THE VIRAL VIDEOS EXPLAINED: Throwing Towels And Objects At Person Lighting Menorah? This Minhag Explained

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Multiple videos are making the rounds on social media this Chanukah of people throwing items at the person lighting Menorah in Shul. One of these scenes is in the presence of the Satmar Rebbe of Kiryas Yoel, who is standing and watching as a crowd of men and Bochrim pelt the one lighting Menorah with towels and other objects.

A second viral video is actually from a YWN article from 2016.

Many are raising their eyebrows what this is all about. If you have never before seen this done, you too will be stunned. (Watch both videos below).

The following article from Rabbi Yair Hoffman written for YWN in 2016 explains it all.

It is one of those Chassidish Chanukah Minhagim that Litvaks generally don’t really go for. Nonetheless, it is a genuine Minhag that dates back hundreds of years. In a nutshell, this is what is done:

In Chassidish communities of Poland and Hungary, it has been the custom when the Shamash is ready to light the Chanukah candles in shul, for children and others to throw hand towels and other items at him both before and during the lighting.

The custom is still practiced today in numerous Chassidish minyanim.

One can understain why Litvaks would not appreciate this particular custom. The Eliyahu Rabbah writes that talking to someone in the middle of a bracha may constitute Lifnei Iver – certainly throwing items at a person may cause a person to lose focus. There is the other issue of decorum within a shul and Beis Midrash as well.

Yet, on the other hand, is said that the Tzeshinover Rebbe was informed that one city that formerly had the practice had abolished it. He remarked, “Who knows what shall become of this city.” It is brought down that the Jewish community in that city was decimated r”l (See Pninei Chassidus [Vishnitz] page 31).

What is the reason for this custom and where does it come from?

The custom is cited in the name of the Sanzer Rav, but quite feasibly could have dated before this as well. The Halichos Chaim, written by Rabbi Aharon Kluger cites the minhagim of the Klausenberger Rebbe Rav Yekusiel Halbershtam (Chanukah p.18) and explains that the purpose of this custom was to vividly demonstrate how things were during the time of the Greeks and the Hellenists when a Jew wished to perform a Mitzvah. He was laughed and jeered at, unless the Mitzvah was performed in their specific Hellenizing way.

Yet another given for this custom by the Klausenberger Rebbe is that on the chance that the Shamash feels a sense of empowerment and haughtiness in fulfilling this Mitzvah so publicly. The clothing and towels are thrown at him to demonstrate that he has accomplished nothing (See Yehi Ohr 5733 p.67).

Yet a third reason is that both Lag BaOmer and Chanukah are connected to the Neshama of Rabbi Shimon Br Yochai. Tzaddikim are a type of Ohr HaMakif – all-encompassing light, according to the writings of the AriZal. Clothing signify this, therefore the custom is to throw clothing which signifies the all-encompassing light of Tzaddikim in this world (See Ben Yehoyada Sanhedrin 102a as cited in Nachalas Sadeh VaYikrah page 611).

The custom to light in shul only dates to the times of the late Rishonim. It is interesting to note that neither the Rambam, the Rif, the Rosh, the Ohr Zaruah, the Eshkol, Rashi, nor the Machzor Vitri mentions the custom of lighting in shul. The earliest authority to mention the custom is the Baal HaIttur. Indeed, the first to mention that a blessing is recited is Rav Yitzchok Perfet, the Rivash (1326-1408). The Maharam Shick (YD) stated that the Chasam Sofer actually did not recite a blessing when lighting in shul.

As far as lighting in shul in general, there are two reasons brought down. The Chayei Odom (154:17) explains that we light and recite the blessing in the synagogue because of Pirsumei Nisah – publicizing the miracle. The Levush (#8) gives a different reason. He says that it is so that guests who have no place to stay could also see the Chanukah lights. Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. VI 65:1) explains that according to the first reason a child who has reached the age of Chinuch may light in the Synagogue; while according to the Levush’s reason he may not. Rav Elyashiv zt”l (as cited in Yashiv Moshe p.86) states that according to either reason a child may not light in shul. Rav Elyashiv made no mention, however, about children throwing towels at the shamash. It is likely that he would not have been happy with this custom.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. the Tzeshinover Rebbe was informed that one city that formerly had the practice had abolished it. He remarked, “Who knows what shall become of this city.” It is brought down that the Jewish community in that city was decimated r”l

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they were all decimated.

  2. Mehila m’kivod toratam, this is a Minhag ta-oot. This makes no sense and is an embarrassment. Goes to show how far faulty reasoning can go. The city was probably decimated because a sadik was gozer on them, not because they stopped this practice. Hopefully one day a leader from this group will have the courage to put an end to this rediculous “minhag”.

  3. The minhag used to be performed in much a milder fashion and with much less fervor. Derech eretz was present unlike today when it’s chutzpa yasgi. So someone would throw a towel and nobody after that single act would dare do anything more. Today there is much less fervor with all mitzvos and minhagim except for this one where the furvor has increased along with the general lack of derech eretz.

    There is a similar custom that when a chassan motzai Shabbos sheva brachos makes havdala for the first time to be motzi his wife, they also throw towels at him.

    In Bobov, the Rebbe R’ Shlomo who led his community after the holocaust, modified the chanuka minhag so as not to abolish it but to keep things more orderly, they just make noise while the shamash is making the bracha, but nothing is thrown.

    Another reason given for both of these minhagim is to be clear that nobody is yotze (except for the kalla in the case of havdala)

  4. Rabbenu Tam (responsa of Baalei HaTosfot n. 11) writes that some practices which clash with the halacha are not to be followed and about those minhagim it is said that the minhag spelled backwards is gehinnom. It is cited by the Maharam Mintz (responsa 66), Aseh Lecha Rav 3:21, and Yabia Omer 3:29. They were throwing sefarim at the gabbai! How can it be considered acceptable to interrupt someone making a beracha? The gabbai could have been hurt, and there could easily have been a fire. This is completely unacceptable. For shame!

  5. Some goyim have a minhag of loading a revolver (handgun) with one bullet, leaving five chamber empty, spinning it until he loses track and then pulling the trigger while aiming at one’s head. You won’t meet many people with great experience at that minhag, since after the third time, the odds are you will be dead.

    I seriously question the existence of a minhag among Yidden to do something similar, especially since not only would the one engaged in this suicidal behavior end up dead, but so would many other people.

  6. Lets Burn The Shul Down Minhag…sounds very “smart”. How can this possibly be allowed…so dangerous! the whole shul can go up in flames…then what?

  7. “the Shamash feels a sense of empowerment and haughtiness in fulfilling this Mitzvah so publicly. The clothing and towels are thrown at him to demonstrate that he has accomplished nothing”

    Maybe, by that logic, people should throw towels at R. Yair Hoffman, who has so many articles published here so publicly, when they see him, to humble him. Maybe it could become a new Hasidic custom.

  8. “…Lets Burn The Shul Down Minhag…sounds very “smart”…
    Actually, for several years, there seemed to be an annual news story about some small shul where the ehrliche yidden would operate an illegal “matzoh bakery” without the proper building/fire permits, and needless to say, there were some serious fires significantly damaging the facility. Fortunately, that minhag seems to have been “extinguished” and no such events in the past few years.

  9. Third video appears to be halachically problematic. After all the screaming and throwing has subsided the one who lights should do so in the place where the menorah will stand. About that the halocho is “hadloko oseh mitzvah”, the mitzva is to light the menora as opposed what he appears to have done which suggests “hanocho oseh mitzva” that he places a lit menora in its place. To be “don lekaf zechus”, the poor chap was probably in a state of fear and fright with all the projectiles and screaming so he cannot be blamed for getting it wrong. However, it’s not the way our shul does it!

  10. I would strongly advice the commentors to think twice and three times before you criticize a minhag yisroel that is approved by gedolei yisroel. You don’t have to understand everything.

  11. For all the critics, those shamushim usually know what they’re putting up for and mostly aren’t bothered by it it brings a smile to everyone.
    Most places it’s just few ppl throwing towels in a non disturbing way but it does happen to get out of control when there are boys or teens and yes it’s not nice but it doesn’t make it a bad minhag as a whole

  12. It is an absurd minhag it defies logic
    The three reasons given in the name of the Klausenberg Rebbe do not seem to hold water. Why is this not done at home while everyone lights the menorah? The first and third reasons don’t seem to apply exclusively to the Shamash in shul! As for the second reason the chance that the Shamash feels a sense of empowerment and haughtiness in fulfilling this Mitzvah so publicly, really makes no sense, does the shamash indeed feel empowermnt because he lights the menorah in shul?If so what about a Chazan davening nicely in shul are we to throw towels at him too? How about when the Rebbe lights the Menorah in front of all the Chasidim?
    These are just feeble attempts to justify a minhag that makes no sense!
    Sometimes minhagim arise from unknown incidents and it carries on from generation to generation people think its a holey minhag and hesitate to stop it. We see many times Gedolim wrote on certain minhagim that spread that it is a minhag taus it is not a minhag. That means a certain custom did spread but it was all a mistaken custom. But people don’t give up on their customs easily. This custom is most likely a similar type of custom. It is impossible to know how it started but it then spread and since there was no real harm done no one stopped it. But all these logical somersaults to explain it and give it some deep meaning are laughable.