a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

The Real Miracle of Hanukkah and other things I learned in Conversion Class

Posted on: December 4, 2010

Wednesday, the first night of Hanukkah, was my last conversion class until January 12 when we’ll study the Jewish Holiday Cycle.  As it was the first night of Hanukkah we learned about the Holiday and its origins.  Of course, when one thinks of Hanukkah, both Jew and non-Jew, you think of the menorah and the miracle that was the oil that burned in the rededicated Temple for 8 days.  WRONG!

I know, I know I’m not a Jew yet but as Rabbi Leora always tells us, as adults learning about Judaism vs non-practicing, “lazy” Jews we may know things that our Jewish friends and partners do not.  Mirs is amazing about this fact and I’m often, as I was last night at our Hanukkah party, a source of Jewish information.  Rabbi L also reminds us that sometimes our Jewish friends will not want to learn the “truth” from us converts but you know what?  Sometimes we do know more things, if only for the fact that as an adult we retain it better.

Back to the Miracle of Hanukkah.  In the book of Maccabees (which is not in the Torah) the holiday that is decreed to be celebrated from then on was the rededication of the Temple after it was reclaimed by Judah Maccabee and his sons from the Syrian Greeks.  It says, and I’m paraphrasing, that in the month of Kislev from that moment forward all Jews should celebrate the feat.  Fast forward to the writing of the Talmud and the scholars add the story of the oil and thus we celebrate not only the rededication of the Temple but also the miracle oil that stayed lit for 8 days.

This is the part of the post where I will remind everyone that I am not a Torah scholar, I’m not a Talmudic scholar, I’m just a Jew-to-be with one of the best rabbis on the planet who thinks the way I think.  The oil story is just a story perhaps?  And why is it just a story, in my mind, rather than fact?  1.  It’s not in the book of Maccabees.  God is not mentioned at all in the book of Maccabees and the book of Maccabees is not in the Bible.  2. Perhaps because there’s no God in Maccabees and only the historical record of battles fought.  The thought we had in class was that because the Maccabees lacks God’s involvement in the miracle of the Temple defeat, and it was in fact man who was able to make that miracle of defeating an army that outnumbered ours in both man power and skill that it would cause people to not rely on God for miracles.  3.Perhaps it was the fact, as Rabbi L pointed out, that the Maccabees only ruled over the kingdom of Israel for 200 years and the Talmud was written 200 years later.  4. Or Perhaps the story of the oil was added out of sheer creative insight from the writer.  As a writer I’m inclined to that theory.

Whatever the case, we all celebrate Hanukkah now by lighting the menorah for eight days.  The mitzvah in the lighting of the menorah is to bring light into the world, to proclaim the light of the menorah in a public way.  The menorah should be in a window so that everyone can see it.  Rabbi L. also challenged us, as she often does, to think of ways that we, as Jews, can continue to bring light into the world for these 8 days.  I’m not sure if drinking myself silly last night at our Hanukkah/Shabbat party was what she had in mind, but I’d like to think that celebrating Hanukkah in a big, public way and welcoming Shabbat into our home with friends fits the bill.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

2 Responses to "The Real Miracle of Hanukkah and other things I learned in Conversion Class"

I’m kinda hoping a more realistic understanding will be more inspiring for my future children. We’ll see I guess.

I find both stories to be quite inspirational but it’s always interesting to me what sticks. For as long as I could recall, all I knew about Hanukkah was 8 days of presents because of the oil. It was shocking to watch all of our faces when we realized, as we were readingthe passage in Maccabees that the oil wasn’t mentioned at all.

I also think that the idea of bringing God into the book of Maccabees by way of the oil that burned for 8 days is interesting. The omission of the entire book of Maccabees is also intriguing to me. Best part of it, for me, is that it’s the beauty of Judaism in a nut shell. I love how there isn’t necessarily a definitive answer to any of it but instead of lots of possiblities for answers.

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