Chanukah is just around the corner.
Except that it isn’t, apparently. No, I am reliably informed that what is almost upon us is actually Chanuca. Or Hanukkah. Or even (God help us) Chanuqah.
No other Jewish holiday, it seems, is subjected to so many different interpretations of its name. Pesach, Shavuot, Succot — these are all straightforward, subject to at most one or two variations. But when it comes to spelling out the name of the festival of lights, there seem to be more options than there are branches of the Chanukiah. Or should that be Hannukkiya?
It feels, however, as if we can discount the options that begin with an “h” rather than a “ch”. After all, in Hebrew the word begins with the letter “ח”, pronounced in the same way as the Spanish “j”, a guttural sound from the back of the throat. Similarly, as it ends with the letter “ה”, it should also end with the English equivalent, an “h”.
Proceeding to the middle of the word, things seem relatively straightforward. As there is only one Hebrew “נ”, so there should only be one English “n”. The “a” and the “u” replicate the Hebrew patach and kubutz/shuruk vowels. And, as there is only one Hebrew “כ”, so there should only be one English “c”. Which leaves us with “Chanucah”.
Except that, as with so much in Judaism, our amazing religion which marries logic and emotions, things are not quite so simple. Times change, and the softer “c” has fallen out of fashion in favour of the harder “k”. Which is why, a year ago, in the aftermath of the festival, an email went around the JC office decreeing that, henceforth, the paper’s official style for the holiday would be “Chanukah”.
That being settled, we can greet the holiday with equanimity — as well as some relief that when it comes to latkes, spelling has been set aside in favour of eating.