“Hannukah”—the celebration of the (re-)dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem—goes back to the very first dedication—that of Solomon in the 10th century BCE. But the holiday Jews have long called Hannukah commemorates just one of the Temple’s re-dedications—that at the hand of the Maccabees in 164 BCE. This holiday has sometimes been called a “minor” Jewish holiday, as it is not Biblical in origin. But Jewish accounts of the triumph of the Maccabees, including the prayer formulated by the rabbis, view it as a miracle, and a miracle wrought by God is no minor event. In what follows, you will learn about the long history of this celebration, and the various ways the events commemorated on Hannukah have been understood through the ages.
In the first section (“Earliest Records”) we will see how the earliest historians of Hannukah understood the holiday, along with the first records of its observance. We see that the miracle later associated with Hannukah has a pre-history, and that a common understanding of the meaning of the commemoration took generations to develop. In the next section (“The Rabbis and Hannukah”), we will learn about the definition and standardization of Hannukah in early rabbinic times, including the emergence of the “oil-miracle” story and the rabbinic emphasis of Hannukah’s importance. Next, we will examine “The Ongoing Importance of the Temple,” in consideration of the fact that Hannukah is a Temple holiday. We will see, in images and in words, that Jewish concern for the Jerusalem Temple did not disappear when the Temple was destroyed. In a section on “Hannukah and the Temple in the Middle Ages” we will see magnificent medieval Hebrew manuscripts showing how Jewish focus on the Temple and Hannukah never abated. Then we will enjoy a review of images of the special Hannukah lamp, in all of its diversity and geographic range, from its origins to the present day. And in the final section we will consider “Hannukah in America,” and the range of relationships Jews and their leaders have had with this holiday in recent times. Through this review, you will learn more than you could have imagined about this unique holiday in all of its richness.
Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian, Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics
The Jewish Theological Seminary