The text below comes from the siddur and was written around 875 C.E. It is said daily during Hanukkah during the Amidah and during Birkat HaMazon.
על הניסים (מסידור התפילה)
על הניסים ועל הפורקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה. בימי מתיתיהו בן יוחנן, כהן גדול, חשמונאי, כשעמדה מלכות יוון הרשעה על עמך ישראל להשכיחם תורתך ולהעבירם מחוקי רצונך. ואתה, ברחמך הרבים, עמדת להם בעת צרתם, רבת את ריבם, דנת את דינם, נקמת את נקמתם. מסרת גיבורים ביד חלשים ורבים ביד מעטים וטמעים ביד טהורים ורשעים ביד צדיקים וזדים ביד עוסקי תורתך ולך עשית שם גדול וקדוש בעולמך ולעמך ישראל עשית תשועה גדולה ופורקן כהיום הזה ואחר כן באו בניך לדביר ביתך ופניו את היכלך וטיהרו את מקדשיך והדליקו נרות בחצרות קודשך וקבעו שמונת ימי חנוכה אלו להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול
Al Hanisim (from the Siddur)
"We thank You also for the miraculous deeds and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and the saving acts wrought by You, as well as for the wars which You waged for our ancestors in ancient days at this season. In the days of the Hasmonean Mattathias, son of Johanan the high priest, and his sons, when the iniquitous Greco-Syrian kingdom rose up against Your people Israel, to make them forget Your Torah and to turn them away from the ordinances of Your will, then You in your abundant mercy rose up for them in the time of their trouble, pled their cause, executed judgment, avenged their wrong, and delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and insolent ones into the hands of those occupied with Your Torah. Both unto Yourself did you make a great and holy name in Thy world, and unto Your people did You achieve a great deliverance and redemption. Whereupon your children entered the sanctuary of Your house, cleansed Your temple, purified Your sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courts, and appointed these eight days of Hanukkah in order to give thanks and praises unto Your holy name."
ca 875 C.E.
1. Based only on this prayer, what is Hanukkah about? What are the major themes?
2. What reference is made to the menorah / the miracle of the oil? Is it a strong reference?
3. How does this daily prayer help you connect to the themes of Hanukkah?
The text below comes from the Babylonian Talmud, which was codified around 500 C.E. in Babylon, far away from the land of Israel, and about 600 years after the story/events of Hanukkah happened.
בבלי שבת כא ע”א
מאי חנוכה דתנו רבנן בכ”ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון.
שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה.
b. Shabbat 21a (ca 500 C.E.)
What is Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev [commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden.
For when the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day’s lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving.
1. According to this text, what is the central theme of Hanukkah?
2. Where is the source of the holiday observance in this text? Who institutes it?
3. What are some of the customs of Hanukkah in place here?
Rambam's Mishneh Torah, written around 1170/1180 CE, is an authoritative collection of Jewish law.
1. According to Rambam, what is the central theme of Hanukkah?
2. How is Hannukkah observed according to the Rambam?
3. From where do you think Rambam is basing his arguments?
Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote extensively about the Temple and its destruction. After the destruction of the Second Temple, he fled to Rome and defected to become a Roman citizen. He wrote his accounts as records for the Romans, and his allegiance was to them.
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 12:319-325 (C.E. 94/95)
319 So on the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, which the Macedonians call Apelleus, they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar, and laid the loaves upon the table, and offered burnt-offerings upon the new altar.....323 Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms….324 Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. 325 And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.
1. According to Josephus, what is the central theme/miracle of Hanukkah?
2. Josephus refers to Hanukkah was the "Festival of Lights." What reason does he give as explanation?
3. Why would Josephus tell the story the way he does? Does it show an agenda or a historical bias?
1 Maccabees is an apocryphal book of the Bible. It was originally written in Hebrew by a Jewish author, but it was never included as part of the Tanach. The original Hebrew was lost and most versions we have now are in Greek. It is included in Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Christian Bible, but it is not included in Protestant versions. Most scholars agree it was written very close to the period of the Maccabean revolt.
1 Maccabees 4:48-55 (ca 100 B.C.E.)
48 They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. 49 They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50 Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. 51 They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.
52 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, 53 they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. 54 At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals.... 56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering.
1. According to 1 Maccabees, what is the primary theme/observance of Hanukkah?
2. What mention of the "miracle" is there?
3. What strikes you when reading this section? Why do you think the Rabbis didn't want to put it in the Tanach?
Like 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees isn't part of the Tanach or Protestant Bible. 2 Maccabees was originally written in Greek, most likely in Egypt, just a few years after the Maccabean Revolt.
2 Maccabees 10:1-8 (ca 2nd century B.C.E.)
Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; 2 they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. 3 They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence....5 It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Kislev. 6 They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the Festival of Booths, remembering how not long before, during the Festival of Booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. 7 Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to God who had given success to the purifying of God's own holy place. 8 They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.
1. What is the main celebration/theme of Hanukkah according to 2 Maccabees?
2. What role does the oil play?
3. What is the connection between Hanukkah and Sukkot? Why is it important?
4. Why do you think this book wasn't included in the Tanach?