Q. What is the basis of giving Chanukah gelt (“Chanukah money”)?
Originally, however, Chanukah gelt (in Hebrew, d’mei Chanukah) had a serious connotation.
Coinage was a sign of national independence. The minting of coins was introduced at the time of the Persian empire. Previously, money took the form of a set weight of precious metal; hence, the price Abraham paid for Machpelah was “four hundred silver shekels, current with the merchant” (Gen. 23:15-16). The shekel was a weight, not a coin.
The issuing of coins by the Persians was at first limited to the central government, but subsequently allowed in every province.
Whilst Judea remained under foreign domination, it did not have its own independent coinage, and the right to mint their own coins became a major symbolic feature of the Maccabean struggle.
Some of the coins of the period have been discovered by archeologists. Represented on them are the lulav and etrog and the words, Lig’ulat Tziyyon – “for the redemption of Zion”.