Should We or Shouldn’t We?
by Avram Yehoshua
Hanuka is kind-of-like a mini July 4th (Independence Day). For God’s people Israel, there is more than one time where He delivers us from slavery and oppression, and Hanuka is one of those times. Purim (the book of Esther), is another. They both commemorate God’s deliverance of His people.
The greatest deliverance is at Passover, both in Egypt and in Jerusalem; one with Moses and the other with Yeshua.
Hanuka and Purim are holidays, not holy days or holy times like Passover. There are no Sabbaths associated with either Hanuka or Purim (except for the 7th Day Sabbath that will fall in any eight day celebration of Hanuka). Neither Hanuka or Purim are found in the Torah, but Purim is found in the Tanach (Old Testament).
If you’ve not read Maccabees, it would be good to do so as some of it is truly inspiring. I love the accounts where the Jews were greatly outnumbered but the leader would pray to God and God would give them the victory. Some of those prayers are recorded as to what he said, and they are just beautiful. We center in on just the first book as it’s the historical reality of the battles and condition of the Jewish people. There are at least two books of Maccabees, and some divide it into four. But the first is a tale of biblical heroism against all odds, grounded in faith in Yahveh.
Hanuka celebrates the mighty deliverance of God through the Maccabees who fought against an evil Syrian king who wanted to destroy the Jewish people, by sentencing to death anyone who kept Sabbath, etc. Outnumbered by trained armies, the priests and people of Judah fought and won many a battle, due to their faith in God. They were able to re-take the Temple and cleanse it from the idols that had been placed in it.
DID YESHUA CELEBRATE HANUKA?
It’s very interesting to see that Yeshua was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanuka:
‘At that time the Festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.’ (John 10:22-23, NRSV)
Some might not think too much of this verse. But we need to stop and realize that Yeshua’s main area or territory of ministering was one hundred miles north (160 kilometers), around the Sea of Galilee. The only times we see Him in Jerusalem is at the Feasts of Israel (Mt. 26:2, 17; Lk. 2:41; 22:15; Jn. 2:23; 6:4; 11:55; 13:1, etc.), where Yahveh commands all Israeli males to appear before Him (Ex. 23:17; 34:23; Dt. 16:16). We have to stop and ask, ‘Why was Yeshua in Jerusalem at Hanuka time?’ Why would Yeshua leave the relatively warmer climate of the Sea of Galilee area, for the mountainous, windy, cold and rainy city of Jerusalem in the middle of the winter? He was there to make a point. It’s good to celebrate Hanuka!
That Yeshua was there, indicates that He came for the Feast of Dedication. Why? Because there’s no reason for Him to be in cold and wet Jerusalem in the dead of winter other than He went there to celebrate God’s mighty deliverance of the Maccabees, with other Jews. Now, I realize that this is not definitive ‘proof’ but it is a strong indication that Hanuka was seen by Him (and all the Apostles), as ‘good.’
(I’m indebted to Margaret of San Antonio, TX, USA for these next two paragraphs. Her email spoke of the blasphemy that began Hanuka, and the blasphemy of Yeshua’s Hanuka. My thoughts springboard off of that.)
When we look at what John writes, what transpired at Yeshua’s Hanuka, we can’t help but see a parallel between it, and the reason for Hanuka. The King of Syria, Antiochus the Fourth, who called himself Epiphanes, had control of Judah before the Maccabees rose up. Into the Temple he had placed a statue of himself, to be worshipped as God. On the Altar, he had many pigs sacrificed to himself and other gods. Epiphanes means, ‘the appearing of God.’ The Maccabees put an end to that demonic intrusion, destroying the Altar (because it had become polluted by pigs), and building another (1st Mac. 4:38-47). They took out all the pagan objects of worship. Once cleansed, the Temple was then dedicated for the eight days of Hanuka.
With Yeshua, God the Son, coming into the Temple, we have the Living God manifest, just the opposite of the perversion of the statue of the King of Syria proclaiming himself as God. Unfortunately, there were Jews there that wanted to stone Yeshua because He was telling them that He was one with God (Jn. 10:22-39). These Jews were more like the Jews in the days of the Maccabees that bowed down to the false image and ate pig (as a sign of allegiance and friendship to Antiochus). Yeshua told those Jews that they weren’t His sheep. But later we see other Jews that did believe that Yeshua was the Messiah (Jn. 10:40-42). Yeshua’s Hanuka is quite a significant event. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it parallels the reason for Hanuka. The Maccabees fought so they could worship the One True God. With the appearance of Yeshua we see the One True God (John 14:1-11).
There is no reference to the one day’s worth of Temple oil lasting for the eight days of Hanuka. That’s purely rabbinic. But there is reference to Hanuka being celebrated for eight days. Why eight days? Some think it was a substitute for the fact that they hadn’t been able to observe the previous Sukote (Feast of Tabernacles), in October. And so in December, when the Maccabees cleansed the Temple of the pagan things and tore down the Altar, they may have incorporated Sukote’s eight days as a way of celebrating their victory. Eight days for Hanuka is mentioned in First Maccabees:
‘Then Judas (Judah) and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season, the days of dedication of the Altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev’ (1st Mac. 4:59, NRSV).
There is another reason why Hanuka lasts for eight days and this I believe is closer to the truth. When Moses consecrates Aaron and his sons for the priesthood, and the Tabernacle is dedicated for service, we see an eight day period (Lev. 8-9). This was most likely on the minds of the Torah observant Maccabees and the reason for the eight days as the very word ‘hanuka’ means, ‘dedication.’ As such, Hanuka becomes for us an eight day period of re-dedication of ourselves to Messiah Yeshua, asking Him to cleanse us of our idols, that we might be fully consecrated to Him.
