By: Michoel Stern
Chanukah: A Second Succos?
Originally published in three installations in Torat Emet, a weekly Brandeis Orthodox Organization Publication, January 21–February 4, 2006 – Vol. VII, Issue XVI-XIV
The topic of this article was inspired by reflection upon my years in high school youth groups. I attended many different youth group conventions. Once, at one of the Chanukah concaves a fellow member of the youth group told me that his rabbi told him that the story of Chanukah was made up. How could it be!? I said to myself. When I returned home, I went to my local rabbi with my predicament. He told me, only the story with the oil was made up, but we really did win the wars. I didn’t know what to do; I was always under the impression that the miracle with the oil lasting eight days was true. So, I accepted this new reality. Later in life when I was challenging some of my other previously held convictions, I also revisited this issue as well, and I would like to share with you what I have found.
In the book Vedibarta Bam on Chanukah it says (in Pp. 95-96 ), In the Al Hanissim prayer we say that the goal of the Syrian-Greeks was lehashkicham Toratecha — to make the Jewish people forget your Torah. The emphasis Toratecha — Your Torah — and not just HaTorah — The Torah — is because they were not against the Jews studying Torah, but wanted that Torah should be approached as an intellectual study, and not as the wisdom of Hashem. What a bitter irony is the iconoclastic behavior of the Jews who use the very same methodology of the Greeks when addressing the miracle of oil relating to Chanukah. It is a great tragedy that this approach to Chanukah is so prevalent in a major part of the Jewish world. While I am sure the ideas found in the source I am about to mention are not exclusive to it, it is the only material I have in writing regarding the arbitrary claim that Chanukah is only a second Succos. The booklet I am going to be quoting from is called, The true story of Chanukah by Joel Lurie Grishaver, a Torah Aura Production. I will now list you the sources he uses, and what he does with them:
Part one: Establishing the cover-up. With the worksheet, we are going to try to:
(1) Prove that the Miracle of the oil story was part of a cover-up of the true nature of Chanukah and the celebration of Sukkot and
(2) try to figure out why this took place
Text # 1: Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 21b;
Q: What is Chanukah? A: Our Rabbis taught: On the 25th of Kislev begins (sic) the eight days of Chanukah, which are eight days on which mourning and fasting are prohibited. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oil in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty defeated them, they searched and found only one container of oil with the seal of the high priest, enough for only one day of lighting the lamp. But a miracle happened and the oil lasted for eight days. In the following years, these days were appointed a festival on which Hallel was said.
Text # 2: Pesikta Rabati 2.1
Q: Why are the lights lighted during Chanukah? A: At that time the sons of the Hasmoneans, the high priest, triumphed over the kingdom of Greece. When they entered the Temple they found there eight rods of iron (spears) which they grooved outsharpened) and then kindled wicks in the oil which they poured into the grooves.
Q: Why is Hallel read?
A: Because one of the Psalms included in Hallel reads: The Lord is God, He has given us light. (Ps. 118:27) — (pg. 29 of The true story of Chanukah)
The other texts (quoted in The true story of Chanukah pgs. 29-30) of Josephus Antiquities, I Maccabees 4:39-59, and II Maccabees 10:1-8 basically are similar in their description of the rededication of the Holy Temple except that Josephus said they called the festival, the festival of lights. Another exception was the end of the quote of II Maccabees where it says: This joyful celebration lasted eight days; it was like Sukkot, for they recalled how only a short time before they had kept the festival while living like animals in the mountains, and so they carried lulavim and etrogim, and they chanted hymns (Hallel) to God who had so triumphantly led them to the purification of His Temple. A measure was passed by the public assembly that the entire Jewish people should observe these days every year.
Part two: Explaining the cover-up
On pg. 31 of The true story of Chanukah Joel Grishaver writes: The original Chanukkah story seems to revolve around a military victory. On its simplest level, Chanukkah is the celebration of Jewish revolt.
