the Gerer Rebbe in Poland.

  14. Rubin Katz says:

    There is no need to write about such unsavory matters in this day and age. This sort of thing can create 'rishus' which is a sin. "Be a Jew in the home and a mentsch in the street!" That's how I was brought up, and my father was a follower of the Gerer Rebbe in Poland.

  15. As Chabad chassidim, we asked our rav who said nothing has changed. Chassidim still don't learn on "nitel nacht". WE NEED MOSCHIACH NOW!

  16. Andy Bendzin says:

    I know, some will be upset if I say this. But Christians beating up Jews on Christmas eve or like in America morning, is not Christian at all. Yes I know, anti-Semitism is as old as church history. But the teachings of Yeshua would never advocate it. He came as a Jew for the Jews and in extension after the end of his ministry it expanded to the Gentiles. What happened afterwards was the Gentilization of the Hebrew scriptures of which the B'rit Hadasha was part of it too. It wasn't written by Gentiles, it was entirely written by Jews minus Luke who travelled with Sha'ul. I read about the pogroms in Galicia by S. Anski. It is very sad that "Christians" would allow themselves to bring such a shame to Yeshua.

  17. Andy Bendzin says:

    I know, some will be upset if I say this. But Christians beating up Jews on Christmas eve or like in America morning, is not Christian at all. Yes I know, anti-Semitism is as old as church history. But the teachings of Yeshua would never advocate it. He came as a Jew for the Jews and in extension after the end of his ministry it expanded to the Gentiles. What happened afterwards was the Gentilization of the Hebrew scriptures of which the B'rit Hadasha was part of it too. It wasn't written by Gentiles, it was entirely written by Jews minus Luke who travelled with Sha'ul. I read about the pogroms in Galicia by S. Anski. It is very sad that "Christians" would allow themselves to bring such a shame to Yeshua.

  18. Shmuli Levin says:

    to the best of my knowledge the picture is not from nittel but from when the doctors told the previous chabad rebbe that he needed to do things that are easier on his mind.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Good evening everyone & Shulim Alychim on this nittel nacht. To comment to R'Kolakowski the story of Rebbe Eibschitz H"K does not prove a preChasidische origin for this nite because Rebbe Eibschitz was the contemporary of the Bul Shym Tif H"K and yankie embden and eliy vilnare were also contemporaries, the vilnare 30 yrs younger than the BulShymTif, H"K.

    Rather, the story of the Maharshu (16th c) proves a preChasidischer origin. On nittel nacht, the Maharshu was reviewing his mysu shyni when a syfer fell in his lap. A yit had informed to the y"sh that the Maharshu never studied on 12/24 at nite. When the y"sh entered his study, the saw the syfer opened and no arrest was entertained.

    In a place, a country, that gives student loans to buchirim, the words of the Chazin Ish are apt. In a land where Jews & Christians, catholics and protestants, get along, nittel nacht is down rite chitzpidik.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Good evening everyone & Shulim Alychim on this nittel nacht. To comment to R'Kolakowski the story of Rebbe Eibschitz H"K does not prove a preChasidische origin for this nite because Rebbe Eibschitz was the contemporary of the Bul Shym Tif H"K and yankie embden and eliy vilnare were also contemporaries, the vilnare 30 yrs younger than the BulShymTif, H"K.

    Rather, the story of the Maharshu (16th c) proves a preChasidischer origin. On nittel nacht, the Maharshu was reviewing his mysu shyni when a syfer fell in his lap. A yit had informed to the y"sh that the Maharshu never studied on 12/24 at nite. When the y"sh entered his study, the saw the syfer opened and no arrest was entertained.

    In a place, a country, that gives student loans to buchirim, the words of the Chazin Ish are apt. In a land where Jews & Christians, catholics and protestants, get along, nittel nacht is down rite chitzpidik.

  21. Let's hear it folks for age old superstitions and chauvinistic notions that the world is be sustained for our sake and nobody else! Yeaaaaa…..insular backward chauvinism so comforting to the provincial.

  22. Janice Keil Epstein says:

    Why do you even read the Jewish Press?

  23. Janice Keil Epstein says:

    I actually thought the author was being sarcastic about the world not being sustained unless someone was studying at all times.

  24. I believe Israel was G-d's chosen nation, because out of her would come the Messiah, which would call Isreal to repentance, so therefore studying Torah which tells of His coming, why do they not believe in Yeshua, of which Isaiah speaks on Isaiah 53 chapter one?

  25. Abraham Kalikstein says:

    That mishna was written before gemara existed. Hence, one must interpret that mishna differently and there is no reason to suppose your definition is more right. As an aside, do you reall think the Sephardic Jews have a monopoly on Torah. There were great scholars from all Jewish groups. There is no reason to call those who disagree followers of "shtut".

  26. Abraham Kalikstein says:

    No true Scotsman.

  27. Don Mcglaun says:

    I whole heartedly agree with this pastor. How anyone professing to be a Christian could treat the Jews and Israel the way they have been treated through the centuries is beyond me. How do you condemn a race/country for giving the world the most important gift ever to be created? jesus Christ. Think it's all a fraud? Then why has he remained the single most controversial figure for 2000 years? It goes past shear ignorance. It goes to satan's hatred of Christ and all things connected to Him. Sadly, there are all too many people that willingly travel down that road to perdition. As a Christian, how do you say I apologize for the ignorance and duplicity of my fellow man in the destruction of mnillions of Jews along with the loss of their lands for centuries? And now that God has again fulfilled prophecy and made Israel a nation in one day. there are those that insist she give up her lands in the name of "peace". Where are the Christians that need to be fighting on Israels side right now? The land is no ones land to give away. God gave this land to the Jews and I would hate to be the person dividing it up hither and yon. Think that is also a fraud? Then explain how this tiny nation surrounded by enemies has not only successfully defended herself but captured enemy lands when fighting off outside attacks? For what it's worth, I to most humbly apologize for some of my fellow "Christians" behavior. However, just because some people throw that name out freely, does not mean they know the author of thee movement. Prophecy teaches the Jews will not ever again be driven from their homeland. In fact, God will reign from a New Jerusalem and a New Temple. No one will ever displaced the Jew again. Didn't mean to write a book, but more professing Christians need to speak out. We owe the Jews more than could ever be repaid.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Hey Rajel: Happy X-ukkah.

  29. Tag Mahir says:

    People in Europe did not learn Torah at this time because if they went to the streets to learn the "firm" Xtians would capture them and beat or do other things to the Jews. Jews were told to stay home and not go outside (which they would do to go to Beit Midrash).

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