Should We or Shouldn’t We?
by Avram Yehoshua
(Endnotes in red. Click on the number to go to endnote. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to the article)
Hanuka is like a mini July 4th (Independence Day for the USA). For God’s people Israel there is more than one time where He delivered us from slavery and oppression, and Hanuka is one of those times. Purim (the book of Esther) is another time. They both commemorate God’s deliverance of His people. The greatest deliverance is Passover, both in Egypt and in Jerusalem: one with Moses and the other with Yeshua our Messiah.
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 weekly 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), and Hanuka is mentioned in John 10:22 (it’s usually called the Feast of Dedication as that is what hanuka means, to dedicate).
If you’ve not read the First Book of Maccabees, it’d 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 and they’re just beautiful. I center in on just the first book as it’s the historical reality of the battles and conditions of the Jewish people. There are a number of books of Maccabees, but the first is a tale of biblical heroism against all odds, grounded in faith toward Yahveh and is the basis for Hanuka.1
Hanuka celebrates the mighty deliverance of God through the Maccabees, who fought against an evil Syrian king called Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He wanted all the Jews to walk in Hellenistic culture and to worship the Greek gods and goddesses. He murdered the Jewish people who wouldn’t. Anyone who kept the Sabbath or circumcision or had Scriptures in their possession was sentenced to death.
Outnumbered by trained armies, the priests and people of Judah, under Judah Maccabee, fought and won battle after battle, due to their faith in God. They were able to re-take possession of the Temple and cleanse it from the idol statue of the Syrian king Antiochus IV. He had erected a statue of Zeus with his face in on it and wanted everyone to worship him as Zeus incarnate, hence the title Epiphanes (God appears or manifests). The Jewish people called him Epimanes (the madman), a play on Epiphanes.
DID YESHUA CELEBRATE HANUKA?
It’s very interesting that Yeshua came to Jerusalem in the middle of the winter, no mean task when traveling on foot from the Sea of Galilee area. John notes that it was 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)
Yeshua’s main area or territory of ministering was one hundred miles (160 kilometers) north of Jerusalem, around the Sea of Galilee. Why would Yeshua be in Jerusalem for a non-Sabbath holiday. The only times we see Him in Jerusalem are 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). 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 mid-December?
That Yeshua was there indicates that He expressly came for the Feast of Dedication. Why? Because there’s no reason for Him to be in cold, windy and wet Jerusalem in the 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.’ He was there to make a point. It’s good to celebrate Hanuka!
(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.)
When we look at what John writes and 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 IV, 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. 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 significant. The Maccabees fought so they could worship the Living God. With the appearance or manifestation of Yeshua we see the Living God enter His Temple (John 14:1-11), a direct refutation of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his erecting of himself as Zeus in the Temple.
Rabbinic Judaism teaches that when the Temple was re-taken, there was some olive oil found in it for the Menorah (seven branched Lampstand; Ex. 25:31-40), but only a day’s worth. This is purely a rabbinic legend. There’s no reference to the oil either being ‘found’ or that one day's worth lasted for the eight days of Hanuka. It’s the Rabbis trying to understand why Hanuka is an eight day celebration (1 st Mac. 4:59).
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, they were doing it in December. So, in December, when the Maccabees cleansed the Temple of the pagan things and tore down the desecrated Altar, they kept Sukote and its eight days as a way of celebrating their victory in not having been able to celebrate the previous Sukote. Eight days for Hanuka is seen 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 are two problems, though, with aligning Hanuka up with Sukote. One, even the Maccabees didn’t have the authority to change the Lord’s time for keeping Sukote in the 7th month to the 9th month, and two, the edict speaks of keeping the celebration of Hanuka in December (Kislev) annually, which certainly means that it wasn’t Sukote they were keeping during those eight days. Also, the edict plainly states that the celebration was to be kept in memory of ‘the days of dedication of the Altar.’
