Discussions of Nittel Nacht often begin with a dichotomy: Hasidim observe the custom of not learning, whereas Litvaks disregard this and learn. But neither of these groups was the first to observe Nittel. The custom originated in an unexpected place: 1/n
The Rhineland. Germany. The cradle of Ashkenaz.
The earliest record of specific Nittel customs is from the Rhineland in the late 1600s.
The first two mentions of Nittel customs are from none other than Rav Yair Hayim Bacharach, author of Havot Yair. He mentions it twice. 2/n
First, in Mekor Hayim, his commentary on Orah Hayim (which remained in manuscript for 300 years before its publication) he has a shorthand note. He reminds himself to write about "מנהג ביטול הלימוד בליל חוגה פלוני" - the custom not to learn on such-and-such holiday. 3/n
Second, in Yair Netiv, his manuscript index of his own writings, I found the following line:
"רב מפורסם אמר שלא ירדו נשים לטהרתן בליל ניט"ל."
"A well-known rabbi said that women should not go down to purify themselves (i.e., go to the mikveh) on the night of Nittel." 4/n
Havot Yair lived in Worms and died in 1701. These sources are from the years before his death, so late 1600s.
Next: Nitei Gavriel cites a manuscript from R. Netanel Weil, author of "Korban Netanel" on the Rosh. He says that it is a mourning custom - like not learning on 9 Av. 5/n
R. Weil was the rabbi in Karlsruhe - also in the Rhineland - in the early to mid-1700s. Here he is rocking the tricorn hat. 6/n
Hatam Sofer says in the name of his father and of his teacher, R. Natan Adler, both of mid-18th century Frankfurt, that the custom indeed originated as a mourning custom. (Hatam Sofer offers a different reason, but that's not for now.) 7/n
All of these early sources - R. Bachrach, R. Weill, R. Natan Adler, and Hatam Sofer's father - are from the Rhineland in the late-17th and 18th centuries. It stands to reason that this is where the custom originated, and that the rationale was mourning, like 9 Av. 8/n
It's worth mentioning that the custom of avoiding the mikveh fits with the mourning theme as well. Women would not have gone to the mikveh on 9 Av, either. 9/n
The only other early source is an undated gloss on a manuscript of R. Isaac Tyrnau's minhagim (15th c.), according to which records a custom to recite the Aleynu prayer out loud on Nittel. No mention of Torah study (or mikveh). 10/n
In the early 19th century, Hatam Sofer and R. Elazar Fleckeles (in a letter recently discovered by Prof. Marc Shapiro) acknowledge the practice and explain it in different ways - Hatam Sofer far more generously than R. Fleckeles. They were both in Central Europe. 11/n
R. Fleckeles in Prague, Hatam Sofer in Pressburg (today's Bratislava). Neither lived in a milieu that could in any way be considered Hasidic. Rather, both places were influenced by both German and Polish custom. It seems that the Nittel customs spread from west to east. 12/n
Hasidic treatments of the issue begin in the early decades of the 1800s. R. Tzvi Elimelekh of Dinov (died in 1841), for instance, relates to it. By now the custom is preserved largely by Hasidim (though I'd venture that most Jews, in fact, do not study Torah on Nittel). 13/n
Korban Netanel and R. Fleckeles mention people who play games on Nittel, but this gets taken to new heights - playing cards, chess, Risk; tearing toilet paper for Shabbos; going to large indoor water parks; etc.
But now you know that it started among Yekkes, not Hasidim. 14/15
For more, give a listen to this shiur I gave last year:
And the associated source sheet: yutorah.org/_cdn/_material…
cc on this thread: @onthemainline @bknwrabbi @Laura_E_Adkins @minhagim
(you might like the line from the Bacharach manuscript find: @jteplitsky @hchesner @YakovZMayer)
Two side points:
1) Sorry this thread is Ashkenormative. Ashkenazim were mainly the ones living among Christians, though, so it can't be helped.
2) My research into this started because of a fight in my daughter's youth group about whether a "Secret Santa" is appropriate.

