Chanukah Mishnayos Night 1

One of the more elusive questions about Chanukah is the almost complete absence of discussion about Chanukah in the Tannaitic literature. While it is a significant festival in the Jewish calendar, it is mostly neglected in the Mishna and Tosefta. It is not until the Talmud asks "מאי חנוכּה" that the traditional Rabbinic texts grapple with the holiday and its laws. In comparison, Purim and communal fast days (each, like Chanukah, being post-Biblical calendrical additions as well) get their own Tractates in which their respective laws are discussed and explicated.

Whatever the case may be, I have identified eight instances where the Mishnah mentions Chanukah None of the references speak directly to Halachos of Chanukkah per se. Rather, Chanukah is a counterpoint to the Halacha under discussion. At times it's used as a time reference, i.e., you can only do such and such up until Chanukah, while for others, Chanukkah may alter the practice of a different law (determining the particular Torah portion to be read), and for others, it may be included within a broader law (e.g., Hallel). Collectively, however, they paint a picture that, at least by the time of the collective tradition of the Mishnah, Chanukah was firmly embedded in the national consciousness.

Each day, we will discuss one of the Mishnayos providing background information and its connection to Chanukah. We will learn the Mishnayos chronologically, i.e., as they appear in Shisha Siderei Mishnah.

For a more detailed discussion surrounding this issue of Chanukah's absence from the Mishnah, please see Chanukkah in the Mishnah, available here.

Our first Mishnah, is found in Bikkurim 1:6.

The Mitzvah of Bikkurim, to bring the first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash, has two components. First, is the harvest of the first fruits and the ritual procession bringing them to the Temple where they are offered and placed near the Alter to be consumed by the priests. Second, when presenting the Bikkurim, the person is to recite a preset declaration as described in Devarim 26:5-10. Our Mishnah concerns itself with three situations in which a person, while obligated to bring Bikkurim to the Temple, nevertheless, is not obligated in reading the declaration. We will focus on the final case of the Mishnah concerning a person who brings his Bikkurim between Sukkos and Chanukkah. In such a situation, because he is bringing the Bikkurim outside the prime period between Shavuous and Sukkos, the Tana Kama rules that he may not read the declaration. Rabi Yehudah ben B'seira, on the other hand, rules that one, does, in fact, read the declaration.

Traditional commentators (based on the Sifri) understand the Tana Kama as requiring a full measure of "simcha" (i.e., rejoicing in harvesting) in order to make the declaration, whereas the obligation to simply bring the fruits to the Beis HaMikdash remains so long as the harvest continues. After Sukkos, the"simcha" tapers off so the declaration is not made. On the other hand, Rabi Yehudah ben Biseira either does not require any measure of "simcha" or only requires a minimal level of "harvest simcha" (which is continuing) to trigger the obligation to read the declaration.

The Mishnah, nevertheless, raises a number of questions. First, it would seem that the Tana Kama and Rabi Yehudah ben B'seira are arguing over an agricultural question or an extremely nuanced distinction in determining levels of rejoicing. Second, why would the Biblical Mitzvah of Bikkurim be tied to the Rabbinic holiday of Chanukah? Why would these holidays be coupled together?*

The connection between these two holidays is already mentioned in 2 Macabees (Chapter 10) in which the author cites a tradition in which the Chashmonayim, following their victory, celebrated a delayed Sukkos starting on the 25th of Kisleiv.** This celebration, which fully resembled Sukkos (i.e., taking the four species) lasted eight days. Nevertheless, this does not explain why the 25th of Kisleiv was chosen date for this holiday.

1 Macabees (10:5) cites another tradition that the Chashmonayim established the re-dedication of the Beis HaMikdash on the 25th of Kisleiv to coincide with the date on which the the Greeks initially defiled the Beis Hamikdash. Was the choice of date happenstance or is there more to the story?

