This source sheet is a work in progress. Comments, questions and criticisms can be sent to [email protected]
In the future I plan to provide a running commentary to the Mishnayos and Toseftas copied below. For now, the translations comes from Sefaria
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.
A variety of reasons are given for this "oversight" in both the "Traditionalist" and the "Academic" camps. The Traditionalists answers include:
- The most famous Traditionalist reason, quoted in the name of the Chassam Sofer, is that R' Yehudah Hanasi, the compiler/editor of the Mishna, deliberately excluded the miracle of Channukah from the Mishna because he was a descendant of Dovid HaMelech and he felt that the Chashmonaim, who were Kohanim, unfairly and unjustly usurped the kingship after their victory. See חוט המשולש (by his grandson, R' Shlomo Sofer) page 36a (Munkatch 1894, available http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/29069). See also, טעמי המנהגים note 847. But see, the Chassam Sofer's talmid, R' Herschel Shosberg, interpreting his Rebbe's statement as R' Yehuda HaNasi trying to protect the honor of the Chashmonaim by not highlighting the fact that they took over the kingship. שו"ת מהריא"ץ חלק או"ח ס' עח (R' Yehoshua Aron Tzvi, Margareten, 1913, available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/1217); See notes in back of the volume, בנין יהושע who notes that the Mishna in Bava Kama is the only reference to the flame of Chanukkah. See also, ש"ות ציץ אליעזר, ח' י"ט, ס' כו, collecting some sources, available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/14518.
- A second reason given is that, similar to the Rambam's reasoning in his introduction to Mesechtas Menochos as to why we don't have explicit Mishnayos laying out the mitzvos of Teffilin and Mezuza, something that was well known to the masses did not warrant inclusion/elucidation in the Mishna. See יד נאמן (R' Chaim Avrohom Miranda, Soloniki 1804, pp 1a-2a, available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/6849). Of course, this reason works well for daily Mitzvos, however, for yearly Mitzvos, such as Chanukkah, why would Channuka be more well known than other mitzvos?* See תולדות המשנה (Chaim (Joachim Heinreich) Oppenheim, Pressburg, 1882 available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/39583) where he expounds on this idea of "known Halachos" and says that the Mitzvos of Chanukkah were well known via their publication in Megillas Ta'anis--see fifth answer below--and therefore there was no need to include it directly in the Mishna. Interestingly, he suggests that the phrases found throughout Mishnayos, such as מפני שאמרו or באמת אמרו indicate old and presumably well known Halaochos. See also, Y.I. HaLevy, Doros HaRishonim, Vol. page 91 (available here).
- A third, but perhaps related concept, is that oftentimes we find that the Mishna does not address a topic directly. Rather, it describes exceptions and/or ancillary rules to the main topic. From them, emerges a picture of the affirmative mitzvah itself. For instance, the opening Mishna in Mesechtas Berochos begins by describing the appropriate time to recite the Kriyas Shema but it never explicitly says there is a mitzvah to say Shema. Similarly, we do find a number of Mishnayos in which Chanukkah is mentioned and perhaps R' Yehuda HaNasi assumes the affirmative mitzvah would emerge clearly from them. See חידושי חתם סופר (Gittin, Daf 78a, available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/22732).
- A fourth reason is quoted in the name of the Vilna Gaon by his son, R' Avrohom, that Mesechtas Chanukkah should indeed be part of the collection of "minor" tractates, which include Teffilin, Mezuza, Sofrim etc... See רב פעלים introduction (available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/14013). It is unclear if he means it was originally included but was lost or whether there was supposed to be such a Mesechta. I do note that Mesechtas Sofrim contains material related to Chanukkah in Chapter 20.
