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Hanukkah Goes Vegas

While for many people today, having a few extra latkes on Hanukkah is considered living on the wild side, for many centuries Hanukkah, along with other days such as Purim, was seen as a day when things which were either forbidden, or at least frowned upon, during the rest of the year were permitted. One of the most popular pastimes on Hanukkah was gambling. Since the Talmudic period rabbis and communal leaders have struggled with the common desire to play games of chance. From the dice players and pigeon racers of the Mishnah (Rosh HaShannah 1:8) to Mifal HaPayis, many pondered over how to control the attitude of,

If I wind up broke
well I’ll
always remember
that I had a
swinging time.
(Geoffrey J. & Sharyn Felder)

While the attitude of some was to just prohibit gambling and other games of chance outright, others chose the direction of allowing it on specific occasions and trying to limit it as much as possible to those times. One approach was to limit gambling to those days on which tahanun was not said (Rosh Hodesh, Hol HaMoed, Purim, and Hanukkah). Others allowed people to play with more money than usual on Hanukkah, while limiting the rest of the year to smaller amounts. Among the games described as being played were ticktack, heads or tails, chess, and cards. One of the more well-known Jews who had a gambling problem was Leon (Yehudah Aryeh) of Modena. It was apparently also a problem for his father, Modena wrote an entire book, סור מרע, on the subject. He was also possibly the target of an excommunication order by the rabbis of Venice in 1628 against anyone who played cards.

Happy Hanukkah to all.

Sources:
-Abrahams, Israel, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages.
-Baron, Salo, The Jewish Community, II: 316-317, III: 207-208.
-Diamond, Eliezer, “It’s All in the Cards”.
-Landman, Leo, “Jewish Attitudes Towards Gambling”, JQR 58:1, pp. 34-62.
-Pollack, Herman, Jewish Folkways in Germanic Lands, pp. 181, 329-330.
-Segal, Eliezer, “The Wagers of Sin”.
Also see this entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia and this article on “Gambling in Jewish Law”.

Lastly, if you do have a problem with gambling, you should get help from Gamblers Anonymous.

One Response to “Hanukkah Goes Vegas”

  1. 1
    Menachem Mendel:

    The Tzitz Eliezer rips Modena for his gambling among other things.
    andy | 12.17.06 – 10:23 pm | #

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