Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Why Do I Have To Start Now?"

Yitz commenting on Nittel:

Smashed Hat wrote: The Chasam Sofer takes a more rationalist position, explaining that going to the Beis Medrash and even staying up and learning at home by candle-light was to take one's life in one's hands, and that's how the minhag got started. One might be discovered as not following the "god of love," and therefore suffer dire consequences!

This is the reason for my comment above. The rational reason for this minhag is not very applicable in our times, except perhaps in parts of Russia, and maybe somewhere else. As to the mystical, I'm with ASJ - if I don't have this b'mesora, why do I have to start now? So far, no one here has convinced ASJ or myself to keep this custom. That said, I am not telling others to "throw it away" either.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Chabakuk Elisha's comment here.

Rabbi Lazer Brody's view can be seen here.


At December 26, 2006 at 6:29:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Five things:

1) The original "Nittel" posting started off as non-judgmental posting about this minhag, and it wasn't until Mottel asked the question about what date I followed did a debate ensue. The purpose of these postings on this subject is not to degrade this minhag but rather to explore it.

2) I think there is a big difference between one who grew up with this minhag and threw it out and the person who never had it to begin with and simply ignores it.

3) If this is a Chassidic minhag with roots in Ukraine, who decided that it would now be observed in December in the United States and Western Europe?

4) If Nittel is a kabbalistic issue, do the Sephardi kabbalists have anything to say about it?

5) In simple terms, how does one's Torah study give power to the klippa specifically on this date?

At December 26, 2006 at 7:32:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Interestingly an article from Ha'aretz states:

"Rabbi Mordechai of Slonim ruled that, in the Holy Land, the klipot had no power - not even in Jerusalem, the site of many synagogues. Nonetheless, Hasidic sect leaders who came to the Holy Land continued the Nitel custom, and their disciples followed their example."

It also notes, "On which day should Torah study be prohibited? The late Lubavitcher Rebbe proposed that Nitel be observed on the Christmas Eve celebrated by the majority of Christians in that particular country. In the United States, he ruled that Torah study should be banned on the night of December 24, when most Christian Americans celebrate Christmas Eve."

At December 26, 2006 at 9:32:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I poked around a little last night, but unfortunately I don’t have the right sefer to do this properly (Nittei Gavriel discusses this at length – but neither I, my shul, or my friends, have it). Most of the places that I found that touch on the issue don’t speak about Nittul directly (from the Latin NATAL – birthday – BTW), and I suspect that were censors and the Church to consider.
When explaining this custom I see that the explanations are guarded and vague, as if the Tzaddikim do not wish to discuss them openly altogether. Furthermore, I don’t know if it will be even possible to find much in English, for obvious reasons.

But, I did find the minhag discussed in a couple places [paraphrasing]:

Sefer “Minhag Yisroel Torah Hi” compiled by R’ Yosef Lowey (a Satmarer Chossid and rov (with haskomos from Satmar, Rav Wosner, and R’ Arye Freund) Vol 1 page 261:

He notes that among Ashkenazim the date that Nittul is kept is Dec 25 (based on the Julian calendar), while in Poland the chassidim kept the (more accurate birthday) Jan 7th date (Gregorian calendar).

The minhag is an old one and it is cited in Trumas Hadeshen (Siman 195). In sefer Otzar Yad haChaim (ois # 88) he writes that he saw the minhag mentioned in an old manuscript.

Sefer Taamei Minhagim states the minhag and gives the practical reason for it – because of the danger of Anti-Semitic attacks there was a gezeira enacted to forbid learning at this time.

The Chasam Sofer takes a different approach and he writes: I did not receive an explanation for this matter, but because the nations pray and involve themselves in religious service on this evening, there is judgment against Klal Yosroel, therefore we decreed that Jews go to bed early and arise at midnight to study while the nations pray. This adds to the merits of the Jewish people and reverses the judgments that are created by the prayers of those who oppose Klal Yisroel.

The Arugos Habosem (Parshas Shemos) quotes the Shinover Rov who says “Eis laasos Hashem heifiru Torasecha” is the numerical equivalent to “Zu sheah shetekufas Teves nofeles bo” (isn’t that neat?!)

In sefer Mishmeres Shalom (Koidinov) (27:3) he writes that should Nittul fall on Shabbos it is permitted to study, but most authorities disagree (see sefer Hadras Kodesh P. 47)

In sefer “Siach Sarfei Kodesh (#522) the story (that I mentioned earlier) of the priest who questioned the Rabbi is found. The story was with R’ Yonason Eibishitz.