There is a biblical reason, though, why Hanuka lasts for eight days. When Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons for the priesthood, and the Tabernacle was initially dedicated for service, there’s an eight day period (Lev. 8–9). Seven days were the days of consecration and dedication of the priests and the Tabernacle, and the eighth day was the first day of official service. This was what was on the minds of the Torah observant Maccabees and the reason for the eight days because the word ‘hanuka’ means ‘dedication.’ As such, Hanuka becomes for us an eight day period of re-dedication of ourselves (the temple of God; 1st Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19) to God the Father in the name of His Son, Messiah Yeshua, asking Him to cleanse us of our idols, that we might be fully consecrated and dedicated to Him!
Hanuka is a holiday commemorating a time when Yahveh moved mightily for the salvation of His Jewish people. It’s a real historical event.
Turning to the actual practice of Hanuka, as well as Purim, Ruti and I take it not as holy days, but as a holiday 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).
What’s the difference between a holy day and a holiday? Holy days and holy times are authorized and commanded by God and have annual Sabbaths within them. 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.
Much on Hanuka is culturally Jewish of course, like eating potato latkes in commemoration of the Temple’s pure olive oil for the Menorah (building on the rabbinic legend which has no merit). Some other things can be non-productive though, like the giving of gifts for the eight nights. This is in competition with Christmas and not to be emulated. As nice as gifts are to receive, Hanuka is not about gift giving, but about God’s deliverance of the nation of Judah and the re-dedication of the Temple, which speaks of our re-dedication (the Temple of Lord) to Yeshua.
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 Hanuka lights. We use either candles or small oil lamps for the eight days. The first night one lamp is lit and the second night two lamps are lit, etc. It’s a visual reminder for each of the eight days about God’s ability to deliver. Then we read a chapter or two from the First Book of Maccabees.
When we had our congregation in Tulsa, OK, USA we’d meet every other night (as every night was very taxing on the people and on us), and everyone would bring food. We’d read some from the First Book of Maccabees, light the lights for the night and bless the Lord. Then we’d sit down to eat and fellowship together. We’d After that we’d watch something like Fiddler on the Roof, or The Chosen, or Exodus with Paul Newman, for their ethical and cultural Jewish content. This year we may watch Jesus of Nazareth which I consider to be the best ‘Jesus’ film, in spite of some flaws (like Joseph wearing payot [long side-curls of the very Orthodox Jews today], and many Jews wearing the yarmulke or kipa, etc.).2 We may also see The Rabbi From Tarsus by Phil Goble (again some flaws, like the wearing of the kipa and the fact that Paul was never a rabbi and no one ever spoke of him as such, not even he, but the content is exceptional). In Tulsa we’d have ‘Happy Hanuka’ decorations and balloons, which always gave it a festive atmosphere. It’s also a great time to sing praises to Yeshua.
Make up your own traditions for Hanuka. It’s allowed : ) 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, Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, or 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 and so it can’t, and shouldn’t, be compared to it. Christmas is very pagan. It celebrates the birth of the pagan Christ or savior 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 (having decreased from mid-summer or the summer solstice). The god of Christmas was called ‘the Christ’ (what we would call the false Christ or false Messiah), and was also seen as the son of the sun god. The sun was the greatest object of veneration in ancient times.3
Hanuka is an historical time that remembers that God of Israel delivered the Jewish people from annihilation. The only thing Christmas and Hanuka 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 it on any day of the year. Please don’t tie it into 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 Gentiles who believe in Yeshua because they’ve been grafted into Israel ) 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 Altar and the Temple after it was taken back from the hands of the wicked Syrian king. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.
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). With Yeshua declaring at Hanuka, in the Temple in Jerusalem that day, that He was the visible manifestation of the Living God, Yeshua was authenticating Hanuka for all of us and our children.
1 Maccabees can be read in the New Revised Standard Version, etc., or download the PDF of it now.
2 Why is the kipa wrong in these films? Because no Jew back then ever 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 a head-covering to protect their hair from the sun and the dirt in the air. Read The Kipa for more understanding.
3 For more on why Christmas is pagan, read the article on Christmas.
Email Avram — firstname.lastname@example.org
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