Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Shabbat Hanukkah (Miketz) 5760/1999
Hanukkah Through the Ages
Dr. Gabriel H. Cohen
Department of Bible
We have a tendency to ascribe events of the same type to certain dates, grouping together fundamental experiences of Jewish existence around these occasions. For example, we say, "We were redeemed in the month of Nisan and are destined to be redeemed in the future in the month of Nisan" (R.H. 11a and parallel texts), and thus Nisan is the focal point for the basic Jewish idea of redemption throughout all generations. At the other extreme, pain and suffering are clustered around the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av, with the Mishnah citing many tragic events in the course of history that took place precisely on these days (Ta'anit 4.6).
The period of Hanukkah as a time of intensified light and the renewal of Temple worship is also impressively reflected in Jewish literature in two different directions. Some ancient sources attest to analogous events that took place during the days of Hanukkah in other periods, while later literary sources instill new meanings relevant to contemporary times into the events of Hanukkah. Below we shall examine both directions, whose common element is that every generation is blessed with the light of renewal as symbolized by the Hanukkiah (menorah).
According to a tradition in Tractate Avodah Zarah 8a, even primordial Man experienced increasing light during the time of Hanukkah:
Hanukkah first and foremost reminds us of the restoration of Temple worship in the time of the Hasmoneans, but several sources ascribe a similar event in a different era to the same time of the year. First, the Midrash associates completion of the Tabernacle in the desert with the 25th of Kislev, as we read:
Now we turn to a question of interpretation that has been asked since the time of the Hasmoneans: what is the essence of Hanukkah and its significance throughout the generations? Differing views regarding the "miracle of Hanukkah" appear even in ancient classical texts. Especially well-known are two ancient traditions that discuss the miracle in relationship to the events which occurred in those days. One tradition comes from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 21b:
Explanations have been added through the years which enrich the significance of Hanukkah and considerably enlarge on the two reasons given in early sources: the military victory and the miracle of the oil. Every generation, it seems, has seen Hanukkah in a way fitting its own situation. For example, Hassidism emphasizes the importance of Hanukkah as a time of renewal of faith, stressing the connection between the holiday and the word hinnukh, to educate, while in the young state of Israel statesmanship and military victory ("Mi yemallel gevurot Yisrael") were stressed.
An interesting and original approach to the subject can be found in the writings of Herzl, whose article, "Die Menorah," relates to the nature of Hanukkah as it reflected Herzl's own life. Here is an excerpt from what he wrote:
Briefly he traced the intellectual consequences of this decision, the desire to separate the assimilative habits current in his home life from the primal Jewish ideas. His children could be made to see a new viewpoint. These at least should be educated as Jews. The thought of the Maccabaean festival presented an opportunity. He purchased a Menorah, but "when he held this nine-branched candelabra he became depressed. In his father's house, in his distant childhood, these little lights too, had flamed and there was something sad and sorrowful about them." It was tradition bound. He examined the Menorah. Its shape suggested that its design had followed the lines of a tree with extended branches.
"Our man was an artist, and he thought to himself, is it possible to revive this dried Menorah, to nurture its roots like a tree?... Then he considered the form and decided to design a Menorah that shall be a cluster of burgeoning buds. So passed the week.
"Came the eighth day when the whole row of lights were flaming, also the loyal ninth, the servant that serves merely to light the other eight. A great brilliance spread from the Menorah. The children's eyes glistened. To our man the illumination appeared as the flaming up of the nation. First one lit candle. It is still dark, and that one light looks sad. Then a fellow traveller joins it, one more and more. The darkness must yield. First the young and poor are enkindled, then gradually others, who love right, truth, freedom, progress, humanity and beauty. When all the candles burn one is astonished and happy over the completed task. And no task affords more happiness than to be the servant of light."
 There is another tradition, as well, which says that the Jews are destined to be redeemed in Tishre (R.H. 11a).
 The period when the days grow longer and daylight stronger is a time of joy and celebration in many of the world's cultures and religions, as is hinted at the end of this baraitha, but this is not the place for further detail.
 On the many similarities between dedication of the altar in the time of the Hasmoneans and the dedications of the altar in the time of Moses and of Solomon, not in the date but in the organization of the days, cf. N. Hakham, "Mai Hanukkah," Sefer he-Hag ve-ha-Mo'ed, (Z. Ariel, ed.), Tel Aviv 1993, pp. 142-145.
 Parallel versions appear in other prayer books, such as that of R. Saadiah Gaon, the Vitri Mahzor, the Rome Mahzor, etc. Suggestions that one recite "al ha-nissim" date back to Tractate Shabbat 24a, and an abbreviated formulation is mentioned in Masekhet Soferim (Higger ed., 20.6).
 This is the opinion presented in Bayit Haddash by R. Joel Sirkis ha-Levi. Another solution, which attempts to bridge the gap between the two explanations of why the holiday of Hanukkah was established, is suggested by R. Hezekiah ben David de Silva, author of Peri Hadash, namely, that the first day was appointed in commemoration of the military victory, and that the remaining seven days are in commemoration of the miracle of the oil. This theory also explains why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days even though the miracle of the oil was only seven days (since the oil that was found sufficed for the first day).
 Written as the feature article in Die Welt (31.12.1897), and published in Theodor Herzl: Neumim u-Ma'amarim Ziyoniyim I, Jerusalem 1976, pp. 188-190. English translation, with interpolated summaries, from Herzl, pp. 199-200.
 Referring to anti-Semitism which reached new heights in his day.
 Note that Herzl stressed a return to Jewishness, not to Zionism. This calls to mind Herzl's famous remark at the First Congress, made in response to the misgivings expressed by my grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Asher Michael Cohn, Rabbi of Basel, regarding the attitude of Zionism towards Jewish tradition: "Returning to Jewishness comes before returning to the land of the Jews."
 It appears that Herzl viewed himself as the shamash that kindles flames and hearts.
 Although this spiritual interpretation would seem far from the commonly held view in many circles in Israel, where "Maccabee" is the name of a sports organization and a brand of beer, nevertheless in Israel today the lit Hanukkiah in public places does connote the aspiration to be linked up with Jewish spiritual struggles throughout the ages.