Minchas Elazar’s sefer “Darkei Chaim V’Shalom” (P. 326, # 824 & 825):

The Minchas Elazar takes the position that Nittul should be kept on the date that the Orthodox Church takes since it is more accurate (Jan 7, not Dec 25), and that on that day one should not study until midnight. The Darkei Teshuva would not take kvitlach or give brochos at this time, but after midnight he would do so for hours.
He also cites sefer “Zecher Tzaddik Livrocha” regarding the concern that husbands and wives should sleep separately on that night, at east until after midnight.

Then the Minchas Elazar quotes his grandfather the Bnei Yisaschar (of Dinov):

Yeshu (spelled Yud, Shin, Vav) is the klippa of the raven (Eyin Vav Reish Veis), and his name are the first letters of the verse “Venahu Shem Hashem (He uses the name of G-d)” we combine the letters for a total of Shaa”r Pa”ch (588) which is the Hound (see sefer Yalkut Reuvaini, Beraishis). And, the Bnei Yisaschar continues, I heard from “Maggidei Emes” about episodes regarding dogs on this day, and of dogs breaking into homes. This custom not to learn on this night is a minhag Yisroel and is therefore Torah (Minhag Yisroel Torah Hi).

The Minchas Elazar goes on to say, I heard from my master (I assume the Darkei Tshuva) about a certain Tzaddik who lived in the Bnei Yisaschar’s generation, and who’s works we learn today, that one he was studying with great deveikus and ended up learning once on Nittul in his way, when a dog entered his house. From that point on he was very careful about this custom, and out of respect for G-d’s honor this matter is hidden.

There is also more discussion to be found about the month of Teves and Dogs, ravens and klippos, but it has little direct connection to Nittul per-se.

And he touches on this matter in sefer “Divrei Torah” as well (P. 209 – Sec 2 #45).

Chodesh Teves is the month when the chitzonim are misgaber and klippos are empowered (Teves & Shvat parallel Tammuz & Av that are similarly “high risk” times of the year) and it is important to be extra cautious during this time… Even if one doesn’t see this, his “Mazal” does… At this time the klippos attach themselves and gain sustenance…

He gives the night of Nittul the status of a pagan holiday, and as the most significant day in the year for the descendants of Eisav – Edom (Amalek) – who are the predominant rulers of the countries we find ourselves. (Obviously in nations that are not from Eisav and thus not christian conutries this kluppa is not a danger.)

In Lubavitcher seforim, Otzar Minhagim Vehoaraos, (Yoreh Deach, P. 58) & Shaarei Halacha Uminhag (Yorei Deah #64-67) I see that:

1. According to other authorities (not the Minchas Elazar above) Nittul depends on the day that the dominant denomination in the region celebrates. The old Satmar Rav also applied this status to Halloween, and for this reason they do not let children out on Halloween night (to which the Lubavitcher Rebbe agreed with him, but mentioned that since Halloween did not exist in Russia they have no inherited custom).

2. In non-christian countries (such as Israel) there is no Nittul – just as the halacha is that if you live in place where the majority does not practice Avoda Zara we need not worry about many halachos pertaining to idol worship (me: perhaps a case could be made that in the USA where we have separation of church & state it might not be the same as other Christian countries?), but just like we are obligated maintain the halachos of yayin nesech when it is not as relevant today, so too we should keep this custom of Nittul for this one night a year until midnight.

3. As to the question of how we can decree against learning Torah, and how can Torah have negative consequences, we can understand this based on the negative consequences that exist for someone who learns Torah on Tisha B’Av or while in mourning, etc…
Also see Hilchos Talmud Torah Chapter 4, Sif 3.

At December 26, 2006 at 9:42:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW That's a great picture!

At December 26, 2006 at 9:56:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha:

I commend you on your efforts which vividly shows the value of the dialogue and discourse on this blog. I am still perplexed, however, on one issue. You have clearly shown that this minhag is held by all Chassidim, but the issue of the date of when it is observed is at variance. This seems to be a minhag that has truly morphed as Jews migrated to from Eastern Europe to the United States.

Take the case of Sudilkov, Ukraine - undoubtedly they must have observed this minhag in January, however given the lack of a Sudilkov Chassidic dynasty, no clear guidance was ever given that now we should follow the date in December. For you, however, the guidance given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe is sufficient and should be adhered to.