This wasn’t the kind of story that the Rabbis of Babylon wanted to emphasize. After all, they too (like the High Priests of the Chanukkah story) were Jewish leaders working under the protection of the non-Jewish government. Such a story might very well inspire the Jews of Babylon to try to create their own military (fight back) solutions and prove
extremely dangerous. Therefore, the story of the miracle of the Oil is not found in the earlier sources because it was a creation of the Rabbis of Babylon. So the Babylonian Rabbis had good reason to create a different explanation of why we light candles, say Hallel, and celebrate for eight days. A miracle was a perfect explanation. We thank God for letting the oil last, not for letting our revolutionaries win. Politically this was a much
safer solution. Likewise, even if the story with the spears was true, it too, would have been distasteful to the Babylonian Rabbis due to its military nature. Finally, if we are to
establish an absolute cover-up, we must prove that the Babylonian Rabbis knew about the Sukkot connection. Otherwise, its omission may simply represent an unintended break in the tradition. One text we have already seen provides a clue.
Bet Shammai taught that one should light eight lights on the first night, and one less on the following day. Bet Hillel taught that one should light one light on the first night and one more each following day. While in the Babylonian Talmud (he is referring to shabbos 21b, he just forgot to mention it.) No explanation for these practices is given, in
the Palestine Talmud (he is referring the Jerusalem Talmud), a document from the same era, we find this explanation: Bet Shammais reason corresponds to
the descending order of the cattle sacrificed on Sukkot. (On Sukkot , the Torah teaches that we sacrifice 8 bullocks the first day, 7 on the second, ect) Clearly, Rabbi Jose ben Zabidas explanation of Shammai reveals that Sukkot connection was well known,
which leaves us with our last question: Why is it let out of all but one version of the Chanukkah story? The loss of the second Sukkot is hard to explain. Some believe that the details of the story were lost due to the fact that the celebration of Chanukkah was
considered to be relatively unimportant, thus requiring an invention of new explanations later.
Quite possibly however, the Rabbis were quite uncomfortable not only with the military or violent imagery, but also a holiday rooted in exclusively
human events, rather than those inspired by God and contained in the Torah.
I will now respond to this blatant attempt to detract the honor due to the sages of the Jewish people. My goal is to dispel the myth of the evidence of this supposed absolute cover up.
Point number one:
The claim that the Babylonian Rabbis made up the story of the oil because they didnt want to focus on a military victory is incorrect. There are a few difficulties with this part of Joel Grishavers theory about the nature of Chanukah. For starters, if one
reads the very page of the Talmud (Shabbos 21b) Grishaver mentions regarding the oil, the Talmud also mentions the military victory! Furthermore, the end of the passage he quotes was not quoted in full. Not only were the following days appointed a festival on which Hallel was said, but the Talmud also says Hodaah, giving thanks. This is very important because Rashi points out where it says Hallel vHodaah in the Talmud, the Hodaah is referring to saying Al Hanissim! What does the Al Hanissim focus on? That’s
right, on the military victory! Another point one can make is that there is a whole tractate in the Babylonian Talmud that deals with a holiday (Purim) where the Jews were saved from their oppressors, and the ones who tried to destroy us got their just reward. And Purim takes place in Babylon!
Point number two:
The book on Chanukah, Hidden Lights (Pg. 171 ) suggests a reason for why the miracle on the oil was left out of Josepus and the book of Maccabbes: The book of Hasmoneans (Maccabbes) I concludes soon after the period of Yochanan Hyrcanus (I Hasmoneans 17:25). Since it goes no further, it is a fair inference that it was composed at that time. Because the Sadduccee regime of Yochanan Hyrcanus forbade the practice of all Rabbinic laws and inflicted punishment and in some cases death for those who observed these laws (Josephus, Antiquities XII, 10, 6), we can assume that for this reason the writer of Hasmoneans I was careful to omit the Rabbinic law of kindling the Chanukah lights. He also made no mention of the miracle of the Menorah, which the entire nation knew was the basis for this Rabbinic law. The practice of Chanukah was not repressed because it was a memorial to the glory of the Hasmonean family and was the sole justification of their monarchy. Josephus also omitted the miracle of the Menorah; but could not brush off the fact that the entire nation kindled the Chanukah lamps; he therefore mentions a festival called light (Josephus, Antiquities XII, 7,7). However, whatever the reason that the miracle was omitted is, it does not exclude the possibility that the miracle happened!
Point number three:
The idea that the relationship of Chanukah to Succos could be lost because the celebration of Chanukah was considered to be relatively unimportant has no basis. Exploiting the sad fact that misinformed refer to Chanukah as a minor holiday, unscrupulous historians project this modern attitude into Talmudic times. This is without
any historical basis. On another note, just because it was human events does not preclude G-d’s involvement. In fact, every human event is directed by G-d. Grishavers contention that the Rabbis were uncomfortable with a Holiday rooted in human event is clearly refuted by the Holiday of Purim. In fact, G-ds name is not even mentioned in Meglias (book of) Esther, yet the Talmud dedicates an entire tractate to it.
