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Ḥanukkah

ḤANUKKAH

ḤANUKKAH (Heb. חֲנֻכָּה; "dedication"), an annual eight-day festival commencing on the 25th of Kislev. According to a well-founded tradition it was instituted by *Judah Maccabee and his followers. The term ḥanukkah is found in Hebrew and in Aramaic (ḥanukta) in rabbinic literature, while in Greek it is ὸ ὲγκαινισμὸς τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, "dedication of the altar," (i Maccabees 4:59) and τἁ ὲγκαίνια, "feast of the dedication" (John 10:22, where it is an abbreviation of ḥanukkat ha-mizbe'aḥ, "dedication of the altar," of i Maccabees, and of ḥanukkat beit Ḥashmonai, "dedication of the Hasmonean Temple" in rabbinic literature). The sources which refer to Ḥanukkah yield little information on the institution of the festival. They were composed long (perhaps even generations) after its establishment; legends seem to be inextricably interwoven with the historical traditions. i Maccabees (4:36–59) states that Judah Maccabee, after defeating Lysias, entered Jerusalem and purified the Temple. The altar that had been defiled was demolished and a new one was built. Judah then made new holy vessels (among them a candelabrum, an altar for incense, a table, and curtains) and set the 25th of Kislev as the date for the rededication of the Temple. The day coincided with the third anniversary of the proclamation of the restrictive edicts of Antiochus Epiphanes in which he had decreed that idolatrous sacrifices should be offered on a platform erected upon the altar. The altar was to be consecrated with the renewal of the daily sacrificial service, accompanied by song, the playing of musical instruments, the chanting of *Hallel, and the offering of sacrifices (no mention of any special festival customs is made). The celebrations lasted for eight days and Judah decreed that they be designated as days of rejoicing for future generations. Ḥanukkah, as the festival that commemorates the dedication of the altar, is also mentioned in the scholium of *Megillat Ta'anit, as well as in the traditional *Al ha-Nissim ("We thank Thee for the miracles") prayer for Ḥanukkah.

In ii Maccabees (1:8; 10:1–5), the main aspects of Ḥanukkah are related as in i Maccabees. The book adds, however, that the eight-day dedication ceremony was performed on an analogy with *Solomon's consecration of the Temple (2:12). The eight days were celebrated "with gladness like the Feast of Tabernacles remembering how, not long before, during the Feast of Tabernacles, they had been wandering like wild beasts in the mountains and the caves. So, bearing wands wreathed with leaves and fair boughs and palms, they offered hymns of praise" (10:6–8). Ḥanukkah is, therefore, called *Tabernacles (1:9), or Tabernacles and Fire (1:18). Fire had descended from heaven at the dedication of the altar in the days of Moses and at the sanctification of the Temple of Solomon; at the consecration of the altar in the time of *Nehemiah there was also a miracle of fire, and so in the days of Judah Maccabee (1:18–36, 2:8–12, 14; 10:3).

Josephus, whose history of Ḥanukkah is based on i Maccabees, does not mention the term Ḥanukkah and concludes: "From that time onward unto this day we celebrate the festival, calling it 'Lights'" (Φῶτα, Ant. 12:325). He explains that the festival acquired this name because the right to serve God came to the people unexpectedly, like a sudden light (ibid.).

None of these writings mentions the kindling of lights on Ḥanukkah. Reference is first made in a baraita: "The precept of light on Ḥanukkah requires that one light be kindled in each house; the zealous require one light for each person; the extremely zealous add a light for each person each night. According to Bet *Shammai: 'On the first day, eight lights should be kindled, thereafter they should be progressively reduced' while *Hillel held that: 'On the first night one light should be kindled, thereafter they should be progressively increased'" (Scholium to Megillat Ta'anit; Shab. 21b). Another baraita states that the Hasmoneans could not use the candelabrum in the Temple since the Greeks had defiled it. They, therefore, took seven iron spits, covered them with zinc, and used them as a candelabrum (Scholium to Megillat Ta'anit). Indeed the sages of the second century c.e. observe that the candelabrum of the early Hasmoneans was not made of gold (Men. 28b; et al.). This tradition forms the core of the story, a later version of which relates that the Hasmoneans found in the Temple "eight iron bars, erected them, and kindled lights in them" (pr 2:5). Another baraita ascribes the eight-day celebration of Ḥanukkah to the kindling of the Temple candelabrum. It states that on entering the Temple, the Hasmoneans discovered that the Greeks had defiled all the oil, except for one cruse, which contained enough oil to keep the candelabrum burning for only one day. A miracle, however, happened and they kindled from it for eight days; in its commemoration a festival lasting eight days was instituted for future generations (Scholium to Megillat Ta'anit; Shab. 21b; cf. also *Scroll of Antiochus). All these stories seem to be nothing but legends, and the authenticity of the "oil cruse" story was already questioned in the Middle Ages.