- A fifth reason is that the laws of Chanukkah were, in fact, written down even prior to redaction of the Mishna in Megillas Taanis.** The laws were known from this book and therefore did not need to be repeated in the Mishna itself. The Braisos quoted and discussed in the Talmud are from Megillas Taanis implying that these were well known laws. See, the חיד"א in דברים אחדים דרוש ל"ב (Livorno 1788, available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/24587); introduction to the אשל אברהם commentary to Megillas Taanis (R' Avrohom Eliyahu Borenstein, Jerusalem, 1908, available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/6278); Yisroel v'Hazmanim, on Chanukkah and T"u B'shevat (R' Shlomo Aviner, 2011).
- R' Moshe Shternbuch (Moadim V'Zmanim Vol. 2 Siman 137 and notes there) suggests that part of the establishment of the Mitzvos of Chanukah was to solidify the power of the Chachomim and their interpretation of the Mesorah and Torah Shel Ba'al Peh. This was especially true in the face of the various sects that were then operating. Therefore, he posits, the laws of Chanukkah were intentionally left unwritten to demonstrate the need for and primacy of Torah Shel Ba'al Peh.
- Some Traditionalists give a "political" answer that R' Yehudah HaNasi was concerned with outwardly discussing Chanukkah because the Roman's would have taken strong exception to references to a holiday grounded in strong nationalism and fight for freedom. See, Reuven Margolis, יסוד המשנה ועריכתה [available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/32665 (page 20 of the pdf)]. R' Margolis disagrees with the Rambam's premise that certain laws were so well known (like Tefillin) that R' Yehuda HaNasi could easily exclude these laws from the Mishna. He posits that, in fact, these laws were not well known at all, yet they were excluded not so much because of their religious character, but rather, because they interfered with the Roman goal of building a unified citizenry. To do this, the Roman's were set on eradicating particular nationalistic tendencies and expressions of individuality. See, Reuven Margolis, נפש חיה, ס' כ"ה, סע' ב [available at http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/7953].
- A "Kabbalistic" answer is provided by the Kozhnitzer Maggid (in his Avodas Yisroel). He suggests that the holiday of Chanukkah represents the spreading of the Torah's light to the outside, beyond its normal confines. Whereas the Mishna, the core text of Torah Shel Ba'al Peh (the oral law) is the inner, private text of the Jewish people--encapsulating the secrets that are our connection to G-d. Thus, the Mitzvah of Channukah could not be mentioned in the Mishna as it would contradict the essential nature of the Mishna. Further, he suggests, that that is also the reason why the laws of Chanukkah are found in the Braisos (and not the Mishna) since the word "braiso" means it was learned "outside" making it the appropriate forum for these laws.
On the "Academic" side, I have found two potential theories.
- Professor Levy (Louis) Ginsburg posits that much of the "Tannaitic"braisos regarding Channukah are actually of Babylonian origin and only makes there way into the Eretz Yisroel corpus via R' Yochanan at a much later stage. Based on this observation, he suggests that the lack of "primary" references in Toras Eretz Yisroel could mean that Chanukkah 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 Chanukkah 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). [For our purposes its enough to note the lack of primary Toras Eretz Ysroel material as a basis for why R' Yehudah HaNasi did not include any such material As a compiler of older traditions, he would only include known and vetted material in the Mishna].
- Professor Moshe Benovitz agrees with Ginsburg's conclusion, that Channkkah 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 Chanukkah in line with the other "holidays" listed in Megillas Taanis which fell by the way side post-Temple. 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, Chanukkah 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/.
Whatever the case may be, I note below eight instances where the Mishnah mentions Channukah (I have located three additional references in the Tosefta as well). As noted, 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, for others, Chanukkah may alter the practice of a different law (determining the particular Torah portion to be read), while for others, it may be included within a broader law (e.g., Hallel).
Through studying the below Mishnayos perhaps you will be able to discern a pattern that can answer the question that bothered many for so long.
