As you gather for the first night of Hanukkah, I want to send to you a question and text for discussion with family, friends and guests. Each night of Hanukkah I will send you a distinct question and text for your discussion. These questions and texts form the content the Hanukkah Seder we are sharing with the public on Friday night (see below).
First question on the first night of Hanukkah.
What Was the Miracle of Hanukkah?
Here are two different depictions of the miracle of Hanukkah from different ancient texts.
The First Depiction
"And they kept the 8 days (of the new festival) with gladness, as in the festival of Sukkot, remembering that not long before they had observed the festival of Sukkot as they wandered in the mountains and dens like beasts. (Now, back in Jerusalem) they bore branches, and fair boughs, and palms also, and sang psalms unto God who had given them success in cleansing his place (the Temple). They ordained also by a common statute and decree, that every year those 8 days should be kept by the whole nation of the Jews." (2 Maccabees 10:6-8, a ancient work that was not included in the Jewish Bible).
The Second Depiction
The 25th of Kislev is the first day of Hanukkah. For 8 days mourning is forbidden. Why? When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils that were there. When the House of the Hasmoneans (the Maccabees) prevailed and won a victory over them, they searched and found only one cruse [of oil] with the seal of the High Priest that was not defiled. It had only [enough oil] to burn for one day. A miracle happened , and there was light from it for 8 days. In the following year they established 8 festival days." (Babylonian Talmud, Megillat Taanit 9)
These two depictions reveal a dispute about the origins of Hanukkah. Was it a belated celebration of the festival of Sukkot that celebrated the re dedication (Hanukat Habayit) of the Temple in Jerusalem, or was it the miracle of the cruze of oil that lasted 8 days. The later rabbis were very ambivalent about the Hasmoneans because they became oppressors of the emerging Jewish movement led by "the rabbis". In other words these texts reveal an ambivalence about the meaning of Hanukkah. Do we emphasize it as a military victory or a religious miracle?
Rabbi Dov Gartenberg
Convener and Director of Panim Hadashot