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How Do you Spell Chanukah?

12/06/2018 04:01:24 PM


Rabbi Daniel Dorsch

Each year when we come to December there is a singular debate that rages among the Jewish people. It is a debate divides households. It divides communities. It divides Jews from our non-Jewish neighbor. That debate, is of course, how you are supposed to spell the word חנוכה.
Fred Davis pointed out to me last Shabbat when he looked at my source sheet that I spelled חנוכה at least two different ways in English. Yet according to the Oxford English dictionary, there are in fact eight different ways to spell חנוכה, which I have, for your reading pleasure, boiled down into three main discrepancies:
1. Most popularly, there is a discrepancy as to whether one spells חנוכה with an H at the beginning or a CH. Why the H, when we all know H all wrong? Perhaps, folks who use the H may be taking ruchmunus on our non-Jewish friends for whom the Ch is virtually impossible to say (as an aside, I love watching newscasters try to say חנוכה this time of year). Or, alternatively, they are more concerned that it not be pronounced Cha-nuka (as in Cha-tanooga): which is, I am sure we can all agree, much more wrong than simply saying the letter H.
2. There is a discrepancy as to whether one spells with two kks or one k. I am told this has to do with how we translate the Hebrew alphabet into English. It’s not that it’s Chanu-ka-kah, or that there’s so much long-short vowel thing going on. It’s that the two ks, according to most folks, are intended to distinguish the letter kaf from the letter kuf.
#3. There is a discrepancy as to whether or not we spell חנוכה with an H at the end. Presumably, the H is supposed to stand in for the letter Hey, which is also on the dreidel. That said, since the Hey is silent, I am not really sure it serves any real purpose.
By now, you’ve probably noticed in this blog post my not so subtle answer to this question. Some might perhaps argue that as חנוכה is a holiday about religious freedom, that we should be free to spell it whatever way we choose.
However, if חנוכה is in fact a holiday all about fighting assimilation, and preserving the Jewish way of life, why wouldn’t we just spell it in Hebrew? Wouldn’t that have been precisely what the Maccabees would have wanted?
Take out your old religious school notebooks and practice tracing. Because thankfully, in Hebrew, there is only one way to spell חנוכה.
Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyyar 5779