Monday, December 14, 2009

The Mathematics of Hanukkah

The biggest problem the Jewish people in the U.S. have is a matter of numbers. Perhaps it stems from being a minority that has been further reduced by assimilation - and when you combine assimilation and minority you get asymmetry.

The asymmetrical Jewish issue manifests itself most notably in packages of kosher hot dogs. Kosher hot dogs are simply the best tasting, but that’s a subject for another day. The problem with them is that they come 7 to a package. The buns are 8 to a package. Since 7 is a prime number, the least common multiple of 7 and 8 is 7 X 8, or 56. You have to serve 56 hot dogs to make it come out even. To use them all, we could have a big BBQ in the back yard, but that will never happen. Why? Because Jews don’t have backyard BBQ parties.

The other asymmetry problem affects only 8/365ths of the year, at Hanukkah. To light the candles for all eight days, including the shamash candle, you need 2 + 3 + 4 + 5+ 6 + 7 + 8 +9 candles. To sum a series of numbers from 1 to n, the formula is ((n+1 * n) / 2. In this case, since there is no 1, the formula is (((9+1)*9)/2 )– 1 = 44. These can be neatly packaged in several ways. Go to any store that sells them and you will find rectangular boxes with 4 rows of 11 nestled together, or alternating rows 5,6,5,6,5,6,5,6 or 7,8,7,8,7,8 (one extra, just in case) or in some triangular box configuration. (The 5,6 or 7,8 are from Shlamiel, Shlamozzel, Hanukkah Candles, Incorporated). Any of these will work, so what’s the problem?

Look at all those different styles of candles! There is no freaking standard size! The same thing goes for the candleholder parts of your Hanukkiah.
You get your candles home and they are either Olive Oyls that are just too skinny and flop over, or they are Popeye arms on steroids and you have to carve the bottoms to make them fit.

If you go buy socket wrenches at Home Depot, there are standards so that you know the wrenches you buy will fit the nuts that exist in the world. Okay, you have to buy metric and SAE to be sure you are covered, but the point is, standards exist for wrenches and nuts. For Hanukkah candles and menorahs, not so much. There is no Bayit Depot to go find compatible symmetry of candles and holders.

Do you know how many nit-picky, detailed laws and procedures are in the Torah? Precise steps are written for how to prepare a sacrifice or wear clothes or any number of things (probably an irrational number of things). Beyond the Torah, there are specific rules on how to ensure that kosher hot dogs are kosher. So, could there be a rule that says you put eight hot dogs in a package or you standardize the candleholders and candles for Hanukkah? Eh. I guess God did not find this important.

Of course, there is no standardization of spelling for Hanukkah, so what was I even thinking?

I am sure Rabbis have considered the candle/candleholder issue and there is a reason, which comes to us through interpretation of the Torah. I should ask next time our Rabbi comes over for a backyard BBQ party.


Gilah with an H said...

Kind of makes my Gila or Gilah heartburn seem petty...

Jim Donahue said...

Well, you guys do have the best hot dogs, anyway.

JohnnyB said...

Gilah - you could also throw in Gilla or Gillah if you really want some tsuris.
On a different note, I assume some wiseacre has suggested you visit Havana, Gilah.

Jim, It's the secret spices. Well, and the lack of nasty bits.