How Fair Trade Gelt Embodies Hanukkah's Message

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz

The complex flavor profiles of sumptuous chocolate have finally made it to Hanukkah geltgeltכֶּסֶף"Money" (Yiddish); often given as a Hanukkah gift; used for playing dreidel. – 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 percent 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, founder of Trade Judaica, teaches:

“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 other partners, titled "Spinning the Dreidel for Chocolate Gelt," encourage purchases of fair trade chocolate gelt, while “Eating Fair Trade Hanukkah Gelt,” a short prayer 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 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 online.
  2. Lake Champlain Chocolates packages its milk chocolate coins in festive Hanukkah boxes. They are fair trade and kosher.
  3. Consider including others companies such as EliteSteenlandFoiled AgainDivineVeruca ChocolatesMama Ganache Artisan Chocolates, and any others you may find.

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

For more chocolate-themed Hanukkah ideas, see "8 Chocolatey Ideas for Each Night of Hanukkah."