Is it proper to give children expensive presents for Chanukah?
To the best of my knowledge there is no source that Chanukah is a time for giving gifts. Chanukah gelt – monetary gifts – do have a source and probably emanated from the custom of giving monetary gifts to one’s children’s teachers on Chanukah as a sort of Chanukah bonus.
Gift giving probably originates in the secular gift-giving season of the Christian world that coincides with Chanukah – in order to minimize the enticement and influence of those holidays and make children feel they weren’t losing out by being Jewish.
Perhaps we can justify gift giving in the following way. According to the Midrash, one of the decrees of the Greeks was that any material possessions that a Jew owned had to be engraved with the words “We have no share in the G-d of Israel.” The Rambam reflects this when he says the Greeks decreed against Jewish money. The celebration of Chanukah embodies all the things that the Greeks wished to take away from us, i.e., they decreed against bris milah (Chanukah is eight days hinting to the bris); they decreed against Shabbos (every Chanukah contains at least one Shabbos); they decreed against Rosh Chodesh (every Chanukah contains Rosh Chodesh Teves); they decreed against Jewish women (women have a special place in Chanukah observance by refraining from work while the candles are lit).
Likewise, they decreed against material possessions, and we give gifts.
In this light the gifts should reflect our ability to use our possessions to enhance our relationship with Hashem and the gifts we give our children should be given to enhance our relationship with them, their well being, and their enjoyment, which should make them thankful to Hashem and their parents – but not engender an intensified glorification of materialism for the sake of pleasure alone
– Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator
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One of the famous rituals associated with Chanukah is that of gift giving. To be sure, the original tradition was that of giving Chanukah gelt. The exact origin of this custom is uncertain, but the significance of this custom relates to the fact that the Greeks sought to enforce Hellenism at the expense of Jewish ideals and education. Those that were most under threat were the Jewish children.
In response to this threat, following the victory of the Maccabees, Rabbi Yeshoshua Ben Gamla established a national network of Jewish studies and set into motion a Jewish educational system which we benefit from till present day.
Chanukah contains the root word “chinuch” which means education. We look to encourage our kids today to study and incentivize them with Chanukah gelt, or, as a substitute, we give them gifts. Rambam discusses the importance of using incentives until a child is old enough to understand the importance and beauty of learning.
Each Jewish child represents a Chanukah candle in the way that they bring illumination into our homes and light up our lives. But let us also remember that the Chanukah lights are kindled by the shamash. We, as parents, are that shamash, responsible for kindling the flames – and we do so by way of our own example.
The greatest gift we can give our children is remembering that however much we are watching them to see what they are doing with their lives, they are watching us to see what we are doing with ours.
Beyond Chanukah we ought to consider what gifts are we imparting to our children; something a little more valuable even if not tangible; perhaps a life lesson, a moral conduct, a spiritual yearning, wrapped in holiness and tied with love.
– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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Why do we give presents on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special occasions? Ideally, our gifts stem from the desire to express good feelings toward the recipients: we are thinking of you, we love you, we want you to be happy.
Giving gifts on Chanukah, as on other special occasions, is a way of enhancing excitement and happiness. Children internalize the joyous spirit of the day. The holiday is forever linked in their minds with happiness.
The value of gifts isn’t to be measured in dollars. An inexpensive present that the child really enjoys is better than an expensive present that the child will seldom or never use.
For our children and older grandchildren, we give checks. They know best what they want. With our younger grandchildren, we generally give their parents money to buy each of them a present that they would really like.
“Expensive” is a relative term. For wealthy people it means one thing; for less wealthy or poor people it means something else. It also depends on how many children and grandchildren will be receiving gifts. The goal should be to find the right level of giving based on one’s own financial situation. Giving overly expensive gifts may not only be a financial burden on the givers; this may also lead to spoiling the recipients so that they keep expecting more and more with each passing holiday.
Rambam taught the importance of following the “middle path” that strives for a balanced approach to life. This lesson is important also in the realm of gift-giving. Happy Chanukah!
– Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.
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The origins of the minhag to give gifts in honor of Chanukah is certainly not clear. At the same time it has become an acceptable way to mark the day even within many Torah households.
It is important as growing Jews to make an aisek surrounding mitzvos and yomim tovim. Meaning to say we want the mitzvos and observances to have an impact on us and our families. The more we emphasize them and make them special and give them a central role in our lives, the more we can use them to draw closer to Hashem and his plan for us and the world.
To accomplish this goal we make the mitzvos beautiful (hiddur mitzvah), we eat special food for shabbos and Yom Tov (oneg Shabbos) and through many other mitzvah enhancements.
If a person gives gifts along these lines with the goal of making Chanukah more chashuv in our eyes and to the minds and hearts of our children, he has enhanced the Tom Tov experience. Of course, this should be in the context of hallel and hodah to Hashem and true appreciation for what Hashem has done for us through the neis of Chanukah and in general.
– Rabbi Yehoshua Heber is Rav of Khal Tomchai Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Dayan at Bdatz Mishptai Yisrael.