(Israel National News) Christmas is a day like any other in most Hasidic neighborhoods in New York: Children go to school, shops are open, and tinsel and holly are nowhere to be seen.
But Christmas Eve occupies a special place on the Hasidic calendar as a kind of "silent night," when beit midrash study halls fall silent.
Known as "Nittel Nacht," the hours leading up to Christmas include a few peculiar traditions in Hasidic communities. It's one of only two times during the year when Torah study is avoided (the other is the summertime fast day of Tisha b'Av). Couples traditionally abstain from sex. Yeshiva students are encouraged to engage in such "kosher" secular activities as playing chess or doing household chores.
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And when it's over – at the stroke of midnight, the same time many churches hold Midnight Mass – Hasidic study halls come alive when a community leader bangs on a lectern to signal the resumption of Torah study.