Rabbinic Development of Hanukkah

Excerpted from Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holiday Handbook. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright 1994 by Jason Aronson Inc.

Unlike I and II Maccabees, the Talmud barely touches on the armed struggle, never mentions the word Maccabee, and of the leading rebels, names only Mattathias. The Mishnah (on which Talmud commentary is based) references Hanukkah only obliquely, referring to a "ner Hanukkah" when talking about damages, and the few relevant passages in the commentaries begin "What is Hanukkah?" (Mai Hanukkah?) as though its significance had been forgotten. The response redirected the holiday.

The rabbis said that when they reclaimed the Temple, the Hasmoneans found a single cruse of pure oil still bearing the unbroken seal of the high priest. Although only enough to last one day, it miraculously burned eight days, the amount of time needed to secure a new supply of oil to keep the menorah lit. In the following year, the holiday, to be observed with songs and praises, was ordained, a distinction that presented Hanukkah as a rabbinic, and not Hasmonean, proclamation.

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