It would seem that the period of time around the 25th of Kisleiv was universally recognized in the ancient world as a period of reflection and celebration. The Talmud (Avodah Zara 8a) cites a tradition regarding the ancient, pagan, winter solstice holidays of Kalenda and Saturnalia, in which Adam HaRishon, fearful that his sinful actions are the cause of the diminishing daylight and eventual demise of the world, sits in fasting and prayer. When the solstice passes and the days grow longer Adam realizes that this is nature's normal course and, in recognition, celebrates for eight-days. The following year he establishes both sets of eight days (the days he fasted and the days he celebrated) as days of celebration as a counterpoint to the pagan festivals at that time.*** While the Talmud does not specifically mention the 25th of Kisleiv, this date generally falls within the period of the winter solstice.

Further echoes of the ancient nature of this time period and its affiliation with rebirth can be found in Chaggai (2:18). In a prophecy dated the 24th of Kisleiv, Chaggai admonishes and cajoles the Jews to reestablish the Beis HaMikdash. Noting the woeful state of that year's harvest he promises blessing in exchange for establishing the Beis Hamikdash. It would seem, that the date is not random, but rather was a known date in the ancient world for establishing temples and houses of worship.**** Hence, it is not surprising that the Greeks would try and establish their pagan rituals in the Beis HaMikdash on that day (i.e., the 25t of Kisleiv) and why the Chashmonayim reestablished the Temple ritual on that day as well.****a

In a seminal article on the origin and nature of Chanukah,***** R' Yoel Bin Nun in response to many of the questions highlighted above****** identifies the 24th of Kisleiv as the completion of the olive harvest--especially for olives that will be used for oil. This final agricultural inflection point of the year, taking place during the darkest moments of the year--the winter solstice--tethering the source of fuel for light to the winter solstice, the darkest moment of the year.******* We find, he says, many ancient civilizations having "light" festivals at this time of year--kindling man-made light in place of natural light.

He continues, therefore, similar to Sukkos which is the end of the major harvest, the end of Kisleiv represents the end of the full harvest cycle and the start of the new agricultural cycle. It is a moment of celebration, introspection, hope and dedication to the future. Therefore, says R' Yoel Bin Nun, this is precisely why Chaggai exhorts the Jews on the 24th of Kisleiv, telling them that now is the time--the moment when the harvest is complete and the cycle starts anew--to rededicate themselves to the Torah and to rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash and why we find this date to be a recurring date in the history of dedication of the Temple.

Further, as the final stage in the oil harvest, it makes full sense why Bikkurim is allowed to be brought until that point. "Chanukah" is not a random date on the calendar by which Bikkurim must be brought. Rather, like Sukkos, it represents the final stage of harvest--hence Rabi Yehudah Ben B'Seirah allows one to fully perform the Mitzvah--even allowing the declaration to be read.********

Hence, he concludes, that the confluence of of the olive oil harvest and the winter solstice with its preexisting celebration, and the victory of the Chashmonayim and the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash all came together on the 25th of Kisleiv with the formal adoption of an eight day holiday whose expression would be found in the lighting of lights.*********

*Throughout Rabbininc literature we find connections between these two holidays. Beis Shammai, famously rules that each night of Chanukah we reduce the number of lights--starting from eight until we reach one--similar to the daily reduction in ritual sacrifices brought on Sukkos. The Talmud (Shabbos 22a) rules that like the Schach of the Sukkah, the lights of the Menorah cannot be placed higher than twenty Amos. The Talmud further derives the restriction on utilizing the Sukkah decorations during the holiday from the prohibition on using the Chanukah lights to sort money. Both holidays incorporate notions of "Hidur" (i.e., enhancing the Mitzvos) and using fire to enhance the celebration (Sukkah 5:3). The Sefas Emes (Chanukah 5641) discusses the spiritual connections between these two holidays. See also Tosefta Bava Kama 6:28.

**While not necessarily the reason behind the Macabees establishment of a national celebration, the Sukkos celebration provided the foundation for an annual eight day celebration. In fact, the Arukh HaShulchan, uses this source to answer the Beis Yosef's famous question why it is we celebrate eight days of Chaunkkah if, in fact, the miracle only lasted seven days.

