Volume 28 Number 59
                 Produced: Sun Feb 28 13:17:29 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas (7)
         [Eli Clark, Eliot Shimoff, Elie Rosenfeld, Alexander
Heppenheimer, Sarah & Eliyahu Shiffman, Moshe Poupko, Samson
Drinking and Driving!
         [Jay Kaplowitz]
Ktuba and change of name
         [Robert Werman]
Prayer for Rain
         [Joseph Tabory]
Yiddish Names (2)
         [Daniel Katsman, Eliyahu Teitz]


From: Eli Clark <clarke@...>
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 10:01:00 -0500
Subject: RE: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

The custom of not learning Torah on Christmas eve is discussed by Daniel
Sperber in his Minhagei Yisrael vol. 3, pp 93-94.  The term "nittel" is
indeed from the Latin, either dies natalis (day of birth) or Natalis
Domini (birth of our Lord).  Jews chose to interpet the word as deriving
from "nitleh" (hanged), although the date in question is the anniversary
of the birth, not of the crucifixion.  The term "nittel" is used by a
number of Rishonim who discuss the halakhah prohibiting doing business
during or before yom eidam (Gentile holidays) as discussed in the
beginning of Masekhet Avodah Zarah.

Sperber cites a comment by R. Yair Hayyim Bakhrakh (17th c. Germany) in
his Mekor Hayyim 97:2, noting the custom not learn "be-leil hugah peloni
(on the eve of that certain holiday)."  But the custom already appears
in the rabbinic literature of the 15th century according to S. Krauss,
Das Leben Jesu nach Juedische Quellen, p. 245.  Given that this custom
is rooted in Ashkenaz before the spread of kabbalah (let alone
hasidism), it seems unlikely that the originators of the custom were
motivated by hasidic/kabbalistic considerations.

A number of sources identify the reason for the custom as fear of attack
by the gentiles.  See R. Sperling's Ta'amei ha-Minhagim, Likutim no. 19;
R. Yosef Hahn, Yosef Ometz, p. 331 and, most recently, R. Yoel
Teitelbaum (the Satmarer rebbe), Otzar Minhagei Hasidim -- Divrei Yoel
-- Sasov ve-Alesk, p. 119.

Hatam Sofer (Likutei Shut Hatam Sofer no. 20) suggested a novel
explanation for the custom.  The Christians would go to mass at
midnight, at which time most Jews were already asleep.  Ideally, Jews
should be learning then to counteract the effects of the Christian
prayer.  But our leaders did not want to require a special seder
(learning session) on that night, lest they appear to be reflecting the
practice of non-Jews.  Hence, they wisely prohibited learning before
midnight, knowing that dedicated students of Torah would rise after
midnight to make up the study they had missed.

Kol tuv,

Eli Clark

From: Eliot Shimoff <shimoff@...>
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 09:00:36 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

> > Since the person whose birthday is celebrated that night was Jewish,
> > and Torah sources teach us that one's soul-root is strongest on his or her
Israel Pickholtz: 
> but its his Gregorian birthday, not his real birthday!

S'feika d'yoma?  If we are not certain of the exact date, some
may take a stringent approach and _never_ study at night.

[It's Adar, remember.]

Eliot Shimoff                          <shimoff@...> 
UMBC Dept. of Psychology               410 455-2973 (lab)
Baltimore, MD 21250                    410 455-1055 (fax)         
    Talmud study via email? Visit http://www.umbc.edu/~shimoff

From: Elie Rosenfeld <erosenfe@...>
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 11:10:51 -0500
Subject: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

A.E.Resnicoff writes

> The Professor who explained the custom said that it is nice to know that,
> no matter how far away from tradition a Jew might be, it is likely that
> he or she at least observes this one Jewish custom!

On a related note, we used to joke in High School, whenever we were
"botling" [loose translation: wasting time when we were supposed to be
learning Torah] that we were just being extra strict on the similar
practice of not learning between sunset and the start of Bedikas Chumetz
on the night before Pesach, by practicing it all year round!

Now a serious question: If one of the reasons for this minhag was the
danger of getting beaten up outside, then why isn't there a such a
minhag for Easter?  In fact, from what I understand the danger was much
greater on the latter day, since that was when anti-Semitic sermons were
delivered blaming the Jews for the crucifixion.


