Answers to Jewish Questions

What is gelt?

Gelt is chocolate coins given to Jewish children on the festival of Hanukkah. They are usually wrapped in gold foil, and their history can be traced back to the decision of the Hasmoneans to mint their own nation’s coins after their military victory over the Greek Syrians. Gelt is often used to gamble with in the game of dreidel.

What is a latke?

A latke is a potato pancake fried in oil, and is a traditional food eaten to celebrate the miracle of the oil in the story of Hanukkah. Foods cooked in oil serve as a symbol of the legend of the jar of oil that lasted for eight days.

What is a dreidel?

The word dreidel derives from a German word meaning “spinning top,” and is the toy used in a Hanukkah game adapted from an old German gambling game. Hanukkah was one of the few times of the year when rabbis permitted games of chance. The four sides of the top bear four Hebrew letters: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. Players begin by putting into a central pot or “kitty” a certain number of coins, chocolate money known as gelt, nuts, buttons or other small objects.

What is a menorah, or a hanukkiyah?

A menorah is a candelabra, and can be used for Hanukkah if it has nine stems. Another word for a Hanukkah menorah is hanukkiyah. A hanukkiyah has one stem for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, and one for the shamash, or “the helper candle” that is used to light the other candles. Candles are added each night from right to left and they are lit from left to right.

What happens on each night of Hanukkah?

Two blessings are chanted or recited every night of Hanukkah. The first is a blessing over the candles themselves. The second blessing expresses thanks for the miracle of deliverance. A third blessing—the Shehecheyanu prayer, marking all joyous occasions in Jewish life—is chanted or recited only on the first night.

How do Reform congregations commemorate Kristallnacht?

Answered by
Cantor Rebecca Garfein
Kristallnacht, which literally means, “the night of broken glass,” occurred on the night of November 9, 1938, and marks the beginning of the Holocaust. On Kristallnacht, Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses were destroyed by the Nazis and the streets in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe were covered with glass from the shattered windows of synagogues, Jewish homes, and businesses.

How do Reform Jews understand Tishah B’Av?

Answered by
Rabbi Mark Washofsky, Ph.D.
The observance of Tishah B’Av (literally the 9th day of the month of Av) poses some interesting questions for Reform Jews. The day is one of fasting and mourning, for the destruction of both the First and the Second Temple in Jerusalem is said to have taken place on that day. While other tragic events in Jewish history may have coincided with the ninth of Av, it is the Temple’s destruction (churban habayit) that dominates the day’s ritual and liturgy. Reform theology has not generally looked upon the loss of the Temple and the expulsion of the people of Israel from its land as a catastrophe to be lamented by liberal Jews.

What does the Jews’ covenant with God mean?

Answered by
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman
We live our lives as a tapestry of relationships: with parents, siblings, partners and other relatives; with friends, neighbors, and colleagues; with the larger world and the environment; and with God. Our relationships are a lens through which we see ourselves because we gain self-understanding when we consider how others