Michael Boyden

The Misrepresentation of Chanukah

Anyone observing us from the outside would gain the impression that Chanukah was about lighting candles for eight days and eating doughnuts.

Christians erect Christmas trees in town squares and Jews, particularly Chabad, have aped this with their giant chanukiyot. Even the White House has its own menorah this year!

It’s not surprising that the miracle of the oil that reportedly lasted for eight days has taken centre stage, because that is where the Talmud for its own reasons places the emphasis (tractate Shabbat 21b).

However, it is hardly justifiable to celebrate a Jewish holiday for eight days just because of a quaint story recounting the miracle of the oil. The origin of the custom of celebrating a festival of light in December may well have more to do with its coincidence with the Winter solstice.

What Chanukah is really about is to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees against the Seleucid empire and its Hellenistic supporters that threatened the very survival of Judaism. It is a Kulturkampf about retaining our identity and resisting those who would replace it with other values.

At a time when Israel is about to swear in a new government that will include members who are racist, would weaken the power of the Supreme Court and oppose religious pluralism and gay rights, it is clear that the battle to preserve our values is ongoing and has yet to be won.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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