Certain critics conjectured that the origin of Ḥanukkah was either a festival of the hellenized Jews or even an idolatrous festival that had occurred on the 25th of Kislev. Antiochus had, therefore, chosen the day to commence the idolatrous worship in the Temple. No allusion can be found in the sources to bear out this surmise. Ḥanukkah is also not connected in any way, except in calendrical coincidence, with the celebrations of the shortest day of the year (the birthday of the sun), or with the feasts of the Greek god Dionysius.

Most of the Ḥanukkah traditions complement one another, and what is lacking in one may be found in the other. Probably, during the eight-day dedication of the altar by Judah Maccabee, a second Tabernacles (analogous to the Second *Passover) was held because the festival had not been celebrated at its proper time. They observed the precept of taking the *lulav in the Temple though not the precept of sitting in tents, for this was done at its proper time even by the partisans in the mountains. The custom of Simhat Bet ha-Sho'evah ("the water-drawing festival"), with its kindling of torches and lamps in the courts of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, seems likely to have been transferred as well from *Sukkot to Ḥanukkah. This was the general pattern of the festival as Judah instituted it. Before long, however, the custom of taking the lulav during Ḥanukkah was abolished and forgotten in time. The author of i Maccabees, who lived in Alexander Yannai's time, was unaware of the custom although it was still remembered in the Diaspora and is recorded by Jason of Cyrene and by the author of ii Maccabees. Hints of a connection between Ḥanukkah and Sukkot are also preserved in rabbinic literature. The rejoicing with lights and illuminations in the Temple (after which Ḥanukkah came to be called Urim, "Lights") also became less common after a time so that Josephus no longer knew why the name "Lights" was given to the festival. By then, however, the custom of kindling lights on Ḥanukkah had spread to places outside Jerusalem, lights being kindled in the streets or in the homes. This variety of customs associated with Ḥanukkah is reflected in the baraita which discusses the controversy between the schools of Shammai and Hillel (see above) seemingly about the second half of the first century c.e. The custom of kindling the Ḥanukkah lights was then fixed by the sages as a rule for each man; thus it spread throughout Israel, and when other festive days mentioned in Megillat Ta'anit were revoked, Ḥanukkah remained as a holiday (rh 18b–19b). Consequently, Ḥanukkah evolved from a distinct Temple festival into a popular family one.

The halakhah prescribes that lighting the Ḥanukkah lamp should take place between "sunset and until there is no wayfarer left in the street. The lamp should be placed outside the entrance of the house. If a person lives on an upper story, it should be set on the window, nearest to the street. If he is in fear of the gentiles, the lamp may be placed inside the inner entrance of the house, and in times of danger, the precept is fulfilled by setting it on the table" (Scholium to Megillat Ta'anit; Shab. 21b). "Danger" not only existed in Ereẓ Israel during the Hadrianic persecution, but also in Babylonia, where Jews feared the *Habbarei who were fire worshipers (Shab. 45a). Perhaps because of the danger involved, Jews in Babylonia were most particular in the observance of the Ḥanukkah precepts; they decided that "because its purpose is to publicize the miracle," it takes precedence over the purchase of wine for Kiddush on the Sabbath (Shab. 23b). "Women are also obliged to kindle the Ḥanukkah lamp since they were also included in the miracle" (Shab. 23a). The precept is best fulfilled by kindling with olive oil; however, any oil may be used (ibid.). The Ḥanukkah lamp and the Ḥanukkah light may not serve any practical purpose (Shab. 21b). On kindling the lights, two benedictions are recited, one is a blessing on the lights and the other for the miracle; on the first night, "She-Heḥeyanu" (the blessing for the season) is added. The kindling of the light is followed by a short prayer which begins with the words "Ha-Nerot Hallalu" ("these lamps"; Sof. 20:4). A summary of the event, i.e., Al ha-Nissim… Bi-Ymei Mattityahu ("In the days of Mattathias") is recited in the *Amidah prayer and in the Grace after Meals. The entire Hallel is said on each of the eight days. The reading of the law is from the portion of the Torah which describes the sacrifices brought by the princes at the dedication of the sanctuary, and the kindling of the candelabrum (Num. 7:1–8:4); special *haftarot are prescribed for the Sabbaths of Ḥanukkah. *Taḥanun is not said and it is forbidden to eulogize the dead or to fast.

