Celebrating the miracle of holy oil not military power
The real story of Chanukah
By Deborah Maccoby, JfJfP Executive
December 15, 2014
On the night of Tuesday, December 16th, 2014, Jews all over the world will light the first candle of Chanukah. The festival commemorates the successful Maccabean Revolt in the second century BCE against the powerful Syrian-Greek Empire that had conquered Judea and was trying forcibly to impose Hellenisation upon the Jews. In 167 BCE, the Syrian Greek Emperor, Antiochus Epiphanes, ordered the Temple to be looted, and an altar was set up there to Zeus (with whom Antiochus identified himself), upon which pigs were sacrificed. The outraged people rose in revolt, led by the Maccabees, a band of brothers who were the sons of a Temple priest who had rebelled against the oppressive conquerors. In 165 BCE, the Syrian-Greeks were driven out of Judea.
According to the story of Chanukah, the desecration of the Temple had included the contamination of the flasks of the special holy olive oil that was used in the Temple rituals. Only one tiny flask, with only enough oil to last one day, remained uncontaminated.. The festival celebrates not the military victory but the miracle of this one small flask of holy oil that lasted for eight days, until new consecrated oil could be pressed and prepared. The nine-branched candlestick – called the chanukiah or Chanukah menorah – that is used during Chanukah by each family is reminiscent of the great golden seven-branched Menorah that stood in the Temple. On the first night of Chanukah, one candle is lit; on the second night, two candles; on the third night, three candles; and so on for eight days.
To counteract the military connotations of the festival, the rabbis decided that the Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) on the Sabbath of Chanukah should be the verses from Zechariah that include the words:”Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts” – that is, the universal spirit of justice, freedom and peace.
It is a terrible irony that, as Jews commemorate the Maccabean Revolt – the victory of a small people against imperial domination – the State of Israel dominates, occupies, besieges and attacks the Palestinian people.
Since the winter of 2008-9, Israel has launched three brutal onslaughts against Gaza, massacring thousands of civilians. Operation Cast Lead was launched during Chanukah 2008 and its name derives from a Chanukah children’s song. In the summer of this year, Israel launched the most savage of all the attacks, Operation Protective Edge, which massacred over 2,000 civilians, including over 500 children, and devastated Gaza.
The people of Gaza, amid the ruins of their homes and the loss of their families, facing the freezing winter, have to wait many days for new supplies of food and fuel to be allowed through, without any miracle to enable the scanty supplies from previous truckloads to last out.
The site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is being desecrated anew by the settlers, who are trying to trigger a religious war by making provocative attempts to pray in the al-Aqsa compound, even though such prayers are contrary to traditional Jewish religious law.
The Israeli government is desecrating Jewish and universal values of justice, freedom and peace by besieging and attacking Gaza and continuing the illegal Occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank..
In the name of those Jewish and universal values, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) calls on the Israeli government to lift the siege of Gaza, end the Occupation and enter into genuine peace negotiations with the Palestinian unity government.