Point number four: Going back to Pesikta Rabasi 2.1;
Q: Why are the lights lighted during Chanukah?
A: At that time the sons of the Hasmoneans, the high priest, triumphed over the kingdom of Greece. When they entered the Temple they found there eight rods of iron (spears) which the grooved out (sharpened) and then kindled wicks in the oil which they poured into the grooves.
Q: Why is Hallel read?
A: Because one of the Psalms included in Hallel reads:
The Lord is God, He has given us light. (Ps. 118:27)
In the book itself, the commentator Magan Dovid points out it was really seven rods that were found (he brings sources to support his point). The reason we light the menorah does not mean it is the exclusive reason Chanukah is eight days (as will be addressed below). The dispute with the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbos 21b) regarding the reason we light the candles does not negate the miracle with the oil. Neither does the mentioning of spears make it a reason for the Rabbis of Babylon to omit it as a reason for the eight days (as mentioned above, see point number one). The reason given for reciting Hallel means why we say Hallel, and not why they first said Hallel as Chanukah was happening (this point will be elaborated on below).
Point number five: Shedding light on Chanukah’s relationship to Succos:
The correlation of Chanukahs relationship to Succos is only an enigma to those with a mediocre knowledge of Chanukah. Listed here are a few of the many sources regarding this subject.
A.) In Parshas Emor, Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:42-44 mentions the celebration of Succos, then in 24:2 there is a reference to using olive oil to light the Menorah. The Baal HaTurim (24:2) states that the juxtaposition of Succos to olive oil is an indication that one the eighth day of Chanukah we recite the entire Hallel, just as it is done in the eight
days of Succos.
B.) The Beis Yosef (Tur, Orach Chaim 417) writes in the name of his brother Rabbi Yehudah that the three festivals Pesach, Shavous, Succos correspond to the patriarchs Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. The three patriarchs were prototypes of the three things (Torah, G-ds service, and deed of kindness) upon which the world stands. Avrohom was the prototype of gemilus chassadim, Yitzchok represents avodah — sacrifice and prayer, and Yaakov who is described in the Torah as a wholesome man, abiding in the tents [the yeshavos of Shem and Eiver (Bereshis 25:22, Rashi)], is the Prototype of Torah. The Greeks endeavored to detach Jews from Torah study, which is compared to light, and have them peruse secular knowledge. Chanukah, which is connected with light, is thus the holiday in which we celebrate our renewed opportunity to engage in Torah study. So Succos, which is the festival associated with Yaakov (the prototype of Torah), is the most compatible with Chanukah, the festival which commemorates our salvation from the ones who wanted to make us forget Torah (Vedibarta Bam — Chanukah, pp. 125-126 quoting Kuntras BInyanei Chanukah simin vov).
C.) The Sefas Emes (chelek Bereshis, Chanukah 5641 second paragraph) says: Chanukah and Purim are lights from the regalim (shalosh reagalim: Pesach, Shavous, and Succos. The three pilgrimage festivals). The shalosh regalim mentioned in the written Torah correspond to the festivals in the Torah Shebal-Peh (i.e Oral Torah). And the light that they are reflecting (off of the shalosh regalim mentioned in the written Torah) is similar to the light of the moon that it gets from the sun, as it is known. It is through Israel’s
observance of the shalosh regalim, that a mark is made upon the soul of the Jewish people by each of the shalosh regalim. From this inner effect, the Jewish people are capable of deriving corresponding festivals which reflect the light of the original ones.