With all that said, based upon what you wrote and your research, I can will state unequivocally that I was wrong in my comment in the first Nittel posting. I still am facinated about this topic and am interested to read more about it from others who comment.

P.S. As for the picture, this was from an old book about pogroms that I once saw on eBay. I can't recall the title now to give it proper attribution.

At December 26, 2006 at 10:05:00 AM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Chabakuk, great info!

I followed up as well, querying the chief rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazer, a Chabad shaliach, as to the correct date to follow this custom. His reply was...

"We "celebrate" nittel in January lefi minhag hamakom.

Some people are machmir and keep it twice..."

The last comment is interesting, because I also remember a historical comment by the Rebbe mentioning displeasure at those who felt a requirement to attempt to follow this minhag b'hiddur. (Meaning, they didn't return to learning at midnight.)

Chabakuk's notes from the Chabad sefer also verify what I saw, that it's not generally practiced in Israel. Some confusion is probably added by those who travel to the US to learn and return, or those chassidim who have moved back and forth.

At December 26, 2006 at 10:13:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I would say that as to which date to follow, you should ask your living authority.

The issue comes down to this:
This is directly connected to the klippa of Eisav, and therefore only relevant in countries dominated by Edom. And by the same token, it would seem that Edom establishes the date - they're the klippa were worried about after all.
I do know that some people keep both nights, and I would guess that if we could figure out what the majority do, we could go with the majority.

Actually, if I only had a sefer Nittei Gavriel, it probably would have all the info we need.

At December 26, 2006 at 10:21:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yea, us Chutz-LeAaretz-nikkers make everything confusing, We're like foreign tourists who don't know the basics!
Nittul, 2 days Yom Tov, different Purim, no Shmitta, Trumos, Umaasros...

At December 26, 2006 at 10:21:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Chabakuk Elisha: I will check and let you know what minhag Sudilkov is today.

Thanks again for all your leg work!!

On a side note, are there any minhagim that deal with the klippa of Yishmael?

At December 26, 2006 at 10:27:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check with Baruch Goldstein

At December 26, 2006 at 10:28:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to the Klippa of Yishmael, we would probably need to check in sefardic sources... maybe the Ben Ish Chai

At December 26, 2006 at 10:34:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Or maybe here?

At December 26, 2006 at 1:18:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

This morning I e-mailed Rabbi Lazer Brody the following question:

I recently have had a discussion on the blog about a person who did not grow up observing the minhag of Nittel following it now. What are your thoughts on it and on what date do you observe it on?

Rabbi Brody responded:

"There are a million different minhagim - I believe that a person doesn't have to be religious about bitul Torah."

To this I asked the follow-up question:

Does this mean that if one did not observe it, one does not need to?

Rabbi Brody responded:

"Yes, correct"

At December 26, 2006 at 1:41:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASJ: Ask Reb Elozer Kenig about it, if you really want to know. Such things need a mesoyro, and not simply an opinion.

As far as America - many Russian chasidim still refrain from what is nessesary on nittl on 7-th of January. Breslovers for example, also Karlin, Chernobyl and Boyan.

At December 26, 2006 at 1:42:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you saw from Minchas Elozer, there is a view that this doesn't change according to the majority of goyim in the place. (Minchas Elozer lived in Munkatch, where there are lots of catholics, however I can't say for sure that they were the majority there).

At December 26, 2006 at 1:44:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> There is a book written by a Monsey resdient that is called Leil Nittel,
> from a chassidishe perspective and very comprehensive. Unfortunately it
> was withdrawn because of the criticism that it gave to much space to
> discussing Christianity

This is non surprising. Hungarishe/misnagdishe mentality propagated by Satmar and the like is becoming very dominant in Monsey. They ban anything that looks "strange" to them.

At December 26, 2006 at 1:48:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

A Yid: I would be very interested to learn what Rav Kenig would suggest on this matter.

I also e-mailed Rabbi Aryeh Wohl, but have not heard back from him yet.

If left up to my own limited rationalistic thinking, I would hold by the January date since it seems more authentic to me.