***The questions arises, having recognized that the cycle of light and dark was part of the natural world, why did Adam feel compelled to establish an annual celebration? Unlike pagan cults that designated a different deity for different natural phenomena, Adam, understood that a single G-d controlled the world and its natural order. His continuing annual celebration was perhaps to perpetuate that ideal. I later found this idea expressed by R' Menachem Liebtag, Chanukah-Its Biblical Roots (Part 2), available at

**** R' Yaakov Emden (Mor U'ktziya Siman 670) directly ties the establishment of Chanukkah to Chaggai's mandate. He also points out that they would have started the dedication by lighting the evening lights--which would have been on the eve of the 25th. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni and GR"A on Hir HaShirim) calculate that the Mishkan was completed and should have been dedicated on the 25th of Kisleiv. Its deferment was made up for at the time of the Chashmonayim.

****a R' Menachem Liebtag, Chanukah-Its Biblical Roots (Part 1)., available at, suggests that the Chashmonayim saw their victory as the fulfillment of Chaggai's prophecy.

***** R' Yoel Bin Nun, Yom YiYased Heichel HaSHem, MIgadim 12 pp. 49-97 (Tishrei 5751).

******Additional questions include, if Chanukkah was established to commemorate the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, why did the holiday not dissolve after its destruction? Why did the Chachomim designate the lighting of candles as the popular expression of the holiday?

*******That the Jewish holiday calendar is ties to the natural world's cycle is self-evident. The Torah calls Pesach, Chag Ha'Aviv (Spring Equinox) signifying the barley harvest. Shavuous (Summer Solstice) signifies the wheat harvest. While Sukkos, Chag Ha'Asif (Autumn Equinox) is the harvest time for most other produce. Only the winter solstice is left unaccounted. Importantly, these agricultural religious holidays are tied to national historical events as well. Pesach with the Exodus, Shavuous with the giving of the Torah and Sukkos with the nation being graced by the Clouds of Glory. This duality, as seen below, exists for Chanukkah as well.

******** Perhaps the Tana Kama is of the opinion that it is preferable to bring olives from from the start of the harvest even if less ripe since the bulk of the harvest is completed by Sukkos. Whether one may bring liquids, wine and oil, as Bikkurim is a fascinating discussion and is beyond the scope of this summary.

********* Thus, even after the Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, stripping the holiday of its national historical basis, nonetheless, the religious agricultural basis remained and the holiday continued. Menachem Liebtag further suggests, that the elemnt of hope was embedded in the holiday itself. Chaggai's hope of spiritual sovereignty, the Chashmanyim's victory and even the existence of the single flask of oil. This element of hope continues even after the Temple's destruction--hence the continuing celebration of Chanukah.

הַקּוֹנֶה שְׁתֵּי אִילָנוֹת בְּתוֹךְ שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ, מֵבִיא וְאֵינוֹ קוֹרֵא.

רַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר, מֵבִיא וְקוֹרֵא.
יָבַשׁ הַמַּעְיָן, נִקְצַץ הָאִילָן, מֵבִיא וְאֵינוֹ קוֹרֵא.

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, מֵבִיא וְקוֹרֵא.
מֵעֲצֶרֶת וְעַד הֶחָג, מֵבִיא וְקוֹרֵא. *

מִן הֶחָג וְעַד חֲנֻכָּה, מֵבִיא וְאֵינוֹ קוֹרֵא.

רַבִּי יְהוּדָה בֶן בְּתֵירָא אוֹמֵר, מֵבִיא וְקוֹרֵא:

(6) One who buys two trees [that had grown] in property belonging to his fellow brings bikkurim but does not recite the declaration. Rabbi Meir says: he brings and recites. If the well dried up, or the tree was cut down, he brings but does not recite. Rabbi Judah says: he brings and recites. From Atzeret (Shavuot) until the Festival (of Sukkot) he brings and recites. From the Festival (of Sukkot) and until Hannukah he brings, but does not recite. Rabbi Judah ben Batera says: he brings and recites.

* The Meleches Shlomo deletes these words since the Tana is not discussing cases of those who bring Bikkurim and make the declaration. As can be seen, the deleted phrase does not fit the pattern of the Mishnah, in which the Mishnah sets out three cases where the Tana Kama rules that one does not read the declaration and in each case, a dissenting view is brought that one does not only bring Bikkurim but also reads the declaration.

Color Code:

Case: Black

Ruling: Green or Red

Name of opposing Tanna: Gold

Reason: Blue

Condition: Purple