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More from @Adderabbi

8 Jul
I have so little patience for this sort of garbage. Jews are indigenous to Eretz Yisrael by any reasonable definition of the term. But let's take UN criteria, to which he links later in the thread: 1/
Our people refers to ourselves by two names, primarily. "Jew" and "Israel". Israel is the name of a people, and that people referred to its (often distant) homeland as "the land of Israel" or "Eretz Yisrael". In our (Hebrew) liturgy, you will not find the word "Jew". 2/
But we have been known as "Jews" (Yehudim, Iudaeoi, Yahud, Yidn, Zhid) for a very long time - since c. 500 BCE. The term first appears in the books of Zechariah, Esther, and Ezra. It is a geographic term, referring to the tribal lands of Judea and its exiles. 3/
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6 May
Here's a listing of Rav Nachum Rabinovich z"l's English publications. The link at the end of the thread is to a folder with PDFs of almost all the articles.

Book: "Probability and statistical inference in ancient and medieval Jewish literature", U of Toronto Press, 1973.
1. "Chametz and Matzah – A Halakhic Perspective", Tradition, Winter 1965 Issue 7.4. 77-88.
2. “A Halakhic View of the Non-Jew”, Tradition, Fall 1966 Issue 8.3. 27-39.
3. "What is the Halakhah for Organ Transplants?", Tradition, Spring 1968 Issue 9.4. 20-27.
4. “The Religious Significance of Israel”, Tradition 14.4, Fall 1974. 20-28.
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Read 27 tweets
15 May 19
On Victor Orban, a thread.
I see lots of people piling on the "Victor Orban is an anti-Semite, or panders to anti-Semites", so I thought it would be good to look at some of the facts of the matter. 1/
It boils down to 4-5 pieces of evidence:
1) He portrays Soros using anti-Semitic tropes.
2) He is denying Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust.
3) He is an extreme right-wing anti-immigrant nationalist.
4) He is trying to resurrect the reputation of Miklos Horthy.
Let's start with Horthy. It's the most complicated, but also the simplest.
Horthy led Hungary from after WWI until the end of WWII. Hungary was dismembered after WWI. It got the short end of the stick on all counts, leading to decades of festering revanchism and irredentism 3/
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10 Jul 18
Modern halakhists who permit abortion in cases where mother's life isn't threatened:
R. Yosef Haim (Rav Pealim EH 1:4)
R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 6:48 et al)
R. Shneur Zalman Fradkin (Torat Hesed EH 42)
R. Gedalia Felder (Sheilat Yeshurun 1:39)
R. Yaakov Emden (Sheilat Yaavetz 1:43)
R. Ouziel (Mishpetei Ouziel HM 3:47)
R. Shaul Yisraeli (Amud Hayemini 32)
Maharit (Rabbi Joseph di Trani; 1:97)
R. Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg (Seridei Esh 3:127)
R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer EH 4:1)

Multiple fetuses where the mother's life is not in danger: ALMOST ALL poskim PERMIT aborting one or more fetus to save the rest.
R. Elyashiv (see Tzitz Eliezer 20:2)
RHD HaLevi (Mayim Hayim 1:61)
RSZ Auerbach (see Nishmat Avraham 425:1:30)
R. Nahum Rabinovitch (Siah Nahum 116)
Read 9 tweets
30 May 18
Everyone ready for a rant about Michael Chabon and his @HUCJIR commencement speech/ @tabletmag article? Here it comes.../1
Chabon's reduction of diversity and complexity (and more synonyms) to exogamy reflects his shallowness. Shtup someone of a different color, and you're "diverse". Endogamy is tantamount to redlining. Heterogeneity is no longer a metaphor; it's literally all about genetics.
"Monocultural places—one language, one religion, one haplotype." We already covered the haplotype. Regarding language, again, on what planet are Jews monocultural? Does Chabon know any Jewish culture outside of his limited Yiddish vocab and his missions to Hebron? /3
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