Categorized | Kamin_Ben_Rabbi

Chanukah preceded Christmas by 168 years

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

SAN DIEGO — Hanukkah, the little holiday that could, begins with the lighting of the first candle against the darkness tomorrow night.

Year after year, the assessments begin and the questions accumulate: Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas? Which one came first and how are they related? (Of course, the real inquiry every December should be: can the spiritual poetry of either of these festivals be saved as against the maddening mercantile macramé of this annual run to the solar finish line?)

Here are the simple facts: In ancient Judea, in 168 BCE, a revolt broke against the Greek-Hellenist colonialists who had imposed their rites and rituals upon the indigenous Jewish population for a long time. Synagogues had been shut down, and desecrated not only with statues of Zeus, but with pig-idols. Hebrew studies, the Jewish calendar, festivals, and dietary laws were generally prohibited.

Remember that this was still some 160 years before even the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Jewish life in Judea was being stifled and repressed in favor of Hellenism and its gymnasiums, free-flying philosophies, global intellectualism, art and liberalism. Greek mythology, with its temperamental gods and undeniably powerful literary appeal, drew intellectual Jews in—along with the other “modern” aspects of Hellenistic civilization.

So the armed revolt, led by the famous Maccabees, a popular guerilla army that went up against Greek-Syrian regulars and their elephants, armor, and spears, was not strictly a Jewish-Greek conflict. The truth was that some Jews favored the Hellenistic lifestyle and there were outbreaks of civil war as well. In the end, the Maccabees and the anti-Hellenists prevailed, culminating with the restoration of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem back to Jewish purity and liturgy.

The festival was sealed with the legendary oil that lasted for eight days in the tabernacle candelabra, allowing the Maccabees to work day and night to refurbish the Temple—thus the eight nights of Hanukkah. Effectively, the Jewish religion and the Jewish people, on the cusp of extinction again, survived and were renewed.

Sixteen decades later in Judea, a Jewish baby would be born in Bethlehem. Had the Maccabees not saved Judaism however, what would have become of that baby’s family and whence the future story?

In other words, no Hanukkah, no Christmas

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