Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why is Chanuka (Hanukkah) Eight Days Long?

There is the view that I will call the Gemara's view and there is the view that I will call the Josephus view. In order to discuss this idea in detail I must first give some background by discussing each view in detail.

The Gemara's view is the more popular view that is told to every Jewish child (Shabbos 21b):

What is [the reason of] Hanukkah? For our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislew[commence] the days of Hanukkah, which are eight on which a lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils therein, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed against and defeated them, they made search and found only one cruse of oil which lay with the seal of the High Priest, but which contained sufficient for one day's lighting only; yet a miracle was wrought therein and they lit [the lamp] therewith for eight days. The following year these [days] were appointed a Festival with [the recital of] Hallel and thanksgiving.

This idea is fairly simple, we are celebrating a miracle that occurred. Sure, it was the re-dedication of the temple, but the main reason the holiday exists, especially for eight days, is because of the OPEN miracle, of the oil lasting longer than physics allows, that occurred. This is why we celebrate this specific victory over the "Greeks" (Seleucid Syrians) and not our other victories of war.

Jospehus' view is a little different. Josephus tells us a story that is a little more detailed than the Gemara's account (Antiquities 12:7):
6. When therefore the generals of Antiochus's armies had been beaten so often, Judas assembled the people together, and told them, that after these many victories which God had given them, they ought to go up to Jerusalem, and purify the temple, and offer the appointed sacrifices. But as soon as he, with the whole multitude, was come to Jerusalem, and found the temple deserted, and its gates burnt down, and plants growing in the temple of their own accord, on account of its desertion, he and those that were with him began to lament, and were quite confounded at the sight of the temple; so he chose out some of his soldiers, and gave them order to fight against those guards that were in the citadel, until he should have purified the temple. When therefore he had carefully purged it, and had brought in new vessels, the candlestick, the table [of shew-bread], and the altar [of incense], which were made of gold, he hung up the veils at the gates, and added doors to them. He also took down the altar [of burnt-offering], and built a new one of stones that he gathered together, and not of such as were hewn with iron tools. So on the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, which the Macedonians call Apeliens, they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar [of incense], and laid the loaves upon the table [of shew-bread], and offered burnt-offerings upon the new altar [of burnt-offering]. Now it so fell out, that these things were done on the very same day on which their Divine worship had fallen off, and was reduced to a profane and common use, after three years' time; for so it was, that the temple was made desolate by Antiochus, and so continued for three years. This desolation happened to the temple in the hundred forty and fifth year (of the Seleucid era 168/7 BCE), on the twenty-fifth day of the month Apeliens, and on the hundred fifty and third olympiad: but it was dedicated anew, on the same day, the twenty-fifth of the month Apeliens, on the hundred and forty-eighth year (165/4 BCE), and on the hundred and fifty-fourth olympiad. And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given four hundred and eight years before; for he declared that the Macedonians would dissolve that worship [for some time]. 

7. Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival. Judas also rebuilt the walls round about the city, and reared towers of great height against the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses that might come from our enemies. 

Josephus, living about 200 years after these events, says that he THOUGHT the reason we celebrated this holiday was because of the amazing victory granted. The ability for the Jewish people to regain their independence in the face of overwhelming odds. He does not mention a miracle of the light lasting eight days even though it was only physically able to last for one. Why is this? Josephus, as we are told time and again, was part of the Pharisee camp. If he had this tradition, that the Gemara mentions, why doesn't he mention it? Why does he have to suppose that the reason for the holiday was because of the overwhelming victories of war? Josephus seems to think that the reason we celebrate eight days is, simply put, because that was the allotted time for the original festival when Judah HaMaccabe re-dedicated the temple. He rebuilt the altar, the Menorah and all the other vessels of worship since the Temple had been desolate for three years.

Also, if one looks at the prayer Al-Hanissim, we are thanking G-D for everything that Josephus describes without a single mention of the miracle of one day of oil lasting eight days. Why is that?

