Publicizing the Miracle

The home ceremonies followed today were the conscious creation of the Talmudic rabbis.

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In the rabbis’ discussion of the blessings to be said before kindling the lights, they make an interesting aside that suggests how aware they were of their own power over future Jewish practice. The Talmud asks why the blessing over the lights includes words to the effect that God commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights if the holiday is not mentioned in the Bible:

"What blessing does one utter when performing the mitzvah of kindling the Hanukkah lights? One blesses: 'Blessed are you, Adonai our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.' But where in the Torah did God so command us?"

The rabbis’ response is to bring two verses from the Torah as proof-texts to justify viewing themselves as channels for God’s word: “You shall not deviate from the word that they [the rabbis] will tell you” (Deuteronomy 17:11). And: “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders and they will say to you” (Deuteronomy 32:7). Through these bold words the rabbis are legitimizing themselves as the arbiters of God’s word and creators of rituals that embody God’s intentions, both for Hanukkah and for all the rest of Jewish life and practice.

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Michele Alperin is a freelance writer in Princeton, New Jersey. She has a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.