Elie Rosenfeld

From: Alexander Heppenheimer <Alexander_Heppenheimer@...>
Date: Mon, 22 Feb 1999 13:00:28 -0800
Subject: Re: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

In reply to my post, Israel Pickholtz wrote:

> Since the person whose birthday is celebrated that night was Jewish,
> and Torah sources teach us that one's soul-root is strongest on his or
> her but its his Gregorian birthday, not his real birthday!

True. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l, in the source I was quoting from,
addresses this issue as well. Essentially, if I remember it correctly,
he says that since the non-Jews venerate him and celebrate his birthday,
then it's the date that they celebrate that is operative here. In fact,
the Rebbe also pointed out - and someone mentioned this in a recent post
on this thread, but I don't remember who, since I don't save my old M-Js
(yes, I know, I should be hanging my head in shame :( ) - that there
used to be a fast day on the 9th of Tevet, and that some Torah sources
state that this is because that was that person's Jewish birthday (and,
in fact, December 25 of the year -1 does correspond to 9 Tevet), and so
this fast was meant to commemorate the persecutions that Jews have
suffered in his name. Which means, the Rebbe concluded, that there are
two considerations here: his effect on the non-Jewish world, and his
effect on (lehavdil) the Jewish People; and each one is commemorated,
then, according to the appropriate calendar.

Kol tuv y'all,

From: Sarah & Eliyahu Shiffman <sarash1@...>
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 1999 15:55:16 +0200
Subject: Re: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

When I was living in Toronto, I was told that the Bobover hassidim there
tear their Shabbat toilet paper for the entire year on Xmas night. The
reason they don't learn is supposedly that they are afraid that the
zkhut of their learning will go to Jesus. I'm not sure why, since it
isn't his yartzheit, but rather his supposed secular-calendar
birthday. It always seemed to me that a more logical thing to do would
be to ignore the date entirely.

Eliyahu Shiffman
Beit Shemesh

From: Moshe Poupko <mopo@...>
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 21:08:18 +-200
Subject: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

The custom of nitl, not to learn on the 25th of December, was originally
practiced in a somewhat different manner.  The practice was to go to
sleep early and when the mid-night masses would begin Jews would gather
in synagogues and learn all night.  All that remains of this custom is
not to learn on the eve of December 25th.  "Nitl" is Yiddish for natal
i.e. pertaining to birth. While many customs are ignored this one is
strictly observed by many Jews and they do not learn!

Moshe Poupko

From: Samson Bechhofer <SBechhof@...>
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 10:43:00 -0500
Subject: Custom of not studying Torah on Christmas

In the recent discussion of the basis for the Nittelnacht custom,
Michael Poppers wrote that it is observed in the Breuer's community.  In
an essay on this subject published in the 1920s by Rabbi Raphael Breuer
(the older brother of Rav Dr. Joseph Breuer), he wrote that Nittelnacht
is a time "to reflect on the treasure we would lose if we were to
neglect the study of Torah", that the "Christmas bells ring as sounds of
reproach in those Jewish homes in which Torah study is not treasured"
and that the tradition is only meaningful if one refrains from learning
just those few hours.

Samson R. Bechhofer


From: Jay Kaplowitz <iii@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 02:54:09 -0500
Subject: Drinking and Driving!

In an essay on Purim, Pav Yehudah Prero of Project Genesis wrote:

The commandment to drink on Purim (discussed in the last post, IV:19)
contains an odd measure for when to say when: "Until he cannot tell the
difference between cursed be Haman' and blessed be Mordechai'."  The
Vilna Gaon explains this to mean "until one can no longer tell the
difference between the vengeance taken out on Haman and the rise in
fortune of Mordechai."

This particular posting didn't include the Rema's approach, cited only in
the earlier essay:

The Talmud in the tractate of Megillah (7b) relates: "Raba said: It is
the duty of a man to mellow himself [with wine] on Purim until he cannot
tell the difference between cursed be Haman' and blessed be Mordechai'."
This teaching is the source for imbibing more than the usual amount of
alcohol by the Purim feast. The Rema (Orech Chayim 695) writes that one
need not get drunk to accomplish this level of incapacity to discern;
one may drink more than he is used to and then sleep, and because he is
sleeping, he will not be able to differentiate. The bottom line, the
Rema writes, is that the drinking must be done "for the sake of heaven,"
with pure intentions, with the intent to fulfill the dictate.

I post this not to take issue with any of Rav Prero's concepts but
rather to call attention to a problem.

