It’s the most magical time of year: to watch the one Hanukkah movie for children, A Rugrats Chanukah. You can watch the full 23 minute, 44 second episode on Hulu, where all of our screencaps are from. The episode was originally broadcast on December 4, 1996, on Nickelodeon, and aired on CBS on December 1, 2001. It’s one of the most popular episodes of Rugrats ever.
We’re here, at your service, to fact check this classic like we did for A Rugrats Passover. (Note: We fully disagree with their spelling, so we’ll be calling it Hanukkah from here on out.)
The episode begins and ends with a song by the Mt. Zion Women’s Choir singing “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” (you know, the one that goes One for each night, they shed a sweet light, to remind us of days long ago). We recommend playing the song as you read through this.
This choir is, to our best knowledge, fictional, and they also make an appearance throughout the episode.
They’re our new heroes.
There are a few plots going on in this episode: (1) Grandpa Boris and his frenemy Shlomo (they went to school in Russia together, duh) are in a synagogue play about Hanukkah. Shlomo got featured in the newspaper, and Boris did not, and Boris is mad that Shlomo always upstages him; (2) Angelica wants to watch a Christmas special featuring her favorite doll Cynthia; and (3) the babies want to defeat the “Meany of Hanukkah” (a.k.a. Shlomo) after they hear how upset Boris is.
Unlike A Rugrats Passover, which straightforwardly tells the tale of Passover, this one weaves more baby shenanigans along with the story of Hanukkah. We’re here to fact-check for you.
🕎 ANCIENT ISRAEL 🕎
Long ago, in the land of Israel, the Jewish people lived happily with their neighbors, the ancient Greeks.
Fact check #1: Ancient Israelites lived happily with their neighbors.
Grandma Mika is reading to the babies about Hanukkah, and the story begins with two assumptions: (1) it happened long ago in the land of Israel (true!) and (2) the Jewish people lived happily with their neighbors (not really “happily,” they were still being ruled by a foreign power, but okay).
There came a new king of the Greeks who wanted everyone to be just like him… From now on, King Antiochus says you have to wear what he wears and read what he reads…. You also have to worship his Gods.
Fact check #2: The new Greek King wanted everyone to assimilate.
True! Kind of. He wasn’t really a Greek King, more a Syrian Greek. But the gist is correct. According to My Jewish Learning, “In 168 BCE, the ruler of the Syrian kingdom, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, stepped up his campaign to quash Judaism, so that all subjects in his vast empire — which included the Land of Israel — would share the same culture and worship the same gods.”
Fact check #3: The Jews wore tallit (prayer shawls).
Kinda true! Since we already covered that King Antiochus wanted people to assimilate, let’s just talk about the visuals here. Tommy and Chuckie are both wearing kippot and tallit, which is possibly historically accurate. Biblical Jews did wear a square garment with strings hanging off of it; it may not have been the tallit we think of today, but it’s sorta accurate. Unclear about the kippot. I’m not a Biblical historian, merely a Rugrats fan.
Some people thought this new way of life was fine.
Fact check #4: Some Jews were okay with their new ruler!
Probably true! But there was not a Goddess named Cynthia, sorry Angelica.
Fact check #5: the Hebrew in the frame.
The Hebrew reads “mohel,” a.k.a. a circumcision doctor, which is why it’s funny there’s a sign hanging that says “cut rate.” Love a good circumcision joke!
🕎 BASIC JEW THINGS 🕎
(Chuckie and Tommy are secretly reading the Torah, #RESIST.)
Chuckie: If that new King catches us with our old books, we’ll get in a lot of trouble.
Tommy: I don’t care, Chuckie! These are the books our forefathers read and our fivefathers and our sixfathers and I’m not stopping now!
A Greek soldier storms in: “Hey just what are you babies up to?” Tommy & Chuckie say they are just playing with their dreidels.
Fact check #6: Jews read the same books for lots of generations.
True! We’re the people of the book!
Fact check #7: Jonah and Moses are biblical stories.
True! [Update: As a reader pointed out, Jonah is not technically in the Torah, but the Tanach.]
Fact check #8: Playing dreidels.
A fun nod to the Hanukkah song, dreidel dreidel dreidel, we made it out of clay… But unfortunately, false. The dreidel game isn’t as old as the story of Hanukkah, and it originally had nothing to do with Hanukkah.
🕎 MACCABEES 🕎
“So a hero stepped forward to challenge the King, and his name was Judah Maccabee…. He was a brave leader and he led his people in daring raids against the more powerful armies of the evil king…”
Chuckie wails in the background, in a tone best described as a verklempt Jewish mom.”Tommy, what are you doing?!”
Tommy responds with the iconic line, “A maccababy’s gotta do what a maccababy’s gotta do.”
Fact check #9: Judah Maccabee.
Kinda true, kinda false! Judah Maccabee was a leader, but the revolt was originally launched by the priest Mattathias. It was later led by his third son, Judah. Judah did use guerrilla tactics, but they also used a real army and diplomacy. The revolt did achieve rapid success.
Fact check #10: A maccababy’s gotta do what a maccababy’s gotta do.
Now we transition out of the story of Hanukkah and into the Pickles’ home.
Boris: “Latkes! Oy, I love this holiday.”
Fact check #11: Latkes are great.
Charles: “Potatoes, water, and salt? Well, somehow they just don’t seem like pancakes.”
Didi: “They’re potato pancakes, Charles! We fry these, and sometimes donuts to remind us of the oil in the miracle of Hanukkah.”
Fact check #12: Potato pancakes are pancakes, made up of potato, water, and salt.
So close, but no. Standard latkes are made with potatoes, eggs, and salt. Here’s our favorite recipe.
Fact check #12: We eat fried foods to remind us of the miracle of Hanukkah.
True, once more! That’s the holiday!
Boris: The miracle is that these have clogged our people’s arteries for 2,000 years.
Fact check #13: 2,000 years of latkes.
False. Latkes are not that old, unfortunately.
🕎 HANUKKAH RITUALS 🕎
Tommy: Mom’s making pancakes.
Lil: Wait, you don’t supposed to make pancapes in the nighttime!
Fact check #14: Latkes every night.
True, sort of. As editor of The Nosher Shannon Sarna explains, “It’s traditional to eat fried foods, but most people probably don’t eat latkes every night. They might have sufganiyot [doughnuts], or cook with olive oil.”
Lil: What is it?
Tommy: I don’t know, but every night I have to war a funny hat while Grandpa Boris says some stuff I don’t understand and Mom lights another candle.
Fact check #14: Tommy wears a “funny hat” (kippah) while his family says the Hanukkah blessings.
Fact check #15: Tommy’s mom lights a new candle each night.
True, again. Very basic Hanukkah rituals.
Fact check #16: Boris says “stuff” Tommy doesn’t understand.
Yes, true, Boris would be saying the Hanukkah blessings in Hebrew.
🕎 HANUKKAH PRONUNCIATION 🕎
These screenshots speak for themselves.
Fact check #17: You have to “CH” when you say Hanukkah.
🕎 NOT A FACT CHECK JUST A GREAT SCENE 🕎
Stu is making a large Hanukkah calliope (a whistle organ thing) for the synagogue’s Hanukkah play, and his dad asks him why he’s working so hard. His response? “I want to Tommy to be proud of his heritage and show Didi I’m supportive of Hanukkah.”
No fact-check, we just stan a supportive non-Jew! An interfaith family!
🕎 USE OF YIDDISH 🕎
Boris is very annoyed at the review of the synagogue play.
Fact check #18: Chutzpah.
Yes, while chutzpah often has a positive connotation, it can also mean the nerve of this person!
Fact check #19: Tuchus.
As in butt. Perfect use, Grandpa Boris.
🕎 HANUKKAH PARTY / SYNAGOGUE 🕎
Fact check #20: Klezmer music playing.
Like, sure? It feels a little stereotypical, and it is not necessary for Hanukkah parties. Do we need klezmer music? No. Is it easy to indicate Judaism? Yeah.
Fact check #21: Dreidel costumes.
Again, sure? I personally have never seen them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Fact check #22: Donuts & latkes served at a Hanukkah party.
Can’t you just hear this picture? This is the rabbi/director of the synagogue play. And the mannerisms are down.
Fact check #23: How Jews shrug and ask questions.
Spot on, Rugrats.
Angelica is looking for a TV, but finds the Torahs. The rabbi praises her for her curiosity, and begins to explain what the Torahs are.
Fact check #24: Torahs in the arc, and that Torah is almost 3,000 years old.
Yes, Torahs are stored in an arc in a synagogue. And yes, they can be very old! True!
Angelica bumps into the man in a dreidel costume who she tripped earlier, and he yells at her for breaking a “shin.”
Fact check #25: Dreidels have shins.
Not only is this a great Hanukkah pun, it is true that one of the sides of the dreidel is the Hebrew letter shin. (In our dreidel drinking game, shin means you take a drink. In normal driedel, it means adding a game piece to the pot.)
🕎 HANUKKAH PLAY 🕎
Boris, as Judah Maccabee, tells Shlomo, King Antiochus, that his people will not follow his evil ways.
Fact check #26: Judah confronts the King.
False. This probably didn’t happen, and is more for dramatic affect.
Then Shlomo and Boris have a confrontation backstage….
Shlomo admits he and his late wife could never have children, and is sad that he has no one to share his tradition with. Boris feels bad for accusing him of prioritizing work over family. It’s honestly very deep for a Rugrats episode.
The babies then find Shlomo (they think he is the “Meany of Hanukkah”) and Tommy tries to get him to read the rest of the story.
Fact check #27: Use of Kinderlach and Tatelah.
Kinderlach means children, so yes, accurate. But tatelah is a term of endearment typically reserved for boys (roughly tranlating to “little daddy”), so Boris wouldn’t be saying that to Angelica. He’d probably opt for mameleh.
🕎 THE END OF THE HANUKKAH STORY 🕎
Shlomo reads the book, picking up where Minka left off at the start of the episode…
Shlomo: And so against all odds, Judah the Maccabee won the right for his people to live and learn in the way of their forefathers. But after the war, the people of Israel had a difficult task. Though Antiochus had been driven from their land, he left their cities and their holy temple in a terrible mess!
Fact check #28: Judah Maccabee defeated the Greeks.
True. In the Maccabean Revolt, Judah did triumph. As My Jewish Learning explains, “The revolt achieved rapid success. At the end of the year 164 BC, the first Festival of Light (Hanukkah) was celebrated in a Temple purified of all pagan cults. (It is only through this festival that the revolt was transmitted to rabbinical posterity. The history of the revolt was retained only in Greek texts later preserved by Christian authors.)”
Fact check #29: The land was a mess.
Maybe? No way to know! It’s ancient history!
And their beautiful menorah, which was supposed to burn forever, was broken and its flame put out.
Fact check #30: The menorah in the Temple was broken and had no light.
Probably true; under King Antiochus, the Temple was turned into a pagan shrine. When “Judah and his followers were able to capture the Temple in Jerusalem… They cleansed it and rededicated it to Israel’s God.”
Boris reminds Shlomo the babies don’t know what a menorah is, so Shlomo says, “A menorah is like the night-light of our people. In times of darkness, it shines on the world. Reminding us not to be afraid to be different, but to be proud of who we are.”
Fact check #31: Why we light a menorah.
True! This is why Jews put menorahs in their window sills, for everyone to see: We are proud to be Jews.
Fact check #32: Some people light their menorah with oil, some use candles.
True! Oil is more uncommon than candles these days, but some Jews still use it to light their menorahs during Hanukkah.
Boris: So the people prepared their temple, but the Greeks had left only enough oil to burn in the menorah for one night.
Shlomo: But, they lit the menorah anyways…
Chuckie: What are we gonna do? It’ll take eight days to make more oil!
Fact check #33: The Jews only had enough oil to last one night, but they lit the menorah anyway.
True! THIS IS THE WHOLE POINT OF HANUKKAH!!
Shlomo: What they needed was a miracle.
Tommy: [A miracle] is when something good happens that you thought would never happen.
Fact check #34: A miracle is when something good happens that you thought would never happen.
Kinda true… A miracle is more commonly defined as something with divine intervention. As the dictionary says, “A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”
Boris: But one day went by, and then another, and another, until finally, the eight days had passed and the flame was still burning.
Fact check #35: Eight days went by and the flame was still burning.
True! Again: the story of Hanukkah!
Fact check #36: The days of Kislev.
Nice attention to detail, Rugrats. Hanukkah takes place staring on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.
🕎 THE MEANING OF HANUKKAH 🕎
Boris: And that’s why we light the menorah every year to remember the miracle of Hanukkah.
Fact check #37: We light the menorah to remember the miracle.
Shlomo: And so ends our little play. And may it be our sincerest Hanukkah wish that our Kinderlach will continue to carry the light of our people for generations to come.
Fact check #38: Elderly Jews wish for young Jews to carry on the tradition, l’dor vador.
True. This is the hope of Judaism, and Jewish grandparents worldwide.
Then Boris ends with the prayer, which he says in the classic accent of a Jewish grandparent.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Fact check #39: The Hanukkah prayer.
True. (This is just one of two prayers you say nightly, but yes, it’s accurate.)
Fact check #40: Pronunciation of the Hanukkah prayer.
I can’t explain to you what this is, but hearing it, it just sounds so right. Rugrats, I am so proud.
🕎 🕎 🕎
Overall, A Rugrats Hanukkah did a remarkably accurate job of telling the story of Hanukkah. I actually learned a lot on this re-watch, tbh. I am deeply impressed. Mazel tov, Rugrats!