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A Question for the 7th Night of Hanukkah: What is the Historic Legacy of Hanukkah?


The Questions posed are in this series of blog posts are part of Rabbi Gartenberg's Hanukkah Seder. For a copy, write to him at

Question for the 7th Night:  What is the historical legacy of Hanukkah?

Dipping for the 7th Question: Dip a piece of challah into mixed oil of bitter lemon and rosewater.

Effect   An sweet scent that tempers a bitter taste.

Text for Discussion 

Paraphrase of Babylonian Talmud Gittin 56a

"Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans prior to 70CE, @200 years alter the revolt of the Maccabees. The Biryoni (the zealot gangs) were then in the city.

The Rabbis said to them: Let us go out and make peace with them [the Romans], They would not let them leave but on the contrary said, Let us go out and fight Romans.

The Rabbis said: You will not succeed. The Biryoni then rose up and burnt the stores of wheat and barley so that a famine ensued. 

Abba Sikra the head of the Biryoni in Jerusalem was the son of the sister of Rabban Yochanan b. Zakkai.  Rabban Yochanan sent to him saying, 'Come to visit me privately.'  When he came he said to him, 'How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people of Jerusalem with starvation? 'He replied: 'What can I do? If I say a word to my men, they will kill me.' He said: 'Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to save a little.' He said to him: 'Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you, Bring something evil smelling and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Then let your disciples put you in a bier with some stones so that the sentries shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse.' He did so, and. R. Eliezer went under the bier from one side and R. Joshua from the other. When they reached the door, some men wanted to put a lance through the bier. He said to them: 'Shall [the Romans] say. They have pierced their Master?' They wanted to give it a push. He said to them: 'Shall they say that they pushed their Master?' They opened a town gate for him and he got out."

Commentary for Discussion

Imagine that all the historic figures carried in their memory the success of the Maccabean revolt. How might that have shaped their view of the resistance to the Romans and the Roman army 200 years later?  Yochanan's decision to abandon Jerusalem was one of the most important decisions of Jewish history?  What does this story reveal about the legacy of Hanukkah?