In medieval times, Ḥanukkah became such a popular festival it was said "Even he who draws his sustenance from charity, should borrow, or sell his cloak to purchase oil and lamps, and kindle" the Ḥanukkah light (Maim. Yad, Megillah va-Hanukkah, 4:12). In some communities, women did not work while the lights were burning, and often even during the whole of Ḥanukkah. It became the custom to feast on Ḥanukkah and, relying upon late Midrashim which associate the story of *Judith with Ḥanukkah, cheese was customarily eaten. Pancakes (latkes) are eaten in many Ashkenazi communities, and in Israel doughnuts (sufganiyyot) have become customary food for the festival. "*Ma'oz Ẓur Yeshu'ati" ("Mighty Rock of my Salvation"), a hymn composed in Germany by a 13th-century poet about whom nothing is known except his name Mordecai, is usually sung in the Ashkenazi ritual after the kindling of the lights. The Sephardim recite Psalm 30. The origin of the custom to have an additional light, the shammash ("servant") with which the Ḥanukkah lights are kindled, is based on two injunctions: not to kindle one Ḥanukkah light with another; and not to use the Ḥanukkah lights for illumination.

Hanukkah celebrations were also expressed in ways of which the halakhists disapproved, e.g., in card playing which became traditional from the end of the Middle Ages. On Ḥanukkah, children play with a dreidel or sevivon ("spinning top"), and also receive gifts of "Hanukkah money." Among Sephardim, special feasts for the children and competitions for youths are arranged. In countries where Christmas became a popular family festival, Ḥanukkah, particularly among Reform Jews, assumed a similar form. In modern Israel, Ḥanukkah symbolizes mainly the victory of the few over the many, and the courage of the Jews to assert themselves as a people, which was the impetus of the national renaissance. This view found literary and artistic expression and is also reflected in such customs as the torch relay race which sets out from *Modi'in where the revolt broke out and the Hasmoneans are buried.

In Israel giant Ḥanukkah lamps, visible for great distances, are kindled during the feast atop public buildings, such as the Knesset building in Jerusalem.

bibliography:

O.S. Rankin, The Origins of the Festival of Ḥanukkah… (1930); idem, in: The Labyrinth, ed. by S.H. Hooke (1935), 161–209; E. Bickerman, The Maccabees (1947), 42–44; S.J. Zevin, Ha-Mo'adim ba-Halakhah (196310), 156–81; T.H. Gaster, Purim and Hanukkah in Custom and Tradition (1950); idem, Festivals of the Jewish Year (1955); V. Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (1959), index; E. Solis-Cohen Jr., Hanukkah (1960); Krauss, in: rej, 30 (1895), 24–43, 204–19; 32 (1896), 39–50; Lévi, in: rej, 30 (1895), 220–31; 31 (1895), 119–20; Hochfeld, in: zaw, 22 (1902), 264–84; Leszynsky, in: mgwj, 55 (1911), 400–18; Liber, in: rej, 63 (1912), 20–29; Hoepfel, in: Biblica, 3 (1922), 165ff.; R. Marcus, Law in the Apocrypha (1927), 90–93; Finkelstein, in: jqr, 22 (1931/32), 169–73; Lichtenstein, in: huca, 8–9 (1931/32), 275f.; Zeitlin, in: jqr, 29 (1938/39), 1–36; Alon, Meḥkarim, 1 (1957), 15–25; Petuchowski, in: Commentary, 29 (1960), 38–43.

[Moshe David Herr]

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