One of the most elusive questions about Chanukkah (other than why the holiday lasts eight nights) is the almost complete absence of discussion about Chanukkah 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 Channukah None of the references speak directly to Halachos of Chanukkah per se. Rather, Chanukkah 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 Chanukkah, 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).
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 Chanukkah in the Mishnah, available here.
Our third Mishnah, is found in Ta'anis 2:10
Fasting in the Jewish Tradition
Throughout TaNaCh, other than the Biblically ordained fast on Yom Kippur, we find the concept of fasting in connection with a number of scenarios.* First, as a form of religious asceticism in anticipation of and in connection with an encounter with the Divine. For example, Moshe, the Torah relates, fasted for 40 days and nights as he received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Food is seen as creating a barrier between the physical and spiritual worlds and suppressing both its desire and need would facilitate a person's ability to navigate between them. This form of fasting is necessarily personal in nature and stories abound of our Holy Men fasting in order to attain spiritual heights.**
In the same vein, fasting is also perceived as a form of self-sacrifice in which the person himself is viewed as a Korban. For example, the Ma'amodos (the contingent of non-priestly Jews who watched over the Temple Service) would fast during their weekly service to reflect their spiritual unity with the Korban Tamid (See M Ta'anis 4:3).***
Second, are those fast days focused on Teshuva, repentance. The Torah obligates us on one day a year to fast, Yom Kippur. We do not find any other Rabbinically instituted fast days related to repentance but we do find a number of later customs regarding such fasts. Perhaps most famous, are the BaHaB fast days, i.e., the series of fasts beginning on the first Monday, Thursday and Monday of the months following Pesach and Sukkos (see Tur O.C. Siman 492).**** A later custom developed to fast on every Erev Rosh Chodesh as well.
Third, we find fasting to be one component of a larger ritual in which a person or community is seeking Divine intercession or intervention against a negative Divine edict. The fasting usually is accompanied by donning sackcloth, prayer and acts of repentance. Two prominent examples include Esther's ordering Mordechai and the Jewish population of Shushan to fast and pray ahead of her unauthorized meeting with King Achashverosh when seeking to overturn Haman's evil decree.***** Second, is the population of Ninveh's response to Jonah's exhortations of their upcoming destruction.****** Mesechtas Taanis, in which our Mishnah is found, largely occupies itself with such fasts, detailing the rituals associated with communal fasts instituted in times of drought. Lack of rain and the resulting devastation to the nations food stock was viewed as a direct result of Divine punishment--spurring the nation to repent and seek Divine mercy.
Finally, fast days were instituted to specifically commemorate personal, communal or national tragedies. Most well known are the fast days commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. But these are not the only ones. Halachik literature is sprinkled with other, less observed or locally observed fast days, commemorating other tragic episodes in Jewish history of which there have been many (See generally Megillas Taanis and Tur and SH"A OC 580 and commentators ad loc.). The most personal of these types of fasts are those observed upon the death of a Torah scholar (see SH"A YD 378:4) and in observance of the Yahrtzeit of one's parent (See SH"A YD 402:12).
