One of the most elusive questions about Chanukah (other than why the holiday lasts eight nights) 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 being post-Biblical 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 Chanukah 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, Chanukah 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).
Each day, we will discuss one of the Mishnayos. We will delve into its meaning and connection to Chanukkah. We will learn the Mishnayos chronologically, i.e., as they appear in Shisha Siderei Mishnah.
For a more detailed discussion surrounding this issue, please see Chanukah in the Mishnah, available here.
Our second Mishnah, is found in Rosh HaShanah 1:3.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, meaning it follows the phases of the moon as it orbits the earth. This orbit takes approximately 29.5 days. When the first tiny sliver of the moon reappears, it is called the “Molad,” the birth of the new moon. If witnesses testify to having seen the Molad, the Beis Din will declare the day to be Rosh Chodesh. As a result, a Jewish month lasts either 29 or 30 days--so that Rosh Chodesh is either on the 30th or 31st day of the preceding month. Knowing on which day Rosh Chodesh falls is important for many reasons-- including bringing the correct Korbonos (when the Beis HaMikdash was standing) and, most importantly, setting the calendar.*
Our Mishnah is the opening Mishnah in the Kiddush HaChodesh process, yet, supprisingly, it begins with the final stage of the process--i.e., informing the populace as to when Rosh Chodesh was declared.** While today it is easy to instantaneously disseminate information over the phone, internet and social media, back in the times of the Mishna, communication was much, much slower. The main way of sending information was by messenger--which could take weeks to reach its destination.
And because the Jewish People lived not only in Eretz Yisroel but in many far-away lands, the Beis Din had to make sure the information reached these communities. Our Mishna details how for many of the months of the year the Beis Din would send messengers. For our purposes, note that Kisleiv was one of the months for which messengers were sent, so that the people would know when to celebrate Chanukah.***
Months for which Messengers were sent:
Our Mishnah notes six months for which messengers would be sent out to the Jewish communities to inform them of the actual start of the month. Our Mishnah is speaking in a post-Temple period but notes that when the Beis Hamikdash stood, messengers would be sent out for an additional month. These seven months are:
- Nissan: so that people could properly observe Pesach (because Shavous occurs on the 50th day of the Omer there was no reason to send messengers for Shavous).
- Av: so people could properly observe Tisha B'Av.****
- Elul: so people could properly observe Rosh HaShanah (the working assumption is that Elul is a hollow month (i.e., 29 days) and that Rosh HaShanah was to be observed on the 30th day.
- Tishrei: since so many Festivals were observed during the month
- Kisleiv: to establish the start of Chanukkah
- Adar: so people could properly observe Purim
- During the times of the Beis HaMikdash, they would send out messengers for Iyar so that people who missed bringing the Korban Pesach could bring the Pesach Sheini.
When was the Yom Tov of Chanukkah Established and to what extent was it Observed?
Among scholars, there is a dispute regarding the extent to which Chanukah was widely celebrated and in what fashion.***** Our Mishnah would suggest that, in fact, both Purim and Chanukah were well known and sufficiently observed to warrant the sending of messengers even during the time of the late Beis HaMIkdash. How exactly the holiday was observed--especially during Temple times--however, is not discussed in our Mishnah (See Safrai, Mishnat Eretz Yisroel).
Tosfos on Rosh HaShanah 18b (sv. VaYered) states clearly that Chanukah, even if not a full holiday, nevertheless was always observed bythe lighting of candles. However, the evidence from the Mishnah seems to suggest that the ritual observation was limited to saying Hallel and reading special Torah portions. (The Mishnah in Bava Kama regarding damages arising from the Chanukah candle appears later teaching). R' Ya'akov Betzalel Zholty, Mishnas Ya'avetz, OH, Siman 73, suggests that when the tradition of lighting Chanukah candles began is the subject of a dispute among the Rishonim. Rashi and others, he posits, were of the view that the tradition began only after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and until that point, the ritual lighting in the Temple was the main focus. Whereas, R' Zholty, says, according to the RAMBAM, the lighting of personal candles was already enacted the year following the Chashmonayim's victory as a form of giving thanks to HaShem. See also, R' Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim V'Zmanim Vol. 2 Siman 149 and notes there) where he suggests that the original celebration was focused on the Temple lighting and while there may have been communal candle lighting, the obligation for each individual to light only arose later, likely after the Temple's destruction. R' Yisroel Schepansky, HaTakonos B'Yisroel, Mossad Harav Kook (1992) Vol. 1 Chapter 6, pp. 259 n. 8a, concludes that the original Takanah, of lighting a single flame for each household, began immediately following the Chashmanyim’s victory. It was the enhancements, as noted by the Talmud and as disputed by Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, that developed over time. ******
* For a more fulsome description of the Kiddush HaChodesh process, see Mishnayos Rosh HaShanah with Running Commentary Mishna 1:1 through 3:1 (מהדורת שניה) available here.
