Nittal Nach, Christmas Eve

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, December 24, 2012

Nittel Nacht, or “birth night”, is Yiddish for Christmas Eve . From around the late 16th century, many Jews in Europe observed this night, principally by not learning Torah. With many of the locals running wild in the streets on Christmas Eve, it was not safe for Jews to be out, and most Jews did not have any books at home.

Some say that it was an act of mourning. Jesus’s birth was the start of a lot of grief for Jews and so, just as on Tishah b’Av they didn’t learn Torah, so too, on Christmas Eve. A mystical reason, given in Chasidic sources, is that on this inauspicious day Jews did not want to confer the spiritual benefit that Torah study gives to the world.

Jewish-Christian relations have improved immeasurably and today keeping Nittel Nacht has become rare. Among Western Jews, having a tree, a turkey dinner and inviting the neighbours over for drinks are far more common ways of observing Christmas. Where is the right balance between fear and disdain on the one hand and ingratiation and ass

Last updated: 5:31pm, December 24 2012