* רמבם על משנה מנחות פרק ד' משנה אודיני הציצית והתפילין והמזוזה וענין מלאכתן והברכות שחייבין לברך עליהן וכל העניינים התלויין בכל זה מן הדינין ומה שנאמר עליהן בשאלות ותשובות אין ראוי כפי קבלת חבורינו לדבר בהן לפי שאינו אלא מפרש והמשנה לא דברה על אלה המצות דבר מיוחד לכלול דיניהן עד שיהא חייב לפרש אותו וסבת זה בעיני לפי שהיו הדברים האלו מפורסמים בזמן חבור המשנה והיו ענינים ידועים ונהוגים ביד כל העם פרט וכלל ואין ענין מהן נפלא משום אדם וע"כ לא ראה לדבר בהן כמו שלא הסדיר התפלה ר"ל נוסחה ואיך יתנהג שליח ציבור לפי שהיה מפורסם ולא חברו בזה סדור אבל חברו ספר גמ' וביאורו ...
** Megillas Taanis was a late Second Temple compilation of important dates, both holidays and fast days, observed by Jews during this period of time. Both Purim and Chanukkah are mentioned as well as many other minor days. The import of being included was to prohibit fasting and eulogies prior to or after these days. Eventually, most likely post-destruction, these days fell by the wayside with only Purim and Chanukkah standing the test of time. (text of Megillas Taanis can be found at the end of this source sheet)
This Mishna describes the two components of the Mitzvah of Bikkurim (bringing the first-fruits to the Temple). The two components are "bringing" the fruit to the Temple, the second, was the obligation to make a declaration by reading a prescribed portion of the Torah. The Mishna notes that one may bring Bikkurim after Sukkos but that one should not read the declaration
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--most importantly, to set the calendar
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 destinatio.
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 messengers were sent out, so that the people would know when to celebrate Chanukkah
As noted above, on days listed in Megillas Taanis one is not allowed to fast. Our Mishna discusses a situation whereby the Chachomim ordained a series of fasts (presumably to pray for rain) and one of those fast days falls on Chanukkah, Purim or Rosh Chodesh. The Mishna's question is whether the series continues or must it be broken
Our Mishna discusses the fact that on certain "special" Shabbasos both the Maftir and Haftorah are "interrupted" and we read portions specific to the day
Our Mishna details the specific Torah reading for various special days. For Chanukkah, we read the Nessi'ims' dedication of the Mishkan The Torah describes how on each of the first 12 days of Nissan, one of the Tribal Leaders would bring a special Korban (each Nasi brought the exact same Korban). Because Chanukkah also celebrates the re-dedication of the temple (or perhaps the original dedication of the Temple) it is only appropriate to read from this portion
Our Mishna describes various funeral and mourning rituals and whether they are permitted on special days, like Chanukkah
Perhaps the most famous of all the Mishnayos mentioning Chanukkah, this Mishna describes the liability (or lack thereof) if one's Channukah lamp causes a fire and damages someonelse's property
The Mishnah in Ta'anis (4:4) teaches that on any day that "full" Hallel is recited there was no Mamod ceremony during the morning Tefillah. Such days include the eight days of Chanukkah.
At the beginning of the Second Commonwealth there was a need for wood to keep the pyres on the alter burning. Tradition states that a number of families stepped up and donated wood to the Beis HaMikdash. They were rewarded with the honor of doing so each year. This Mishnah sets forth the various families and dates on which they brought the wood.* As an aside, the Mishnah notes that on the First of Teves there was no "mamod" since on that day there was the confluence of full Hallel (in honor of Chanukah), Musaf (in honor of Rosh Chodesh) and Mincha/Neilia (in honor of the Korban Eitzim).
* For a more fulsome discussion of the Korban Eitzim see my source sheet " Tisha B'Av and the Churban Through the Prism of the Mishnah" available here: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/74389?lang=bi
The Tosefta is related to Bava Kama 6:6 and adds the reason as to why, according to Rabi Yehudah you are exempt from liability.
This Tosefta describes the placement of the special "Al Hanisim" prayer we insert on both Purim and Chanukkah in our Shemona Esrei
Our Tosefta lists the 18 days on which one reads a "full" Hallel. The eight days of Chanukkah are included in the list