** Why, in fact, is our Mishnah placed at the beginning of the discussion regarding the declaration of the new month? Not only is this the last piece of the process, (you first need witnesses to observe the birth of the new moon, the witnesses then need to make their way to the Beis Din where they testify about their observations and, finally, the Beis Din must declare the new moon) the notion of sending messengers to inform the populace appears to be a late development--the original method being the use of fire signals--See Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 2:2). The Meleches Shlomo suggests that like the first two Mishnayos of the Mesechta which are built around a specific number (the number four--four new years and four days of judgment), our Mishnah references a specific number of months as well (i.e., this is a grouping of number related Mishnayos). However, I think the reason is that the following Mishnah--Mishnah 1:4--in discussing the uniqueness of the months of Nissan and Tishrei (i.e., that witnesses who observed the new moon may violate the Shabbos in order to timely arrive at the Beis Din) also mentions the fact that the messengers for those two months would travel further than typical, and they would make their way all the to Syria. Our Mishnah, therefore, necessarily precedes that Mishnah to provide context, i.e., that the news of the new month was circulated by messenger.
*** The traveling distances were long and it took a while for the messengers to reach the distant communities in time for the Yomim Tovim, therefore, these communities would be unsure as to the exact starting date of the holidays. The custom arose, therefore, for these communities to keep two days of the Yom Tov (Yom Tov Sheini). This remains the custom for all communities outside of Eretz Yisroel. This begs the question, why, given this uncertainty, do we not observe nine days of Chanukah. See R' Ya'akov Emden, Sefer Mor U'Ktziya, Siman 670, where he discusses this issue and proposes a number of solutions.
The extent to which Tisha B'Av was observed during the times of the Second Temple is, as noted, a question already raised during the construction of the Second Beis HaMikdash. The evidence from the Second Temple period and the Mishna as to actual practice is inconclusive and the Talmud's opaque attempt to reconcile the evidence provided ample room for the continuing the dispute among the Rishonim, and Achronim--extending through today. Summarily, the Rambam (Peirush HaMishna to Rosh HaShana 1:3) famously asserts that, at the very least, Tisha Bav was observed during the time of the Second Temple--it is unclear whether observance varied at different times. The other fast days were left to individual choice. The Tashbetz (Loc. cit. Machon Yerushalayim edition, 2002 and footnotes there) vehemently disagrees, arguing that during the Second Commonwealth, none of the fast days were observed and further suggesting that the Rambam contains a Ta'us Sofer (see also SH"uT Divrei Shlomo (R' Shlomo Schenider) Vol. 3 Siman 247 and 411). Most traditional sources fall on the side that these fasts were not observed during this period of time. Scholarly consensus suggests that these fasts days were observed, if not continuously, at least sporadically throughout this time. See generally, Harav N. Gutel, The Fast of the Fifth During the Period of the Second Commonwealth, originally published, Shmaytin vol. 72 (1983) pp. 5-16 (Hebrew) (expanded version received from the author on July 6, 2020); Judah Rosenthal, The Four Commemorative Fast Days, J.Q.R. Vol. 57, pp. 446-459, concluding that is more likely than not that these fasts were observed during this period. But see, Y. Shahar, Rabbi Akiva and the Destruction of the Temple: The Establishment of the Fast Days, Zion Vol. 68:2 (5763) (Hebrew) pp. 145-165 (and email communication with the author) asserting that we have no evidence during the period of the Second Temple of there being any official fast day commemorating the event. See also, Rabbi Dr. N. Lamm, Ha'arah L'Inyan Tisha B'av B'imei Bayis Sheini, Hadarom, Vol. 23 (Nissan 3966) (Hebrew) pp. 213-214, suggesting that whether Tisha B'av was observed during the Second Temple period is a dispute between the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi.
The evidence from the Mishnah, which includes our Mishnah follows. For a detailed discussion of this matter, see my source sheet, Tisha B'av and the Churban through the Prism of the Mishnah, available here: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/74389?editor=1.
Notably, there seems to be somewhat conflicting views arising from the Mishnah. Our Mishnah includes the month of Av, among the list of months for which the central court would send out messengers to the far-flung locales to inform them of the New Moon. This is to ensure they timely observe Tisha B'av. The Mishnah continues, "וּכְשֶׁהָיָה בֵית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ קַיָּם, יוֹצְאִין אַף עַל אִיָּר." Meaning, that during the period of the Second Temple, emissaries would not only fan out for the Month of Av, but also for Iyar. This implies that Tisha B'av was observed during the Second Beis HaMikdash period. In fact, the Rambam in Peirush HaMishnayos, clearly rules this way (The Meiri on our Mishnah clearly rules in the opposite that Tisha B'av was not observed). The Turei Even (bRH 18a) concludes, however, that the correct text excludes the word "Af" and that during the time of the Beis HaMikdash, emissaries did not go out for the month of Av. Gutel, Chater 5, quotes the Mateh Yehudah that allows for the word "Af" to remain, yet, without supporting the Rambam's view. The Mateh Yehudah explains that the word "Af" is not commenting on the sum total of months, rather, it is merely a comment on the initial month mentioned in our Mishnah, the month of Nissan and simply saying that in addition to the regular Pesach, Beis Din would send out emissaries for the additional Pesach as well.