Fasting for Rain
As noted, the opening chapters of Meseches Ta'anis describe in detail the process and ritual of ordaining fasts in the unfortunate circumstance when Israel is experiencing a drought. In Israel, the rainy season begins soon after Sukkot and lasts for only a brief period. It is essential, therefore, that sufficient rain fall during this period. Absent the rain, the nation's foodstock could not be replenished and the risk of widespread famine increased. As the calendar progressed towards Chodesh Kisleiv without rain, the Mishnah (Ta'anis 2:5-6) prescribes a series of mandated public fasts with each series having progressively stricter rules.******* Despite the serious nature of the drought, however, our Mishnah describes certain days on which, because of their inherent festive nature, it was prohibited to designate them as fast days. These days include Rosh Chodesh,******** Chanukah and Purim.*********
Nevertheless, Rabban Gamliel rules that if the Chachomim initiated a series of fasts and it happens that one of those days falls out on Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah or Purim, then one does not interrupt the series and may fast. Rabi Meir further qualifies Rabban Gamliel's ruling so that while one must fast, he is allowed to break his fast early. The rule is similar for Tisha B'av that falls on a Friday (i.e., one may break the fast prior to the onset of Shabbos).**********
* See S. Y. Zevin, HaMoadim B'Halacha, where he identifies a tripartite division of fast days, Repentance, Distress and Mourning/Remembrance. See also, Tabory (Chapter 15) breaking the fasts into two broad categories, those seeking forgiveness and those meant to commemorate. See also, Y. Jacobson, Netiv Binah, Vol. 3, Part 7, Chapter 1. Categories notwithstanding, it is clear that each of the fast days encapsulate a blend of characteristics while necessarily highlighting one particular attribute. For example, despite the prominence of repentance as it relates to Yom Kippur, nevertheless, we find the Kohein Gadol's personal supplication to be focused on the nation's sustenance. In fact, many classic commentators (e.g., Rambam MT Hilchos Teshuva 5:1) view all fast days as opportunities for reflection and introspection as well. See generally, Responsa Chassam Sofer OC 208). See also, R' Y. Shaviv, Ta'anis Tzibut--Yimei T'shuvas HaTzibut, Barkai, Vol. 1 pp. 157-163 (Hebrew) (5743) discussing the nature of the Teshuva to be reflected upon during the fast days.
** The role of asceticism in Jewish life has been a controversial topic from its early days. This ambivalence is reflected in the attitude towards the Nazir and his vow. See generally, Aharon Shemesh, Nezirim v'Nezirus, Aspects in Holiness in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature, Shalom Hartman Institute (Jerusalem 2019) (Hebrew). See also, David Halivny, On the Supposed Anti-Asceticism or Anti-Nazritism of Simon the Just, J.Q.R. Vol. 58, No. 3 (Jan. 1968) (pp. 243-252). For a discussion on the role asceticism during Tannaitic times, see Shmuel Safrai, The Pious and Men of Deeds, Zion, Vol 50 (1985) (pp 133-154). The nature, scope and dispersion of these practices was the focus of a dispute between Urbach and Baer, see, Steven D. Fraade, Ascetical Aspects of Ancient Judaism, in Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible Through the Middle Ages, edited by Arthur Green (Crossroad 1986) (pp 253-88). For evidence from the Bavli, see Yishai Kiel, Fasting and Self-Deprivation in the Babylonian Talmud in Light of Zoroastrian Ideology, JSIS Vol. 12 (Heb).
More recently, the rise of asceticism can be traced to the Medieval Hasidim, Hasidei Ashkenaz. See generally, Joseph Dan, The Ashkenazi Hasidic Movement, in Gershom Scholem and the Mystical Dimension of Jewish History (NYU Press) Chapter 4 and Ivan Marcus, The Historical Meaning of Hasidei Ashkenaz: Fact, Fiction or Cultural Self-Image, in Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism 50 Years After (Tubingen). A major aspect of their doctrine was the idea of penance (Teshuvas HaMishkal). This included both fasting and other forms of self-mortifications. Numerous books and guides were published, the most famous of which are R' Yehudah HaChasid's Sefer Chasidim and R' Eliezer of Worms, Sefer Rokeach and Hilchos Teshuva. On the nature of these books, see Ivan Marcus, On the Penitentials of the Hasidei Ashkenaz, in Studies in Jewish Mysticism Philosophy and Ethical Literature, Presented to Isaiah Tishby on his Seventy-Fifth Birthday, (Jerusalem 1986) Magnes Press pp. 369-384 and Haym Soloveitchik, Piety, Pietism and German Pietism: "Sefer Hasidim i" and the Influence of Hasidei Ashkenaz, J.Q.R. Vol. 92 No. 3/4 (Jan. 202) (pp. 455-493). Notably, R' Yechezkiel Landau, the Noda B'Yehudah, famously looked askance at these practices. See Responsa Noda B'Yehudah Vol. 1, OC Siman 35.
***Remnants of this practice remain in our liturgy, through daily practice of saying of the "Ma'amodos." On the evolution of the liturgy see, Ephraim Urbach, Mishmarot and Ma'amodot, Tarbiz Vol. 42:3/4 (1973) (Hebrew) (pp 304-327); Ophir Munz-Manor, From Seder HaMaʿaracha to Seder HaMaʿamadot — The Emergence and Transformation of a Liturgical Rite in the Middle Ages, Tarbiz Vol. 73:2 (2003) (Hebrew) (pp. 293-310); Yakov Yisroel Stahl, The Saying of Nishmas on Weekdays and Every Day, Yeushaseinu Vol 5, Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz, Bnei Brak 2011 (Hebrew) (pp. 201-223).
