Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

May the Answers Be With You

I got nine questions this year, which is fitting, since that’s exactly how many commandments Moses had on his tablets, more or less.

A couple questions were more about me than Judaism, which isn’t entirely kosher — their creation wasn’t overseen by a rabbi — but I’ll start with those:

Carolyn asks:
What’s your favorite part of being Jewish?
For me, the most fulfilling part is being able to act as a sort of unofficial Jewish ambassador, answering all these questions for you fine folk each year.

But if that answer feels like a cop out... I suppose the best traditional part of being Jewish would probably be all the money.
Alex J. Cavanaugh asks:
Do you ever feel left out at Christmastime?
No, I don’t. Of course, that may be because I married a Catholic.

So, did I feel left out before I met my wife? No, I didn’t. Of course, that may be because I started celebrating the traditional Jewish Christmas (movies and Chinese food) at age 13.

So, did I feel left out before the advent of our Jewish Christmas? No, I didn’t. Of course, that may be because my entire childhood was magical and nothing bad ever happened and fa la la la la I can’t hear you.

And now we’ll get to the seven questions about Judaism, which is a fitting total since it’s the exact number of nights in Hanukkah, give or take:

Sam Cook asks:
How do I know if my children are Jewish? I wouldn't want to be presumptuous and assume they aren't just because their parents aren't.
First, look for the horns.

No, but seriously. Look for them. Every Jew has horns. From an early age, we’ve learned to hide them, disguise them, but they’re there.

If you don’t see any horns, look for a tail.
Carolyn asks:
Is there a traditional Hannukah meal?
Yes. Yes there is.

The traditional Hannukah meal is made of finely minced potato. It’s not as popular as other traditional meals (e.g. corn, oat, happy), which is why it’s typically only available this time of year.
Gillian says:
[My daughter’s band director said] they couldn't play any traditional Jewish songs, because traditional Jewish music is played in keys that 7th grade band students haven't learned to play yet. Please explain, in terms that the non-Jewish and non-musical among us can comprehend.
Like your car or house keys, keys in music are also used to unlock things. The difference is in what they unlock: emotions. Moods.

In our history, Jews have become extremely familiar with suffering, heartache, and fear, often intertwined with seeds of hope. These feelings are ingrained in our genes (i.e. our JDNA), and thus woven into our music as well. Since most 7th graders have yet to experience such raw emotions, they cannot fully grasp the nuances of traditional Jewish music. Only later in life, once they’ve unlocked these emotions, will they be able to play with the proper mix of somberness and joy. While standing on a roof.
Denise’s Aunt Sharon asks:
So, which day of Hanukkah IS the most important???
The middle one.
Scott asks:
Why do we learn that the Menorah is lit at Hannukkah, when, traditionally, a Hannukiah is used for the holiday? In other words, what are you hiding!!??
We learn this because that’s what happens. We light the menorah at Hannukkah.

Think of it this way: Traditionally, the three Magi are pictured riding dromedaries. But we call them camels, because they’re a type of camel. It’s the same thing with hanukkiahs and menorahs (except the Magi don’t ride them).

So, to answer your question about what it is I’m hiding... it’s a horrible book, somewhere in your new house.
My sister Naomi asks:
How do Jews celebrate Christmas when it falls on the first day of Chanukah? Is the traditional movie and Chinese food sufficient? Or does the movie need to be Chanukah themed? Are there Sweet and Sour Latkes?
When Christmas falls on the first day of Chanukah, the traditional Jewish manner of celebration does indeed need to be tweaked:
  • You must wear the socks and/or underwear you received the first night of Chanukah.
  • To determine who gets the Chinese appetizers, play a game of dreidel.
  • The movie(s) you see must already have been in the theater for 8 nights.
Oh, but I don’t get your last question. Latkes are always sweet and sour. That’s why they’re always served with apple sausage and sauerkraut.
And finally, John asks:
Why are there two spellings of 'Hannukah/Chanukkah?' Silly question, I know, but I've always wondered about it.
It’s not a silly question at all. I may have explained the correct spelling of Hanukkah in my primer years ago, and then later revised my answer, and re-revised it, but now all of those are woefully outdated. You’re right to seek a more timely answer.

The reason it can be spelled both ‘Hannukah/Chanukkah’ and ‘Hanukkah/Chanukah’ is because Jews have always been way ahead of the game on lax spelling. Long before verbage, supposably, and whatevs were added to the dictionary, we knew this was the route humanity was heading. So we made the spelling of our most well-known holiday flexible. That way goyim such as yourself can never get it wrong.

You’re welcome. Obvs.

Thank you all for your questions! I’m glad I could help keep so many of you so well informed! And as always, we’ll do this again next Hanukkah... which for all we know may be starting any minute now.