Another Mishnah much discussed in this context is the Mishnah in Ta'anis (4:5) listing the various days on which the Korban Eitzim was brought. The Mishnah begins " זְמַן עֲצֵי כֹהֲנִים וְהָעָם, תִּשְׁעָה " as if it were about to list nine dates. However, Yaakov Nachum Epstein, (Mevo'os Lsafrus HaTanaim pp 221-222) amends our Mishnah to read זְמַן עֲצֵי כֹהֲנִים וְהָעָם, בְּתִּשְׁעָה בְאָב. In support of this reading he cites to Tosefta in Bikkurim 2:8 specifically dating the Korban Eitzim to Tisha B'av and aligning it with the bringing of Bikkurim as well. He also finds support in Tosefta Ta'anit 3:6 and Megillas Taanis as noted above. Nevertheless, based on Mishnah RH 1:3, he suggests that perhaps they did, in fact, fast the last century prior to destruction. But see, Y. Heinemann, The Meaning of Some Mishnayot in the Order of Moed Tarbiz, Tishrei 5720 99 pp.29-31) where he takes exception to Epstein's emendation to the Mishnah but not to his overall conclusions--his suggestion that the Mishnah cannot possibly be preserving an ancient custom, however, is surprising). With variation, Epstein's view has been adopted by many scholars including, Saul Lieberman, Tosefta K'phutah, Zeraim p 848 (notably, Lieberman points out the ruling in mBikkurim 1:9 that Bikkurim may be brought from Shavuous until Sukkos--and that the midpoint between these two dates is Tisha B'av. Hence it made sense to bring both Bikkurim and Eitzim on the same day); Safrai ad loc., Avraham Walfish, Iyun B'Mishnayos Ta'anis available here and sources cited therein.
Professor Levy (Louis) Ginsburg posits that much of the "Tannaitic" braisos regarding Chanukah are actually of Babylonian origin and only makes there way into the Toras Eretz Yisroel corpus via R' Yochanan at a much later stage. Based on this observation, he therefore suggests that the lack of "primary" references in Toras Eretz Yisroel could mean that Chanukah was less observed in Eretz Yisroel. See לוי גינצבורג, פירושים וחדושים בירושלמי, Vol. 1,JTS, New York 1941, available at http://www.massorti.com/IMG/pdf/ginsburg_yerushalmi_1.pdf). Some associate Ginzburg's theory with the common notion that the Chachomim generally downplayed the accomplishments of the Chashmonaim given their later corruption. However, Gedaliah Alon rejects both the theory that Chanukah was less observed in Eretz Yisroel and the theoretical underpinnings of the alleged lethargy. See G. Alon, Jews, Judaism and the Classical World, (Jerusalem 1977) and his ההשכיחה האומה וחכמיה את החשמונאים found in his מחקרים בתולדות ישראל (available at http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/vl/mehkarim/mehkarim01.pdf). I note that it may be this lack of primary Toras Eretz Ysroel material is a basis for why R' Yehudah HaNasi did not include any such material in the Mishnah. As a compiler of older traditions, he would only include known and vetted material in the Mishna and may have been hesitant to include newer material.
Professor Moshe Benovitz agrees with Ginsburg's conclusion, that Chanukah was not widely observed in post-destruction Eretz Yisroel. However, he posits that the reason for this had little to do with the Chachomim's alleged antipathy towards the Chashmonaim. Rather, he suggests, given the nature of the holiday, celebrating the re-dedication of the Temple, once it was destroyed it may have been too difficult for the local population to celebrate. This would place Chanukah in line with the other "holidays" listed in Megillas Taanis which, post-destruction, fell by the way side. However, for the Babylonian Jews, it mattered less that the Temple was destroyed inasmuch as their lives did not necessarily revolve around its day to day rituals. Similar to Purim, Chanukah celebrated a historical victory. Prof. Benovitz then ties the "rekindling" of the holiday by R' Yochanan in Eretz Yisroel to the then current victory over the Palmyrenes, another Syrian people who tried to overrun Israel. See, Benovitz, Moshe, http://www.schechter.edu/ascribing-new-meaning-to-hanukkah-after-the-destruction-of-the-temple/.
****** For a more in depth discussion, see R' Netanel Aryeh, When was the Mitzvah of Lighting Chanukah Candles Established, (Hebrew) Ha'Maayan Vol. 212 pp. 10-22 (Teves 5775) and the ensuing discussion in Ha'Maayan Vol. 213 pp. 65-72 (Nissan 5775) collecting sources and himself positing that the obligation was established in later stages of the Second Beis HaMikdash.
Color Code: Case: Black Ruling: Green or Red Name of opposing Tanna: Gold Reason: Blue Condition: Purple Rule:Fuscia