Gambling had role in religious history

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With Hanukkah beginning Tuesday night, Jews can look forward to the annual rituals of menorah-lighting, blessings, gift-giving - and gambling.

In some Jewish homes, not only do children risk a stash of chocolate or goodies spinning the dreidel, but their parents play kvitlech, similar to blackjack. According to Dwayne Carpenter, Boston College scholar and a man who enjoys an occasional hand of blackjack and poker, Hanukkah card-playing was a traditional cover for Torah study, which had been outlawed for Jews by a Syrian-Greek king in the second century BCE.

With the Massachusetts Legislature bracing for a debate over casino gambling, endorsed by Governor Deval Patrick, several religious leaders, including Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, have spoken out against the proposal. Others are readying organized opposition to the proposal. It is interesting to note that the objectors include some from religions with a historical tolerance for certain games of chance.

"Both the Catholic and Jewish traditions traditionally set aside days for gambling," said Carpenter, who as chairman of BC's Romance Languages and Literature Department seems at first blush an unlikely authority on the subject. But he's also a practicing Jew who read religious legal texts about gambling during a stint in law school. Last month, he was among the specialists addressing a BC conference on gambling and theology.

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