A Biblical Argument for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is almost upon us! Sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes will be consumed by the kilos, and hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) are being dusted, polished, and prepared. The 8-day celebration begins the evening of the 22nd—Kislev 25th on the Jewish calendar—with the lighting of the first candle. Most of the world is familiar with the well-established holiday of Hanukkah. But, where do we learn about this holiday? No matter how hard we look, we do not find Hanukkah among the holidays listed in Leviticus 23; nor do we find it anywhere else in the Tanakh, because it is not there. It is an extra-biblical holiday that we learn about from the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. Hanukkah was added more than 2000 years ago, after the Judeans, led by the Hasmoneans, defeated the Syrian King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his armies. Since then Jews the world over have celebrated this festive holiday.

Sometimes believers in Yeshua have a hard time accepting holidays that are not found in the Tanakh. They feel that they need to find justification or permission in the Tanakh or Brit Chadasha (New Testament) to celebrate or participate in the extra-biblical holidays. While there is no mention of Hanukkah as we celebrate it today, it is briefly mentioned in the Gospel according to John 10:22-23.

Then came the feast of dedication. It was winter in Jerusalem and Yeshua was walking in the Temple in Solomon’s Colonnade. (John 10:22-23).

In context, Yeshua had been in somewhat heated discussions with the religious leaders over his identity and authority. In these two verses, Yeshua seems to have walked away for a moment and found himself strolling in the Temple, maybe contemplating his location and thereby thinking back to other times of dedication of the Temple. From a historical standpoint the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians, the rebuilt altar and the rededication of the Temple in 164 BCE was the last great victory the Jewish people had experienced. But the Greek terminology used in 1 Macc. 4:41-61 (specifically v. 54) is also used in John to indicate the annual celebration of this historical event. Furthermore, the Greek word, which translates the Hebrew word hanukkah, is used in the Septuagint for the dedication of the altar in the Tabernacle (Num . 7:10-11), the altar of the Temple of Solomon (1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Chr. 7:5), and the altar of second Temple (Ezra 6:16).

Though we do not know what Yeshua was mulling over during his stroll in the Temple, the mention of Hanukkah recalls the various dedications of the Temple and the triumph of Adonai over Israel’s enemies. As the psalmist says:

A psalm, a song for the dedication [hanukkah] of the Temple, of David. I will exalt You, Adonai, for You have lifted me up, and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Adonai my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. … Sing praise to Adonai, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. (Psalm 30:1-3, 5; LXX 31:1-3, 5)

Whether it was the Maccabean Rededication of the defiled Temple or the dedication of the altar in the Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, or the second Temple, the reason for the celebration is the same: to praise and glorify God for His goodness and care on the behalf of His people. Hanukkah is a time of rejoicing and praise, a time of feasting and remembering the great miracles Adonai has worked on our behalf. The great Jewish sage Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) captures the importance of the celebrating Hanukkah:

“The precept about the lights in the feast of Dedication is very commendable; and it is necessary that everyone should rub up his memory in this matter, that he may make known the great miracle, and contribute towards the praises of God, and the acknowledgment of those wonders he doth amongst us.” (italics mine)[1]

The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was instituted in commemoration of the dedication of the Temple and the restoration of Israel’s worship of Adonai. Today we continue to celebrate this miracle and others that Adonai has done on our behalf. No matter how you celebrate Hanukkah this year, let all that is said and done serve as a reminder to “rub up your memory” to praise God for His goodness, His greatness, and for the wonders He performs for us each and every day. And may this attitude of thanksgiving continue with us throughout the year as are reminded every time we pray the Amidah,

We will thank You and declare Your praise for our lives, which are entrusted into Your hand; for our souls, which are placed in Your charge; for Your miracles which are with us every day, and for Your wonders and favors at all times, evening, morning and midday.[2]

Hanukkah Sameach.

This post was written by MJTI Registrar Rabbi Michael Hillel.

[1] John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers: 1979, 3:356-357.

[2] Jonathan Sacks, The Koren Siddur, Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, 128.

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