At December 26, 2006 at 2:35:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

I'm glad to have been a catalyst for such a lively and Torahdik discussion! Thanks CE for your great research, however you wrote: Nittul...from the Latin NATAL – birthday – BTW.
From the Ta'amei HaMinhagim it appears not that way. He writes, "b'Leil Netilaso v'akiraso min haOlam" [on the night he was taken & uprooted from the world]. So "Nittel" appears to be from "Netila," to be taken.
In sefer Mishmeres Shalom (Koidinov) (27:3) he writes that should Nittul fall on Shabbos it is permitted to study, but most authorities disagree (see sefer Hadras Kodesh P. 47). In sefer “Siach Sarfei Kodesh (#522) the story (that I mentioned earlier) of the priest who questioned the Rabbi is found. The story was with R’ Yonason Eibishitz.
The Ta'amei HaMinhagim brings a story about the Chiddushei HaRim [first Gerer Rebbe], who when Nittel fell on Shabbos, although he made a Tish, he did not give over Divrei Torah, but instead told the R. Yonasan Eibeschitz story you mention.
My humble [or NSHO] opinion is with ASJ and Rabbi Lazer Brody!

At December 26, 2006 at 2:48:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks! I forgot about the other teitch for Nittul - I noted the translation mentioned in one sefer but I forgot to note the other.

I don't know how I could have missed the story w/ the Chiddushei HaRim!

But, why don't you think this should apply in chutz leAretz anymore?

At December 26, 2006 at 5:19:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once saw, that as early as Baal haRoykeah brings remozim about it. But I couldn't find it inside.

About Eretz Yisroel - it is a subject of either klipoys and sitro achro have an ahizo there. It seems that in practical terms there is something to worry about even in Eretz Yisroel.

At December 26, 2006 at 5:21:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Baal haRoykeah in not commonly known seyfer "Soydey Rezayo").

At December 27, 2006 at 4:24:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

CE, you wrote: I don't know how I could have missed the story w/ the Chiddushei HaRim! It was in a footnote at the bottom of the page, that's how.
But, why don't you think this should apply in chutz leAretz anymore?
I think the ikar ta'am [main reason] is because of the sakana [danger], and this doesn't apply too much, as I've already mentioned. The second ta'am, about the Klipos, etc. -- fine, if you have a mesorah, and you follow that mesorah diligently. And that includes, it would seem from what was posted, that the non-learning should only be until Chatzos, and then one SHOULD learn! Who does that?
Speaking of that hour, what about Tikkun Chatzos? Isn't that a lot more important than Nittel, yet how many of us do it -- myself included? Somehow, I just feel that we make too much of Nittel, it's too "easy" to just play chess or whatever & say, "Look how frum I am," while we miss so many other important things.

At December 27, 2006 at 5:01:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ASJ re: klippat yishmael

according to the Maor Eynayim (Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl) edom's midah is din, and so they needed a religion of chesed to be metaken them. Whereas yishmael's midah is chesed, so they needed a religion of din to be metaken them.

Since nittel relates to edom, and it is a minhag of din (withholding torah learning).. it follows that the yishmael-related minhag would likely be chesed focused. so start looking for sefaradi minhagim that have a day of excess hesed. (either literally or through increased torah learning) (maymuna of the morroccan's ? yom yerushalayim where we learn all night? (at least in israel) after a victory over the yishmaelim?? )

At December 27, 2006 at 11:27:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the insightful comments!

I hear you - I guess the problem that I have is that to me this is a gezeira, and like all gezeiros, I am not able to undo, or disregard it (even after the cause may seem no longer applicable).
I would think that only (like the klal in halacha) men as great and as many as those who enacted it can un-enact it...

But I will stop beating this dead horse and thank everyone who participated in this interesting discussion!

At December 27, 2006 at 12:57:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Yitz: Are you suggestion there is no minhag of Nittel in Modzitz?

At December 27, 2006 at 3:30:00 PM EST, Blogger yitz said...

ASJ - I haven't heard of it, but I will try to check, bli neder. Modzitzers are a very eclectic bunch. Although the Rebbes and the original Chassidim were/are Polishers, today's Chassidim are Yekkes, Galitzianers, Teimanim, you name it! This is true both in Israel & the US. So I don't know if there is a uniform minhag for this in Modzitz.

At December 27, 2006 at 5:00:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> So I don't know if there is a uniform minhag for this in Modzitz

Surely there can be an original one.

At December 27, 2006 at 6:01:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fedora black - a valid note.

It seems that essential approach is not being over obsessive about it, because it can turn into complete hitzoynius, as well as not being a mufkar, because it turns into complete anarchy.


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