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The early sources regarding the minhagim of Nittel and what some Jewish communities did on the night of Christmas, commonly mention that besides not learning Torah on that night, there was also a minhag to eat garlic (see Der judische The Theriak written by Shlomo Tzvi Hirsch in 1615. Also Neupolierter unf wohlgeschliffener Juden-Spiegel by Lothar Franz Fried from 1715. Also Samuel Friedrich Brenz quoted in Otzar Ha'Vikuchim.)Do any Jewish communities that keep Nittelnacht with regards to not learning Torah also have this minhag to eat specifically garlic on Nittelnacht?

  • Why would eating garlic be a minhag of Nittle-Nacht? – ezra Jan 15 '17 at 20:35
  • It seems like garlic was considered a way of keeping away demonstrating and bad spirits. This is mentioned in many Jewish sources as well. In order to keep away the bad spirits that came down to the world on Christmas, the Jews would eat garlic as a way of protecting themselves. Apologists gave more rational reasons for this, but apparently that is the real reason. – Mark A. Jan 15 '17 at 21:48
  • @Mark A. Demons. – Mark A. Jan 15 '17 at 22:24
  • Come to think of it I think I have read a explanation like that before somewhere. OK, seems legit. ;) – ezra Jan 15 '17 at 22:44
  • @marka,you seem to be intrested in the topic of nittel nacht ,I would recommend a very good and scholarly article written by Rebbeca Scharbach on the topic,hope this will answer some of you questions – sam Jan 16 '17 at 0:30
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The Nitei Gavriel Hilchos Chanukka page 412 writes that there are those who have a custom to eat garlic to ward off the evil since they need portection since they dont have their usual portection from Torah. He brings the source from the Siach Yitzchak siman 408,and its also brought by the Bais Yisrael 8:301 . See footnote 12 which brings another reason for eatimg garlic. The garlic will create such a strong smell that they will avoid tashmish.

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    Garlic to avoid Tashmish??? What about Fridays? – Double AA Jan 16 '17 at 0:47
  • @doubleAA ,oh now I understand your question ,because of Ezra,good questiom – sam Jan 16 '17 at 1:15
  • I think you missed Doubles point. The gemara says to eat garlic on Fridays as a way to increase tashmish activity. – user6591 Jan 16 '17 at 1:16
  • @user6591, I did realize see my post above,an answer could be that both would eat garlic,and that would make the man not willing ,the gemara talks about the man eatimg garlic,but still a good question – sam Jan 16 '17 at 1:23
  • @DoubleAA. The idea that garlic on Nittelnacht was meant to help avoid tashmish is just a narishkeit reason that was made up after the fact in order to come up with some sort of ta'am. But it has no truth to it. The real reason was to ward off the demons as clearly evidenced by the early sources. Marc Shapiro in his shiur on Nittelnacht (available at the Torah in Motion website) does point out this stirah that you mention. However, one could answer that the minhag on Nittelnacht is to "munch garlic all night" (that's from the early sources) which would answer the stirah. – Mark A. Jan 16 '17 at 3:35
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  1. The first source you mention answers that.

See Kapitel 1 siman 20 here: It says that jews always had the custom to consume garlic in food, a fact that goes back to times of Torah (Bamidbar 11:5) and also the Talmudic times, but gentiles in some places didn't, so jews usually ate that in times in which they did not encounter gentiles, like jewish holidays or their holidays (aka, Nittle-Nacht).

Jews used to consume it all year but the christmas part was used for antisemitic purposes, as if it was made to mock christian faith and this may have spread through europe as something common and limited to those days. Perhaps some jews start to limit using garlic to certain periods of the year, but this was more a way to avoid the old antisemitic accusations (the “smelly Jew”) than a minhag with sources and all.

For more on this, see: Maria Diemling, 'As the Jews Like to Eat Garlick'. Garlic in Christian-Jewish Polemical Discourse in Early Modern Germany.

  1. With regards to not learning Torah part, it seems, also, have to do with avoiding (antisemitic) attacks in this particular time. On this, H.J. Zimmels writes as follows:

The real reason for the custom seems to be the following: in the Middle Ages the Jews used to be attacked on that night, therefore the Rabbis forbade their students to attend the house of study and no lectures were held. In the course of time, however, the reason was forgotten and only the custom remained.

Source: Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems As Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa, p. 160.

  • And the gentiles suddenly stopped their antisemitism because 'the Jews all went to bed early'? hardly a just reason to suggest that Jews not found in the study halls is enough impetus to stop the antisemitism? – user18155 Nov 17 '18 at 23:45

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