Of course there are Jewish customs associated with 24th December. How could the Rabbis let something like that go by. Since the 1500s a number of traditions have grown up around Christmas Eve. The central tradition is abstaining from Torah learning. In part the tradition might be seen as an act of mourning (as Jews refrain from ‘normal’ Torah study on 9th Av. Or maybe it is driven in part by a fear of pogroms – a common occurrence in Medieval Europe – in any event Yeshivot would close for the night.
So what is a Rabbi to do? Some would play cards, or chess (usually considered a waste of learning time). The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, would sew!
And the name ‘Nittel’? No-one quite knows. Maybe it comes from the Latin – Natale Dominus means Birth of our Lord. Or maybe it’s an acronym – Nolad Yeshu Tet L’Tevet – Jesus was born on the Ninth of Tevet.
Of course the political climate that gave rise to the Medieval fear of violence doesn’t apply today and, thankfully, the prospect of pogroms in St Johns Wood seems remote. So all are most warmly invited to join us for Shabbat services. I might even share a few words of Torah.