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This is an archive of works composed for (or relevant to) Jewish customs for ניטל נאַכט (Nittel Nacht a/k/a Christmas Eve). The Yiddish word “Nittel” for Christmas is likely derived from the medieval Latin name for Christmas, natalis.

The origin of traditional folk customs (abstinence from sex and Torah study, consumption of garlic, card playing and other table games) observed in some Ashkenazi Jewish communities on Nittel Nacht is obscure. Often, some version of the following narrative of resistance is given: that in the Middle Ages under the hegemony of Christendom, Jews were often forbidden from appearing in public during the Christmas holidays, and Christmas Eve frequently marked the beginning of attacks on the Jewish population by Christians under the thrall of their religious passions and prejudices. Many Jews observed Nittel Nacht by adhering to these prohibitions and staying as safe as possible from marauders. To avoid giving the appearance of celebrating the Christian holiday, many also sought to avoid experiencing any pleasure or joy on Christmas, ensuring that no glory would be given to the day.

That explanation, however, was largely discounted by Marc Shapiro in his 1999 article, “Torah Study on Christmas Eve” (Journal of Jewish Thought & Philosophy, vol. 8, pp. 319-353). The origins of Nittel Nacht were further explored in Rebecca Scharbach’s article “The Ghost in the Privy: On the Origins of Nittel Nacht” (Jewish Studies Quarterly, vol. 20 (2013):4, pp. 340-373). Medieval Jews understood their Nittel Nacht customs as a form of ritual protection against some dark force abroad on Christmas Eve. From their European Christian peers, Jewish women and children heard tales of manifesting apparitions, such as Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, Frau Perchta, and others (enacted by mummers at mid-winter pageants), sent to judge the relative goodliness of children, all ostensibly under the auspice of Jesus. The manifestation of demonic entities aligned with Jesus on the night of Christmas were then conflated in the form of a revenant Jesus, and framed within the lattice of enduring anti-Christian beliefs found in censored versions of the Talmud and Toldot Yeshu.

Click here to contribute a work you have prepared for Nittel Nacht.

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For public readings prepared for (or relevant to) Asarah b’Tevet, visit here.

For prayers for Asarah b’Tevet, visit here.

For prayers relevant to Tequfat Tevet (the Solstice of the month of Tevet), visit here.

For prayers offered for the well-being of one’s congregation and community, visit here.

For prayers composed for social justice, peace, and liberty, go here.

חרוז על שחוק האישקקי | Rhymed Poem on Chess (short), by Avraham ibn Ezra (HS. Vatican 171 f.2, oben S. 180)

חֲרוּזִים עַל שְּׂחוֹק שָׁ״הּ־מָ״תּ | Rhymed Poem on Chess (long), by Avraham ibn Ezra (ca. 12th c.)

💬 ספר תולדות ישו, לפי נוסח שטרסבורג | The Book of the Generations of Yeshu, according to the Strasbourg Variant, cantillated and vocalized by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer