Hanukkah – the 8 day commemoration of the Jewish civil war/war against the Hellenized Syrians who occupied Judea almost 2200 years ago – begins tonight at sundown. But why 8 days? Was there really a miracle of oil? And why are no rabbis involved in the Hanukkah story?
I've answered all those questions in detail in previous years.
Here are the short answers:
1. Where were the rabbis? For he most part, they didn't exist yet and neither did the rabbinic Judaism they now say existed for hundreds of years before the first Hanukkah.
2. Miracle of Oil? No. It's almost certainly a children's story made up by early rabbis to cover up the actual Hanukkah story – and their complete absence from it. It became a story of God's intervention in the world rather than a story of military might and cunning by men who would themselves quickly Hellenize.
3. Why 8 days? Because the Maccabees expected to retake the Temple before Sukkot and celebrate the Sukkot festival as it should have been celebrated, in the Temple, with sacrifices and the related pomp. But they were unable to retake the Temple in time. When they finally retook the Temple a few weeks later, they declared an 8 day holiday to to make up for the Sukkot holiday that had been missed. They offered the Sukkot sacrifices and staged massive victory displays.
4. And, no, the menorah shape described and promoted by the late rebbe of Chabad was not the shape of the Temple menorah.
There are lots of posts over the years on each of those four points. Use the search features in the middle sidebar of this blog to find them, if you so desire, or click the Hanukka link in the footer of this post.