So, apparently there are two theories as to why we celebrate eight days of Chanukah. The first is the Gemara theory, the miracle of one day of oil lasting eight. The second theory is because Judah proclaimed a feast of eight days and they decided to celebrate this amazing victory which had reversed three years of desolation in the Temple.

I also think it is necessary to explain why Judah would have proclaimed a feast of eight days when rededicating the Temple. The Temple had been desolate for three years and none of the holidays had been observed for these three years. The first thing done by Judah was to rebuild all of the vessels of the Temple and put them to use. What holiday had just been missed? Succos, the festival of booths. How long is this holiday? 8 days! Judah was most probably celebrating the festival of Succos (Sukkot) and this would be why we celebrate eight days of Chanukah, according to this theory.

It is also noteworthy to mention that the Josephus version is also verified by the version In Maccabees 1 (Chapter 4):
41 Judas then ordered his men to keep the Citadel garrison engaged until he had purified the sanctuary.
42 Next, he selected priests who were blameless and zealous for the Law
43 to purify the sanctuary and remove the stones of the 'Pollution' to some unclean place.
44 They discussed what should be done about the altar of burnt offering which had been profaned,
45 and very properly decided to pull it down, rather than later be embarrassed about it since it had been defiled by the gentiles. They therefore demolished it
46 and deposited the stones in a suitable place on the hill of the Dwelling to await the appearance of a prophet who should give a ruling about them.
47 They took unhewn stones, as the Law prescribed, and built a new altar on the lines of the old one.
48 They restored the Holy Place and the interior of the Dwelling, and purified the courts.
49 They made new sacred vessels, and brought the lamp-stand, the altar of incense, and the table into the Temple.
50 They burned incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lamp-stand, and these shone inside the Temple.
51 They placed the loaves on the table and hung the curtains and completed all the tasks they had undertaken.
52 On the twenty-fifth of the ninth month, Chislev, in the year 148 they rose at dawn
53 and offered a lawful sacrifice on the new altar of burnt offering which they had made.
54 The altar was dedicated, to the sound of hymns, zithers, lyres and cymbals, at the same time of year and on the same day on which the gentiles had originally profaned it.
55 The whole people fell prostrate in adoration and then praised Heaven who had granted them success.
56 For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar, joyfully offering burnt offerings, communion and thanksgiving sacrifices.
57 They ornamented the front of the Temple with crowns and bosses of gold, renovated the gates and storerooms, providing the latter with doors.
58 There was no end to the rejoicing among the people, since the disgrace inflicted by the gentiles had been effaced.
59 Judas, with his brothers and the whole assembly of Israel, made it a law that the days of the dedication of the altar should be celebrated yearly at the proper season, for eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth of the month of Chislev, with rejoicing and gladness.

Could it be that the Rabbis, when saying one day of oil lasted eight days, were really telling us something much deeper? Perhaps they were hinting at the idea that the Jewish people had a spiritual revolution at that time. Up until the victory of Judah and the re-dedication of the Temple the people were not observing the commandments. The Seleucid Greeks had outlawed circumcision and other laws of the Torah. Perhaps the Rabbis were telling us of the miracle that Mattisyahu and his sons were able to uplift the Jewish people from non-observant and transformed them into people that had complete faith in G-D. Perhaps this is why, during the time of Hasmonean rule, the Pharisees controled the will of the masses. Everyone, except for the aristocracy, believed the Rabbis led the true form of Judaism. This was not true in the time of the Seleucid Greeks, most people were not observant and followed the ban on circumcision and other anti-Torah rules.

