“The Grinch Who Stole Chanukah”

Feedback on this lecture was very positive, but one person suggested I was “the Grinch who stole Chanukah.” Kind of an ironically Hellenistic comment. So viewer beware: this is a more historical treatment of the social, economic, and political roots of the Maccabean revolt. Happy Hannukah!

One thought on ““The Grinch Who Stole Chanukah”

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  1. Couple of follow-up questions…

    In the beginning of the lecture, you note that the Maccabees books were included in the Christian Bible but left out of the Jewish canon. Why is that? What is it about the text that the Rabbis found objectionable or unworthy of inclusion? As a result, Chanukah is the only holiday without a corresponding Biblical text. Why did that arise? Was there controversy among the Rabbis in making Chanukah a holiday, such that the inclusion of it as a holiday, but the exclusion of the book, amounted to something of a compromise?

    Given the very short-lived nature of the Hasmonean Dynasty, as well as the fact that Chanukah — unlike any other holiday — commemorates a period of civil war, rather than defeat of external enemies, why was this made into a holiday anyway? One might think that, say, Joshua’s conquest of the Land, which presaged a period of Jewish settlement/sometime sovereignty that lasted for over a millenium, would be far more worthy of celebrating with a holiday than an easing of Hellenistic influences that never truly abated, and which was followed in a relatively short period of time by severe infighting and ultimate expulsion from the Land. Chanukah represents an anomalous blip in time — a temporary reprieve — in what was essentially a downward spiral towards the galut and all of its destructiveness. Why turn that into a holiday for all time? To analogize it to a contemporary example, it would seem akin to creating a holiday out of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; a great moment in an otherwise horrific time for the Jewish people, which moment was eventually eclipsed by the ravages of war. Is that worth celebrating with a joyous holiday?

    When did the whole oil-lasting-for-eight-days story take hold? I have read that it was added as a focal point of the holiday many centuries after the events of the holiday. Is that true? When initially instituted, was the holiday exclusively about commemorating the Maccabees’ victory?

    Assuming there was controversy about establishing Chanukah as a holiday, how much of that controversy stemmed from the fact that, as you point out in the lecture, the events commemorated in Chanukah are, in large part, a civil war, rather than a commemoration of troubles had with outsiders, as all other post-Biblical holidays/fast days are? And isn’t it ironic that we commemorate conflict with outsiders with fasting and mourning (i.e. the fast days), but commemorate internal conflict with joyous celebration? (Yes, Purim and Pesach are exceptions to that rule — they commemorate conflict with external powers via celebration — but all of the fast days commemorate outsiders’ attempts to destroy us, and are commemorated via mourning and sadness. Chanukah, which commemorates internal strife, is commemorated with jelly doughnuts)

    One thing I love about Chanukah is how ironic its universal acclaim is. It is the most recognized and acknowledged holiday by the gentile and secular-Jewish world, and yet it is a holiday that celebrates religious zealotry, anti-acculturation, and — perhaps most ironically of all — Jewish military might and sovereignty over the ‘occupied territories’. Among the Haredim, two of the most cited arguments for not celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut/Zionism in general is the aversion to taking over the Land be’koach, and the ambivalence about celebrating the creation of a State that is scarcely 70 years old, constantly threatened by force, and may not survive. And yet that is precisely what Haredim (and all other Jews) celebrate so fervently on Chanukah.

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