(Image: Roland Scheicher/WC-PD)

The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hannukah begins at sundown tonight.

People who observe the holiday will be lighting candles in nine-branch candle holders, or menorahs, to celebrate the victory of the Maccabee rebels over the Seleucid empire in Jerusalem.

The Seleucid empire was founded by a Greek general who had served under Alexander the Greek. The Jews in ancient Palestine liked Alexander the Great, but they hated the way the Seleucid empire had treated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. One problem was that the empire had led the lights in the temple’s menorah go out.

(Related: ‘Tis the Season … to Look)

The Maccabees found enough sacred oil to light the temple’s menorah for one day. The holiday of Hannukah lasts for eight days because the oil actually lasted for eight days.

In addition to lighting candles in a menorah, customs associated with the holiday include eating potato pancakes and other foods fried in oil, eating chocolate coins, and gambling for pennies with a special top called a “dreidel.” A dreidel has four flat sides. Depending on which side is facing up when the dreidel falls, the player gets all of the pennies in the pot, half of the pennies or no pennies. About one out of four times, the player has to put a penny in the pot.

Here are four ideas about implications of Hannukah for modern financial professionals from all cultures. 

1. Learning a little about probability is good for everyone.

There’s nothing like playing with dreidel (or dice, or cards) to get a feel for the importance of risk management.

The takeaway: It’s nice to win all of the pennies, but no fun to end up with no pennies.

2. Planning for a wide range of scenarios can be helpful.

The Maccabees thought they had found only enough sacred oil to last for one day, but  it actually lasted for eight days.

The takeaway: High-frequency events might be the most common ones in the world of insured events, but it’s good to remember that low-frequency, high-severity — and low-frequency, high-gain events — can also happen.

3. Get tax policy right.

Legend has it that the Maccabees were so angry at Seleucid empire partly because the Seleucid empire used the temple’s gold and silver to pay his troops.

The takeaway: Tapping people’s wealth to fund current expenditures can lead to bad feelings, and poor ultimate outcomes.

—Read Annuities Are Like Christmas Songs. Here’s How… on ThinkAdvisor.


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