The most moving part about this whole story seems like something straight out of a movie. The speech given by Judah Hamaccabee preceding one of the final battles before the re-dedication of the Temple. Josepus tells us (Antiquities 12:7):

3. Upon this Lysias chose Ptolemy, the son of Dorymenes, and Nicanor, and Gorgias, very potent men among the king's friends, and delivered to them forty thousand foot soldiers, and seven thousand horsemen, and sent them against Judea, who came as far as the city Emmaus, and pitched their camp in the plain country. There came also to them auxiliaries out of Syria, and the country round about; as also many of the runagate Jews. And besides these came some merchants to buy those that should be carried captives, (having bonds with them to bind those that should be made prisoners,) with that silver and gold which they were to pay for their price. And when Judas saw their camp, and how numerous their enemies were, he persuaded his own soldiers to be of good courage, and exhorted them to place their hopes of victory in God, and to make supplication to him, according to the custom of their country, clothed in sackcloth; and to show what was their usual habit of supplication in the greatest dangers, and thereby to prevail with God to grant you the victory over your enemies. So he set them in their ancient order of battle used by their forefathers, under their captains of thousands, and other officers, and dismissed such as were newly married, as well as those that had newly gained possessions, that they might not fight in a cowardly manner, out of an inordinate love of life, in order to enjoy those blessings. When he had thus disposed his soldiers, he encouraged them to fight by the following speech, which he made to them: "O my fellow soldiers, no other time remains more opportune than the present for courage and contempt of dangers; for if you now fight manfully, you may recover your liberty, which, as it is a thing of itself agreeable to all men, so it proves to be to us much more desirable, by its affording us the liberty of worshipping God. Since therefore you are in such circumstances at present, you must either recover that liberty, and so regain a happy and blessed way of living, which is that according to our laws, and the customs of our country, or to submit to the most opprobrious sufferings; nor will any seed of your nation remain if you be beat in this battle. Fight therefore manfully; and suppose that you must die, though you do not fight; but believe, that besides such glorious rewards as those of the liberty of your country, of your laws, of your religion, you shall then obtain everlasting glory. Prepare yourselves, therefore, and put yourselves into such an agreeable posture, that you may be ready to fight with the enemy as soon as it is day tomorrow morning." 

Judah tells his men that they are fighting for freedom to worship G-D. It is Judah's ultimate passion for G-D and desire to serve Him that allows Judah to give courage to his army. This speech from Judah can shine light on what the Gemara could be trying to tell us when it says that the miracle was the light that was supposed to last for one day lasted for eight. The Rabbis are talking about the Jewish people's spiritual level. In Judaism the number eight signifies a holy and spiritual existence. The world was made in seven days, seven signifying physicality as the Maharal and others tell us in several places. However, eight represents a spiritual level. The miracle of Chanukah is that the Jewish people, despite having their laws outlawed and worshiping their G-D being punishable, came back to strict observance of their religion. One man and his family were able to conduct this spiritual revival.

Whether the miracle of the one day becoming eight happened or not is not for me to say. The Rabbis might be talking literally or not. For this, one needs to look up Rav Avraham Ben Harambam's discussion on the matter. What is important is the underlying reality of the holiday. The Jewish people were thought to have been lost. Their temple defiled and desolate, their people were not keeping the laws and all seemed hopeless. However, looks may be deceiving and through this tragedy an even stronger Jewish people were re-born.

I hope the message of Chanukah and the eight days length is clear. The idea here is hope and optimism. Judah never gave up hope and he was able to bring back the Jewish people from the brink of destruction. His faith in G-D brought the masses back to the worship of G-D. His army, however small, was able to fight off an enormous adversary because of their beliefs. A Jew must never give up hope or faith. A hopeless situation may lead to an extraordinary turn of events. This was true of Purim and it is definitely true of Chanukah.

This idea is talked about in the Aruch Hashulchan Orech Chaim 670:5. I did not make it up and he says it.


Anonymous said...

There's only one answer to you title question

E-Man said...

If you read my post I say that is most probably the Josephus/Macabees 1 approach. However, I also bring a deeper meaning to the statement of the sages and I do not just write them off.