On the 25th of Kislev we celebrate the eight day Festival of Dedication,
our wonderful Jewish holiday or should I write Kholiday, perhaps Chalidai,
Hollidday or even Cholliday. We retell the story of the Maccabees to our
children, about Mattathias and his five sons who fought against King
Antiochus and the Syrians. When Mattathias grew too old, his son Judah,
known as Judah Maccabee led the Jews to victory and reclaimed the Temple in
Jerusalem. Only enough oil was found to relight the Ner Tamid, the Eternal
Light, for one day but miraculously it continued to burn for eight days. We
light the candles each night as we recall our divine deliverance from
persecution. There is no dispute about the story.
Non-Jews often equate this festival with Christmas (pronounced KRISMAS)
which comes at the same season, but the two are totally unrelated. From a
simple custom of giving money, gelt (about which there is no argument, the
spelling, that is), and shepping nakhes (the ineffable pleasure of parents
concerning their children), the Jews, in an effort to be equal or more than
equal and not deprive their, nebakh (no translation needed),
underprivileged children, began also to give presents, not just one
present, but one for each night, and each night has to be grander than the
next. Khas vi khalila (which is best translated, as heavens forfend, or God
forbid) the child next door or in the same Hebrew class should get a finer
present--but that is a different matter.
Writing the name of the holiday in English, however, -- ah, that is indeed
a problem. In Hebrew it is quite simple -- five letters. The exact phonetic
symbols for the Hebrew: ____ (sometimes _____)are, in trans- literation :
KH for the Khah, A for the vowel sound following, N for Nun, U for the Vav,
then K for the Kuf, A again the voweled consonant, and H, Heh. KHANUKAH. _____
It might be CH instead of KH if the CH were always pronounced as in Bach,
or Loch Lomond. In English however, CH is usually the CH in chair, or
cherries, or cheese. Sometimes CH is just K as in chemistry and choir or SH
in words from French like chateau, but looking through the dictionary there
is no word beginning with CH which is pronounced with that guttural sound.
How all the other spellings appeared is anyone's guess. The double N's and
K's are particularly mysterious, no reason for them at all.
In alphabetical order I have seen the following spellings for this five
letter Hebrew word: Channuka, Channukah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanuko,
Hannuka, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Kanukkah, Khannuka,
Khannukah, Khanuka, Khanukah and Khanukkah. A newspaper announcement last
year illustrated the problem perfectly: "Hanukkah Dance. The Chavurah of
the Hebrew Institute will hold a Hannukah dance. . ." Two different
transliterations for the same letter and two different spellings for the
Rabbis conjure up their own versions. Newspapers and magazines are
arbitrary. Jewish publications carry ten variations in one issue.
Advertisers for reasons known only to themselves and surely not to God,
because in His infinite wisdom He avoids such petty arguments, make up
their own spelling. The time has come to do something about a uniform
spelling for the name of this holiday. Purim presents no problem, Pesah is
also acceptable, even Pesach. Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur (although why
the double P when there's only one P in Hebrew) are the norm, but poor
Feast of the Maccabees.
I have a solution to propose. In Russian the letter X has the equivalent
sound for the "KH" sound, or "CH" as in Bach, or Ich or Loch. So few words
begin with "X" in English that this would solve the problem without causing
too much confusion. Make it XANUKA and you've got it. The X could also be
used for foreign names and words using that sound that come into our
language and need a precise spelling. Introducing the X would be the
closest to the sound, which is what transliteration is intended to do.
Russians laugh XA, XA, XA and not CHA, CHA, CHA, which is related to the
mambo. Why not establish the X as the equivalent for the sound from Hebrew?
Let the Conferences of Rabbis, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish
Organizations, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the United
Synagogues of America, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jewish Week,
Hadassah, the Jewish Museum, the UJA, B'nai B'rith, Agudath Israel,
Brandeis University and all the other Jewish organizations and institutions
plus the major American newspapers including The New York Times and the
Washington Post, decide once and for all that the way to write that eight
day holiday is Xanuka. Or is that too much XUTSPA? If the "X" is
unac-ceptable, let's settle on Khanukah and everyone will be Khappy. It is
time that the Jewish people agreed on at least one thing. Who can tell
where such agreement might lead?
This article under various titles:
There Is More Than One Way to Spell..
15 ways to Spell a 5 letter Holiday
Happy Xanuka! Ooops, we mean Chanukah, or Hanukkah, Right?,