Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

1 Maccabees 4:59

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights that commemorates the re-dedication of the [Second] Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of Judas Maccabeus.

The story of the institution of the holiday is told in the deuterocanonical book of 1 Maccabees 4:52-59, and again in 2 Maccabees 10:1-8, though without the legend that the sanctified oil to use in the lampstand should only have lasted for one night, but miraculously lasted for eight. That story is told in the Talmud, according to My Jewish Learning. The larger story of why the holiday was even needed in the first place is told in the earlier chapters of 1 Maccabees.

World religions texts often tell us that Hanukkah is a “minor holiday” in the Jewish calendar. Its prominence in the contemporary US has a great deal to do with the relentless commercial onslaught of Christmas, and the need for Jewish families to practice a kind of cultural resistance.

There’s some truth to that. But the story of Hanukkah has been a hopeful story of resistance and ultimate victory from its inception: victorious Jewish resistance, victorious popular resistance, and ultimately, victorious faithful resistance to the forces of idolatry, darkness and death [which are ultimately absolutely egalitarian].

Along these lines, check out Yad Vashem’s online exhibition “Hanukkah before, during and after the holocaust”, especially the survivors’ testimony of celebrating Hanukkah in the camps.

And consider the strange history of Judas Maccabaeus, the oratorio by Handel.

Let your light shine.
Happy Hanukkah.

red line embellished

Image:”Pletzl rue des Rosiers Boulangerie Juive Vitrine,” by Utilisateur:Djampa – User:Djampa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally published December 23, 2019.