It’s that time of the year again...


21st Century Hanukkah Songs

Hanukkah is not about the past

judaism has always been about the future

Just a couple of generations ago Hanukkah was a little-observed minor celebration, today it is pushing hard  to become a major Jewish festival.

For some time, the phenomenon of this transformation was attributed to “Christmas envy.” Somebody had thought that applying Freudian categories would explain how a holiday that apparently If the rabbis of the Talmud had had their way, would have been entirely suppressed.

In fact, in the eyes of the rabbis who wrote the Talmud only the descendants of David were entitled to the title of king. The Maccabees-the nickname given to the descendants of Hasmon family, (thus also called the Hasmoneans) were usurpers who had abused their victory over the Seleucids.

The reality is that In our fragmented,  values impoverished society, Hanukkah offers an opportunity to close ranks and express care for family, community and those values the Jews of today cherish the most.

And so, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Tora tells us in a vivid style:

Despite its being about a military episode. We are celebrating the miracle of the oil, instead.

That’s remarkable- that here is this great military event, but what we’re actually remembering with the ritual of lighting the candles is that somebody had the chutzpah, the faith, the hope, to take a tiny little vial of oil and imagine that it would last.

I think that’s so profound for us today. You can imagine everybody around him or her, saying. “Nudnik, why are you even lighting that little oil? It’s not enough, give up, don’t even try. What’s the point?”

That speaks to all of us today who feel such despair about the conditions in the world, our ability to have an impact on our lives. The hanukkiah, or menorah, says,

“Start with whatever you have, use it well, and trust that there will be a future beyond that one day.”

Pessimists and assimilationists have more than once informed Jews that there is no more oil left to burn. As long as Hanukkah is studied and remembered, Jews will not surrender to the night. The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle

Rabbi irvin Greenberg

Hanukah is being celebrated today as the symbol of the wish to keep alive the flame of Judaism

“Never before in Jewish history,” wrote about Hanukah the noted Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim, “had a festival been instituted by human hands.”

When Judah Maccabee, himself instituted the Hanukah festival, his act was “innovation without precedent.”

Indeed, said Columbia University professor Hayim Yosef Yerushalmi, we may well ponder the audacity with which the rabbis fixed the formal Hanukkah benediction as: “Blessed be Thou O Lord our God… who has commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.”

 Since the whole institution of Hanukkah is not found in the TaNaKh the Talmud had to ask

Where did He command us?

But it was not only the institution of a holiday not commanded by the Tora that was innovative. Instead of God, Hanukkah honored human beings and celebrated a military victory.

Hanukkah itself is the confirmation that the constant changing challenges to the life of the Jews demands changes in Judaism.

More and more Hanukah is being celebrated today as the symbol of the wish to keep alive the flame of Judaism.

In 1983, Peter Yarrow- of the famous American folk singing group “Peter, Paul and Mary-” wrote in the chorus of his  song “Light One Candle”:

Don’t let the light go out

It lasted for so many years

He was asking:

What is in the memory that’s valued so highly

That we keep it alive in that flame?

The answer was:

all we believe in

The song asked to:

Light one candle for the strength that we need

To never become our own foe

Light one candle for those who are suffering

Pain we learned so long ago

Light one candle for the Maccabee children

With thanks that their light didn’t die

Light one candle for the pain they endured

When their right to exist was denied

Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice

Justice and freedom demand

Hanukkah is  a festival of dedication, it expresses the survival of Jewish culture and the continuance of Jewish life.  

Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication is celebrated for eight days, beginning on the twenty-fifth of the Jewish month of Kislev (December).

It commemorates the victory of Judah the Maccabee and his followers over the forces of the Syrian King, Antiochus IV, and their rededication of the defiled Temple in Jerusalem, in 165 B.C.E.


Hanukkah, the Feast of the Maccabees, celebrates a victory-not a military victory only, but a victory also of the spirit over things material.

Louis D. Brandeis

How to light the Menorah

The first candle is placed on the right side of the Menorah. The second candle (on the second night) is placed directly to the left of the place occupied by the first candle, and so on, always moving leftward

The kindling starts on the left and moves toward the right. Thus the first candle to be lit each day is the candle added for that day.

The Talmud tells us that there was a dispute between the school of Shammai and that of Hillel.

Hillel prescribed, and that is the tradition today, an ascending order starting with one lamp and rising to eight lamps on the last night of the festival.

Shammai, by contrast, lights all eight candles the first night and decreases one each day to end up with one. 

Rabbi Mychal Springer says”

“Shammai reminds me that we treasure that light for as long as it remains, without needing to pretend that it’s going to last forever.  

According to Shammai, we’re witnessing that there’s less light, but the people are still together, night after night, and the diminishment of light is possible, or tolerable, because of the people being together. There’s a commitment to not walking away that brings light.

As the light is dimmed, the people keep coming back.

The Maccabee's State Building

Jewish history reflects an unbroken chain of resistance to tyranny in whatever form that tyranny manifested itself, wrote rabbi Max J. Routtenberg.

In ancient Egypt it was physical enslavement that threatened the integrity of the Israelite. It was a slavery that endured for several centuries but did not crush the spirit of our people. The yearning for freedom remained alive and finally burst the bonds of the oppressor in a national act of self-deliverance. The Israelites marched through the Sinai desert as free human beings.

Many centuries later, in ancient Judea, our ancestors faced the tyranny of spiritual and cultural enslavement. An external force sought to impose upon them a way of life that threatened the integrity of their own unique civilization.

The Hanukkah story tells of the attempt to eradicate Judaism and impose Hellenism at the point of the sword. Though few in number and weak in military power, they turned the edge of the tyrant’s sword and cleansed their land from.

The victory of modern Zionism represents the climax of a century-old struggle of our people against a dual tyranny of the body and the soul. The physical oppression of our people, first in East European lands, then in the nightmarish cauldron of Nazi Germany, threatened the continued existence of the Jewish people.”

In 1869 Theodor Herzl- the father of modern Zionism- wrote:

“I believe that a wondrous breed of Jews will spring up from the earth. The Maccabees will rise again.”

And, yes, they have arisen-

‘the children of those whose ancestor was Judah, lion of the Maccabees.’ They have indeed arisen.