"Little Nothing" - The Discussion Continues
Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel commenting on "Even In Eretz Yisroel":
I looked over the discussion on the site - very interesting. Here are some of my thoughts. Please feel free to quote, post, etc. :
The term nittle nacht is actually a clever Yiddish word play. The proper word for cratzmach in Yiddish and middle German was nittel, related to the Latin “natal,” source for the English “nativity” and French “noel.”
Nittel, in Yiddish, is also the diminutive form of the word “nit” – meaning nothing. Nittle = little nothing. Nittle Nacht is thus both “cratzmach eve” and “night of little nothing” or “little-nothing night.”
As far as the Minhag of Breslov, most Breslov Chassidim refrain from learning from shkia until chatzos ha-layla. The zeman here for chatzos is actually very early, being only six-clock hours after tzeis. In general, Breslov Chassidim follow the opinion of the Mogen Avrohom O.C. 1:4 who mentions the zeman for chatzos as such based upon the Zohar in Parshas Vaykhel. So, the actual time to refrain from learning may only be from about 5:00 to 11:00 PM.
As to the date of nittel nacht in Breslov – In Ukraine it was January 6th as per the custom of the goyim (this was also the date of nittel nacht in Eretz Yisrael). It seems that there was a shift in minhag when many of the Chassidim came into western lands. Those Chassidim began to regard nittel nacht as December 24th.
Both dates in Breslov are kept depending upon which date the goyim observe. In the West, most churches regard the 25th as the main point of the holiday. In the eastern/orthodox churches, most view January 6th (Feast of the Epiphany, observed on the 7th by Coptic churches and a few others) as the culmination and main celebration of the holiday.
You also asked about the minhag of Rav Yaakov Meir Schechter. I am almost certain that he keeps both dates – but my recollection isn’t 100% (this wouldn’t represent the majority practice in Breslov).
Even though I observe this minhag, I've always had problems with it. I am torn between the minhag of my Rabbonim and a statement that R’ Y .B. Soloveitchik once made echoing the opinion of many misnagdim: “I would rather see the gehinnom for learning Torah on nittel nacht than the olam ha-ba for playing cards on it.”
He has a point, but then so do those who advocate the nittle nacht minhag.
Nireh li, if one doesn’t have a mesorah he shouldn’t observe the minhag.
Yet, if a person joins a Chassidus that is particular about nittle nacht, it is considered like his mesorah and he should be particular as well and rely on the minhag ha-makom as to the date.