September 22, 2019

Hey kid, want more Hanukkah presents?

You might have read this article when it was published in 2010, or a report based on this article. It had the modest goal of providing more evidence to the commonly agreed upon assumption that “the importance of Hanukkah among American Jews is driven by its proximity (in the time dimension) to Christmas, and that many American Jews use Hanukkah as a way to provide their children with an exciting alternative”. Not exactly an earth shattering theory, but one that the authors of this academic paper, Ran Abramitzky, Liran Einav and Oren Rigbi, are trying to prove with the zest of pioneers.

Since Christmas and Hanukkah are celebrated this week at the same time, some of the nuggets hidden in this complicated study are timely and worthy of mention. I’ll list three:


We all know that Hanukkah is “considered a minor holiday in Jewish tradition”. But that it had grown in importance with time, especially in the US. In Israel, “where Jewish holidays are recognized officially, Hanukkah is observed as a vacation only in the state’s elementary and high schools. Other institutes and companies, private and public, operate as usual. In the US, Hanukkah is considered important as it occurs during the national winter holiday season. Many American Jews regard Hanukkah as the Jewish alternative to Christmas, thus giving it special importance”.

While we can all easily explain how the holiday has different meanings in the US and in Israel, the authors provide us with this great table of data to which really shows why one picture is better than a thousand words. Take a look at the picture, above.


It is also not surprising that “Orthodox Jews are on average more likely than reform Jews to celebrate both holidays and that celebration of both holidays is much more likely for Jews who feel more strongly about their Jewish identity. Importantly, the intensity of Hanukkah and Passover celebrations is almost identical within each group”. Graph 1, below, demonstrates this obvious observation: