Saturday, November 1, 2008


Many thanks to Cassandra, who helpfully sent this comment on my "What's a Bar Mitzvah?" posting:
"I just thought I would mention that when we give money, my husband and I always give denominations of 18 (chai). Usually $180, but could be less or more depending on our relationship. Perhaps you can write a future post on chai, since aside from the number the word/idea comes up in many contexts (toasts, jewelry, Fiddler on the Roof...)."
I have heard of this custom of giving in multiples of 18, but never really understood it until Cassandra called it to my attention. I've learned that the symbol chai, pictured above, consists of two Hebrew letters which together spell "living," and are interpreted by some as referring to the living G-d, and by most as simply to life itself. In the system of gematria, in which numerical values are attributed to letters of the alphabet, the sum of the word chai is 18.

Cassandra knows so much about Judaism that I, like many of her readers, assumed that she is Jewish, but she is a shiksa (like us!). Her excellent web site, which is called "Baby Smiling in the Back Seat...or that's the goal anyway," is devoted to the subject of infertility, but one of her postings is especially interesting to us shiksas, as she talks about her experience of marrying into her husband's "fairly observant" family.

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