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How Fair Trade Gelt Embodies Hanukkah's Message

How Fair Trade Gelt Embodies Hanukkah's Message

The complex flavor profiles of sumptuous chocolate have finally made it to Hanukkah gelt (traditionally coins given as Hanukkah gifts, but used here to describe foil-wrapped chocolate coins associated with the holiday).

Gelt now tempts our palates with tastier, richer, darker chocolate than ever was available in the past. Author and chocolate maven, Francine Segan’s children sampled the earlier “traditional” Hanukkah chocolate gelt and refused to eat it. They told her to recycle it or leave it on the table for glittery decoration. As Segan explains, “Good chocolate needs to contain 100% cocoa product, without cheap substitutes or additives, along with quality sugar and flavorings. Just as we want to be feeding our children real food, we should be giving them real chocolate.”

The flavor of our gelt improves even more when child slave labor is removed from it. Fair trade standards – designed to promote better trading conditions, sustainability, and improved social and environmental standards for products produced in the developing world – prohibit the use of child and slave labor, a problem particularly in cocoa sourced from West Africa. Selecting Fair trade chocolate complements Hanukkah’s messages about freedom from oppression and the earliest uses of Hanukkah’s coins.

The first recorded appearance of the Yiddish word “gelt” may have been in 1529 when it came to be identified with Hanukkah money. Gifting coins at Hanukkah became customary. The Hebrew word Hanukkah, which refers to the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, also was associated with the Hebrew word for education, chinukh. Gelt supported Jewish learning. In the days of the founder of Chasidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698–1760), rabbis often traveled to distant villages to give instruction to impoverished and illiterate Jews, generally refusing payment. At Hanukkah time, the instructors accepted coins and other tokens of gratitude. Hanukkah gelt signified appreciative, though modest, compensation for dedication to Jewish education.

Today, the words “freedom and justice,” a perfect message for Hanukkah, encircle the cocoa tree on the fair trade, organic certified, foil-wrapped chocolate coins produced by Divine Chocolate. A collaboration among Fair Trade Judaica, T’ruah and Divine offers easy ordering and supports the two non-profits. As Ilana Schatz teaches at the Fair Trade Judaica website, “The gelt we eat on Hanukkah is a reminder of the freedom our people won many years ago.” 

The learning materials developed by Hazon and several partners entitled Spinning the Dreidel for Chocolate Gelt encourage purchases of fair trade chocolate gelt. A prayer for “Eating Fair Trade Hanukkah Gelt” by Rabbi Menachem Creditor identifies the potency of fair trade chocolate with Hanukkah’s theme of enlightening the world’s dark places, an important spin on good gelt for Hanukkah.

For a fun Hanukkah activity, try a taste-test comparison of these fair trade chocolate options:

  1. Divine Chocolate offers fair trade, organic and kosher, dark chocolate coins as well as milk chocolate coins. Produced through a women’s farmer cooperative, Kuapa Kokoo, in Ghana, it is available on-line.
  2. Heather Johnston embosses her stunning (and kosher) Gelt for Grownups with the Jerusalem Temple menorah. She models it on an ancient coin struck by Mattathias Antigonus, a descendant of the Maccabees. The chocolate is also kosher.
  3. Lake Champlain Chocolates packages its milk chocolate coins in festive Hanukkah boxes. They are fair trade and kosher.

So, unwrap your improved gelt choices, say a prayer, and enjoy the chocolate. Those glittery coins won’t stay on the table for long!

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. The newly released second edition of her book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, (Jewish Lights) contains 25 historical and contemporary recipes. She is co-curator of the exhibit, “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” at Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica, NYC, on display through February 25, 2018. She blogs at The Forward,, and elsewhere. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz

Published: 12/11/2015

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