Chanukah is the light from Succos, and Purim is the light from Shavous. And from the festival of Pesach we are hoping to complete (the salvation) as it is written, Like the days you went out form the land of EgyptI will show you wonders. (For more of an elaboration on this see: The Book of Our Heritage [volume one, pp. 311-313] By:Eliyahu KiTov, published by Feldheim reprinted 1988)
D.) The Aruch HaShulchan (Ch. 670 Par. 5) puts this issue into perspective for us: And in truth the Midrash explains that the work of the Mishkan (tabernacle) was completed on the 25th of Kislev, but was not dedicated until Rosh Chodesh Nisan because the Avos (Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov) were born then. So, HaKadosh Boruch Hu (G-d) paid it (25th of Kislev) back in the days of Mattisyahu. Therefore they made a dedication of the Mishkan which lasted seven full days, and on the eighth day they completed what the started with work of the Mishkan. And through this Aaron and his sons (were rewarded) as it explained in the Torah (the Cohanim didnt get to participate in the dedication of the Mishkan. And also regarding Shlomo HaMelech and his dedication of the Beis HaMikdash (Temple), it is written (2 Chronicles [Dveri HaYamim] 7:8-9) and Shlomo made it (the dedication) on the festival of Succos and Shimi Atzeres. For a remembrance they called this festival Chanukah, dedication from the language of Chanukas HaMizbeach and Chanukas HaBayis and there is also a hint to the day of the 25th ), Chanu-kah (the letters chof and hey make up the numerical value of 25. Another reason for this is explained in the book of Maccabbees. Because of the decrees (of the Greeks), we were not able to offer offerings on Succos previously (before they regained control of the Temple), and therefore as a remembrance they made an eight day rededication. Because of that, they were shown a sign from Heaven (i.e the Divine stamp of approval) and the miracle happened with the Menorah as a sign to show His approval for what they
did for eight days.
We see from this that by making the rededication a zichron, a remembrance of the Succos they missed, Hashem rewarded them with a miracle. Please keep in mind however, that they did some of the actions related to Succos only for a remembrance, not to actually fulfill the commandments of the Yom tov!
In the book, Logic of the mind, logic of the heart (pg. 166 ) it says: The book of Maccabbes relates Chanukah to Sukkos. The book of Maccabbes narrates that when the Maccabbes recovered the Temple, they celebrated eight days of Chanukah, corresponding to the eight days of Succos, with Lulav (palm branch), esrog (citron), and hadasim (myrtle branches) (but without aravos, willow branches, because of bal tosif- the prohibition of performing certain mitzvos in a redundant manner). The reason given is the Maccabbes had failed to celebrate the preceding Sukkos because they had been busy fighting in the fields.
So as a zichron, a remembrance, they brought up some of the minim (types of plants used for Succos) of Succos in order to let it not be forgotten. The Talmud (Sukkah 31b) gives a context for such reasoning.
E.) The passage quoted form the Palestine Talmud in the True story of Chanukkah booklet failed to mention where the explanation of Beis Shammai’s view of the Parei HaChag Oxen of the festival (of Succos) can be found (in the Jerusalem [Palestine]
Talmud itself, i.e. its location in the Talmud). However, we need not worry because Grishaver seems to have forgotten to read all of page 21b in tractate Shabbos of the Babylon Talmud. If one does read the whole page, we do see the explanation of Beis
Shammais view of the Parei HaChag (despite what Grishaver says in his booklet). On his Chanukah tape  Rivers of Light, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky goes in-depth on the explanation of Beis Shammai’s view of the Parei HaChag as it relates to Succos and
Chanukah. Just to mention one of his many points, he says if you take the first day of Succos and count until the first day of Chanukah you get seventy days. Why is seventy days significant? Because seventy days corresponds to the seventy Parei HaChag offered
up at Succos, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 55b).
In summary, the Maccabbes said Hallel the first time because of the wars. When it was instituted as a Yom tov for years to come, the reason was because of the
oil lasting eight days as a Divine stamp of approval. I hope I was successful in somewhat
dispelling the prevalent fiction about the true nature of Chanukah. It is clear that people
still may hold on to their proclivity to doubt the miracle of the oil even with no positive evidence that is tangible to support that belief. This article will serve little purpose to unlearned skeptics, whose conclusion that there was not miracle came without discovery and research. I hope the people who approach this issue with an open mind and desire to believe in the words of our sages will able to make their choice without any insidious claims to impede their decision making process.
[Any questions and or comments can be addressed to
Michoel Stern by e-mail at: Michoel_stern@yahoo.com]
1.) Vedibarta Bam-And you shall speak of them, Chanukah. Published and copyrighted by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
2.) Hidden Lights, Chanukah and the Jewish/Greek conflict. By: Rabbi Pinchas Stopler , published by David Dov publications
3.) Logic of the heart, Logic of the mind: Wisdom and reflections on topics of our times. By: Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, published by Genesis Jerusalem Press
4.) The Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky tape can be purchased (under Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, Chagim) at: www.mindandmeaning.com
5.) The true store of Hanukkah, By Joel Lurie Grishaver. Published by: Torah Aura Productions