****The most famous reason for these fasts was to atone, lest a person overstepped his bounds during the holidays and sinned. For an encompassing review of the history and nature of this custom, including its applicability to Shavuous, see R' Daniel Sperber, Minhagei Yisroel, Vol. 1 Chapter 26. Sperber suggests that reasons for the fasts actually arise from two different sources. For Pesach, its is a remembrance for the three days that the Jews of Shushan fasted in Nissan. For Sukkos, these fasts arose in Europe out of concern for the rainy season in Israel (about which they did not have real time information).
*****This is not the same as the fast on the 13th of Adar, Ta'anis Esther, whose origins are unclear. See RaN, TB Megillah 1b and Rosh, ad. loc. See also, Mitchell First, The Origins of Ta'anit Esther, AJS Review Vol. 34:2 (November 2010) pp. 309-351 tracing its origins to 8th century Babylonia.
******In fact, the Mishnah (Taanis 2:1) utilizes the story of Ninvei as a paradigm for the appropriate response in a crisis situation. Once again, showing the fluidity between categories. For an interesting discussion on the reception of the Yonah story by the later Babylonian and Eretz Yirsroel Amoraim, see Ephraim A. Urbach, The Repentance of the People of Nineveh and the Discussions between Jews and Christians, Tarbiz Vol. 20 pp. 118-122 (Hebrew).
******* For a brief overview of the process, see J. Tabory, Moadei Yisroel B'Tekufas HaMishna v'Hatalmud (Hebrew) pp. 392-396.
******** Already from time of the early Nevi'im we find Rosh Chodesh as a day of celebration. We also find evidence that certain types of work was prohibited as well. See Safrai, Mishnat Eretz Yisroel. He also notes that Chol HaMoed is missing from the list but that, he says, is presumably because Chol Hamoed does not fall within the rainy season.
********* While our Mishnah limits its discussion to Chanukah and Purim, the Tosefta expands the list to all holidays mentioned in Megillas Ta'anis. Tosefta Ta'anis 2:6. As the sole surviving holidays mentioned in Megillas Ta'anis, it is not surprising that our Mishnah limits its discussion to Chanukah and Purim or perhaps it is based on the story brought in the Tosefta.. The Toseta (also brought in the Bavli) continues with a story in which a fast day was, in fact, declared on Chanukah and in line with Rabban Gamliel's ruling the populace fasted (assuming the fast was not specifically ordained to begin on Chanukah-- See R' Saul Lieberman, Tosefta Kepshuta, Ta'anis, pp. 1087-1089 for a discussion of this point), nevertheless, his contemporaries, Rabi Eliezer and Rabi Yehoshua disagreed and castigated the people for fasting. Whether the Mishnah was being specific or whether the same rules applied to all the holidays listed in Megillas Ta'anis is uncertain. J Tabory, When was the Scroll of Fasts Abrogated, Tarbiz Vol. 55:2 pp. 261-265 (5746) surmises that pre-destruction, one was not allowed to declare a fast on any of the listed days, and starting in Yavneh, this rule was limited by Rabban Gamliel to Chanukah and Purim, albeit with the caveat that if the series previously began, once can continue the series of fasts even on these days. This, he says, would be the first documented breach in the full observance of Megillas Ta'anis. For further discussion on the slow devolution of its observance see Tabory, idim. and Safari Mishnat Eretz Yisroel. For a wonderful introduction and summary of Megillas Ta'anis, including further discussion on the above, see Vered Noam, Megillas Taanis, in The Classic Rabbinic Literature of Eretz Yisroel: Introductions and Studies, Vol. 1 pp. 179-210 (Yad Ben Zvi, Jerusalem 5778).
********** Under our current calendar, Tisha B'av can never fall on a Friday.
Color Code: Case: Black; Ruling: Greenor Red; Name of opposing Tanna: Gold; Reason: Blue; Condition: Purple; Rule:Fuscia