The Jewish community in Ukraine also lights Hanukkah candles in public locations. For the second year in a row, the Conservative/Masorti community has been celebrating the Holiday of Light by lighting candles on a large Hanukkiya placed in one of the main squares of Ukraine’s capital, Kontraktova Square in the historic district of Podyl. This year, the Hanukkiya was attacked by vandals who drew a swastika on it on the very first night of the holiday, splattered a red liquid resembling blood on the 6th night and took down the leaflets explaining the meaning and traditions of the holiday in the meantime.
What are the cultural-evolutionary origins of our Holiday of Lights? To be sure, the rabbis of the Talmud tell us in Tractate Shabbat 21a that the miracle of Hanukkah is what we teach our children, and perhaps why we eat latkes and jelly doughnuts, all laden with (way too much) oil. However other accounts of the story, including one other rabbinic source – the Al Ha’Nissim paragraph added to the Amida and Birkat Hamazon during the holiday – make no mention of this miracle.
On other holidays we read a megillah (scroll), but on Hanukkah why don’t we read a Hanukkah scroll? Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institutes, tells the fascinating history of the little known Megillat Antiochus, also known as the Book of the Hasmoneans, that was read in public between the 9th and 20th centuries.
On Chanukah in the year 1897, shortly after the First Zionist Congress was held, Theodore Herzl wrote an article called “The Menorah,” in which he compared himself to the shamash that lights and wakes Jews of all affiliations. Recent research on Herzl and his family points to the bond between Judaism and Zionism that was the cornerstone of his Zionist thought. Herzl was not raised as an Orthodox Jew nor did he become such, yet the shift in his attitude towards Jews of different stripes represented a move away from the assimilationist stance of his youth, when he was alienated from Judaism.
Have you addressed the matter of [Hanukkah] gelt, and especially that of gifts, from a historical and halakhic standpoint? Are there articles you could point me towards? Texts? Responsa?
Chanukah, the Festival of Lights – when those colorful little candles illuminate the great darkness imposed by nature, when the days are short and the moon has waned – provides us with a good opportunity to recount the story of the growing, multifaceted Spiritual Care movement in Israel, which is bringing light and gladness to those in darkness and despondency.
The great strength of any national movement, Zionism included, is founded on its social justification and is based to a large extent upon foundations built in the past.[note] Shmuel Almog, “The Historical Dimension of Jewish Nationalism,”Zion, 53, 4 (1986), pp.405-421.[/note] Zionism chose to establish itself upon fundamentals that were familiar to its supporters and with which they identified; the same principles would also be respected by the free world. On this basis did the Zionist leaders present themselves and their movement, taking care to differentiate Zionists from “the others.” [note] Ibid., p. 417.[/note]
The regulations for lighting the Hanukkah lamp are found in neither the Mishnah nor the Tosefta, the corpora reflecting halakhic practice in the land of Israel in the years immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple. The main source for the rabbinic laws of Hanukkah is a series of passages in the Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21a-24b. These passages contain much material attributed to sages from the land of Israel, but the fact that there is no comprehensive discussion of the laws of Hanukkah in tannaitic or amoraic literature from the land of Israel itself led Louis Ginzberg to doubt the attribution of some of the material in the Babylonian corpus.
The holiday of Hanukkah has many beautiful customs such as the dreidl, latkes, and sufganiyot, but there is one custom which we would expect to find on Hanukkah which seems to be missing – the reading of a scroll in public. After all, on Purim we read the Scroll of Esther every year in order to publicize the miracle. Why don’t we read a scroll on Hanukkah in order to publicize the miracles which God wrought for our ancestors in the days of Matityahu and his sons? The result is that most Jews only know the legend about the miracle of the cruse of oil (Shabbat21b) and not about the actual military victories of the Maccabees.
Traditionally, Hanukkah celebrates two distinct events: the victory of the Maccabees and the restoration of the Temple after its desecration. The military victory is stressed in the Al Hanissim prayer, while the Talmudic passage concerning Hanukkah (Shabbat 21b) emphasizes the rededication and the related miracle of the oil. Another motif was apparently added to the festival during the reign of Herod: the kindling of the Hanukkah lights in ascending order, in honor of the winter solstice, which marks the lengthening of the daylight hours (see Moshe Benovitz, ” Hordos veHanukkah “, Zion 68 (2003), pp. 5-40).