Drinking is in on Purim.  And Sukkos.  And Simchas Torah.  Sadly,
there's drunkenness, too.  I remember going to someone's home Motzei
Purim years ago and finding a distinguished Yeshiva bochur doubled over
a car, vomiting, just like a common drunk might do.  I have seen people
ready to take on the world because they got smashed during the Simchas
Bais Hashoevah on the streets of Crown Heights.  I've seen too many
people in a stupor after downing too many shots of single malt scotch on
Simchas Torah (at least they have the afternoon to sleep it off!)

My hope is that people will follow the approach of the Rema, not the
simple pshat of the Gemorah.  This is an issue of Pekuach Nefesh.  Too
many people who can't tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai
hop into their cars and drive home or wherever.  It's a pretty scary


From: Robert Werman <rwerman@...>
Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 19:36:34 +0200
Subject: Ktuba and change of name

While the issue of change of name as related to a get is discussed
thoroughly in S.A. and commentaries on E.ha-E in Paragraph 129, the
appropriate paragraph dealing with Ketubas, para 66, has nothing to

The case in mind involves a sick woman who has a name added during her
illness.  The question is -- does her ketuba have to be altered to
protect her rights?

__Bob Werman, Jerusalem


From: Joseph Tabory <taborj@...>
Date: Sun, 21 Feb 1999 04:39:39 -0500
Subject: Re: Prayer for Rain

Here is the list of english articles on this subject taken from my
bibliography "Jewish Prayer and the Yearly Cycle A List of Articles,
National Library 1992--1993". I have no way of transmitting the Hebrew
material by email. If anybody could send me a xerox of Klass' article, I
would appreciate it. I gave all the material to R. Yehuda Eisenberg for
his website called daat but I don't have the exact URL and I don't know
whether he has put it all on the web.

3652    Klass, Shalom, "Why we Say the Prayer Tal Umatar on Dec. 5th or 6th",
Jewish Press, Nov. 30, 1979. 
3653    Lasker, Arnold A. and Daniel J. Lasker, "The Jewish Prayer for Rain in
Babylonia", JSJ, 15 (1984), pp. 123--144. 
3654    Lasker, Arnold A. and Daniel J. Lasker, "The Jewish Prayer for Rain in
the Post-Talmudic Diaspora", AJSReview, 9 (Fall 1984), pp. 141--174. 
3655    Lasker, Arnold A. and Daniel J. Lasker, "The Strange Case of
December 4; a liturgical problem", CJ, 38/1 (1985), pp. 91--99. 
3656    Marmorstein, A., "A Misunderstood Question in the Yerushalmi", JQR, 20
(19291930), pp. 313--320 . 
3657    Tzuriel, Moshe, "Natural Rains and Providential Rains", Tefillat
Mordechai: Essays on Prayer (ed. Chaim Mayerson), Sha'alvim 1991, pp. 11--16. 

Joseph Tabory   <taborj@...>   
Department of Near Eastern Studies   734 764-0314   
University of Michigan     Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1285     


From: Daniel Katsman <hannah.k@...>
Date: Thu, 18 Feb 1999 23:05:38 +0000
Subject: Yiddish Names

My sources who know about this subject have told me that the name
"Breine" or "Breindl" is a Yiddishization of the German Brunhilde.

"Sima" is not Yiddish but rather an Aramaic word meaning treasure.

From: Eliyahu Teitz <EDTeitz@...>
Date: Thu, 25 Feb 1999 09:06:47 EST
Subject: Re: Yiddish Names

Getting into this discussion rather late, and having missed a
significant part of it, I offer this comment with the apology if it has
already been discussed:

<< Hudus is also from Hadassah. It is my given name and I was told when I
 started Hebrew school that it should be Yehudit. However, when I got
 married and we went to get the marriage confirmed at the bet din in
 Petach Tikva, one of the dayanim brought in an old, handwritten,
 hand-bound book and looked the name up. He said Hudus was a variant of
 Hadassah. >>

The name to go by should still be Hudus, as this is what was given at
the time of birth.  Regardless of the origin of the name, if one can
verify the actual name given at birth, that is what should be used
throughout life.  Schools at one time had the idea that they were going
to "correct" mistakes that were made during namings.  Halachically, the
schools were probably not correct in what they did.

Eliyahu Teitz
Jewish Educational Center, Elizabeth, NJ


End of Volume 28 Issue 59