Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukah, Oh Hanukkah

The holiday of Chanukah (yeah, that's how I spell it) begins at sundown tonight. It commemorates the temporary victory of religious zealotry over political tyranny, but lit candles are pretty, aren't they?

Here is one of my favorite songs:

The apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees 4:52-59. provides the earliest account (late second-century BCE) of the origins of Chanukah. The Douay-Rheims text appears below:
52: And they arose before the morning on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month (which is the month of Casleu) in the hundred and forty-eighth year.
53: And they offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of holocausts which they had made.
54: According to the time, and according to the day wherein the heathens had defiled it, in the same was it dedicated anew with canticles, and harps, and lutes, and cymbals.
55: And all the people fell upon their faces, and adored, and blessed up to heaven, him that had prospered them.
56: And they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and they offered holocausts with joy, and sacrifices of salvation, and of praise.
57: And they adorned the front of the temple with crowns of gold, and escutcheons, and they renewed the gates, and the chambers, and hanged doors upon them.
58: And there was exceeding great joy among the people, and the reproach of the Gentiles was turned away.
59: And Judas, and his brethren, and all the church of Israel decreed, that the day of the dedication of the altar should be kept in its season from year to year for eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu, with joy and gladness.
A first-century BCE account is 2 Maccabees 10:1-8 (again, Douay-Rheims):
1: But Machabeus, and they that were with him, by the protection of the Lord, recovered the temple and the city again.
2: But he threw down the altars, which the heathens had set up in the streets, as also the temples of the idols.
3: And having purified the temple, they made another altar: and taking fire out of the fiery stones, they offered sacrifices after two years, and set forth incense, and lamps, and the leaves of proposition.
4: And when they had done these things, they besought the Lord, lying prostrate on the ground, that they might no more fall into such evils; but if they should at any time sin, that they might be chastised by him more gently, and not be delivered up to barbarians and blasphemous men.
5: Now upon the same day that the temple had been polluted by the strangers, on the very same day it was cleansed again, to wit, on the five and twentieth day of the month of Casleu.
6: And they kept eight days with joy, after the manner of the feast of the tabernacles, remembering that not long before they had kept the feast of the tabernacles when they were in the mountains, and in dens like wild beasts.
7: Therefore they now, carried boughs, and green branches, and palms for Him that had given them good success in cleansing his place.
8: And they ordained by a common statute, and decree, that all the nation of the Jews should keep those days every year.
The story about the oil lamp and the eight days appears first in the Megillat Ta'anit ("Scroll of Fasting"). Follow the link to the relevant passage in Hebrew. The story also is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 2 (page 34):
What is 'Hanukah? The rabbis taught: "On the twenty-fifth day of Kislev 'Hanukah commences and lasts eight days, on which lamenting (in commemoration of the dead) and fasting are prohibited. When the Hellenists entered the sanctuary, they defiled all the oil that was found there. When the government of the House of Asmoneans prevailed and conquered them, oil was sought (to feed the holy lamp in the sanctuary) and only one vial was found with the seal of the high priest intact. The vial contained sufficient oil for one day only, but a miracle occurred, and it fed the holy lamp eight days in succession. These eight days were the following year established as days of good cheer, on which psalms of praise and acknowledgment (of God's wonders) were to be recited.
If you thought I was going to include Adam Sandler's hokey Chanukah Song here, you were mistaken. Bah Chumbug!


  1. Thanks for this! Always nice to read the original texts that get lost in the glow of candlelight, and heartburn of latkes!

  2. p.s. my note on a similar theme:


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