With Hanuka, as well as Purim, Ruti and I take them not as holy days, but as holidays, commemorating historical times in Hebrew history that God moved to deliver His Jewish people from certain death. They are mini-deliverance times, or, mini-Passovers (Passover being THE day of deliverance). (Maccabees can be read in the New Revised Standard Version, etc., or on-line.)
What’s the difference between a holy day and a holiday? Holy days are commanded by God and are linked with Sabbaths. These can all be seen in Leviticus 23. Holidays like Hanuka, are not ‘holy’, and fall into the category of something like the Fourth of July, or Presidents Day, etc., for America. Holidays are times of remembrance, but not Sabbaths or holy times.
Much on Hanuka is cultural, like potato latkes (which isn’t necessarily evil or bad). Some things can be non productive though, like the giving of gifts for the eight nights. This is in competition with Christmas. As nice as gifts are to receive, Hanuka is not about gift giving but about rededication of ourselves (the Temple of Yeshua), to the Lord. It’s also a family time.
There are many Jewish traditions that surround both Hanuka and Purim but Ruti and I generally don’t follow them. One we do follow is the lighting of the ‘lights.’ We don’t use candles but small oil lamps for the eight days. It’s a visual reminder for each of the eight days, about God’s ability to deliver. The tradition is that one lamp is lit for the first night, and grows to eight as the nights progress. By the sixth, seventh and eighth nights, the lights are a wonder to see. The ninth ‘light’ or candle is the light that lights all the others and is put out on every night, except the last. And thus, the reason for the nine branched Hanukia (distinguishing it from the seven branch Menorah or Lampstand of the Tabernacle and Temple).
When we had our congregation in Tulsa, OK, USA, we’d meet every other night (as every night was very taxing on us and the people), and all would bring food. We’d read some from the First Book of Maccabees, light the lights for the night and say prayers. Then we’d sit down to eat and fellowship together.
Then having rented a Jewish video and a TV for the screen (as we didn’t own a TV), we’d sit and watch something like Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl or The Chosen or Exodus with Paul Newman, for its ethical and cultural Jewish content. This year we’re going to watch Jesus of Nazareth, which I consider to be the best ‘Jesus’ film, in spite of some flaws (like Joseph wearing payot [long sidecurls of the very Orthodox Jews today], and many Jews wearing the yarmulke or kipa, etc.); and The Rabbi From Tarsus by Phil Goble (again some flaws, like the wearing of the kipa, but the content is exceptional). Why is the kipa wrong in these films? Because no Jew back then even heard of a kipa, let alone wore one. The kipa is of relatively modern origin, first appearing around the 16th century. What the Jews wore in the days of Yeshua was more of a headcovering to protect their hair from the sun and the dirt in the air.
We’d have ‘Happy Hanuka’ decorations, sometimes with balloons which always gives it a festive atmosphere. Remember, Hanuka is a holiday commemorating a time when Yahveh moved mightily for the salvation of His Jewish People. It’s a real historical event.
Make up your own traditions for Hanuka. It’s allowed : ) But remember that the core of the celebration is dedication to Yeshua. You might also want to read a portion of a book every night like, A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards, or The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, or Hudson’s Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. Howard Taylor, etc.
IS HANUKA THE JEWISH ANSWER TO CHRISTMAS?
Hanuka is nothing like Christmas so it can’t and shouldn’t be compared. Christmas is very pagan and celebrates the birth of the pagan Christ from the stump of an evergreen tree, in the dead of winter. This symbolizes the pagan Christ’s victory over the darkness of winter as Dec. 25th is the first day that ancient man could determine when the amount of light in the day increases, from having decreased from mid-summer. The god of Christmas was called ‘the Christ’ (what we would call the false Christ or Messiah), and was also seen as the son of the sun god. The sun was the greatest object of veneration.
Hanuka is a historical time that remembers when the God of Israel delivered the Jewish people from annihilation. The only thing the two celebrations have in common is that they are both in December.
As for the giving of ‘Hanuka gifts’, I discourage this as it’s only a recent Jewish custom that has bled over into Hanuka because it’s so close to Christmas. The Jewish children would tell their parents of all the toys that the Christian children got for Christmas, and so the Jewish parents began to give their children gifts for each night of Hanuka. But it’s not part of Hanuka proper and we should steer ourselves away from that. It’s not only expensive and unnecessary, it’s pollutes and corrupts a Jewish holiday. If you want to give gifts to your children you can do that any day of the year. Please don’t tie it to Hanuka, the Feast of Dedication to Yeshua. It’s a time of giving ourselves to Yeshua, not giving gifts to our children.
Hanuka is an historical event that we Jewish people (and all those grafted into Israel too), can celebrate as another time when God delivered His people. It’s in recognition of this that the celebration takes place. Hanuka means dedication and points to the re-dedicating of the Temple after it was taken back from the hands of the wicked Syrian king. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.
For us, the major theme of Hanuka is our re-dedicating ourselves to Yeshua, to His purpose for our lives. In this we see the cleansing of the Temple in the days of the Maccabees as an apt picture for what Yeshua wants to do with us, the temple of the Living God (1st Cor. 3:16). And with Yeshua declaring at Hanuka in the Temple in Jerusalem that day, that He was the visible manifestation of the Living God, we see Yeshua authenticating Hanuka for all of us, and our children.