September 18, 2019

Thanksgivukkah Foretold in Talmud Over 2000 Years Ago

Ever since I became a dad I've had mixed feelings about Hanukkah. The holiday itself is inarguably beautiful. We kindle a flame to commemorate a miracle, we gaze at its light, and we are forbidden to use that light for any other purpose. We thus celebrate God's light itself – the first thing God created in our world and, as Einstein taught us, the raw material from which everything else is fashioned. In kindling the Hanukkah light, we commune with the Divine.

The problem is that American Hanukkah has become anything but divine. Conscious of the great fun our friends are having with Christmas, American Jews fill the gap with eight nights of presents, glittering decorations, and in some homes, Christmas trees beside the hanukkiyah as a vehicle for even more presents.

In our house, we'd like to cut out the presents entirely, but we don't want our kids to associate being Jewish with getting ripped off, so we compromise with books. Still, wrapped boxes flow in from well-meaning loved ones, and the increasing commerciality of the season makes it harder every year to maintain the true spirit of Hanukkah. I suspect that many Christian Americans feel the same way about Christmas.

This year, we Jews have a unique opportunity to restore a proper sense of gratitude to our Festival of Lights. Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving, a “coincidence” that won't recur in our lifetimes. I believe God speaks to us in the language of events, and coincidences are exclamations. If that's true, then Thanksgivukkah, which won't return for another 79,811 years, must be an important message.

I looked into the origin texts of the two holidays, and discovered that Thanksgivukkah can save from us from not one but two colossal blunders.

Worse than commerciality, our American Hanukkah has become a testament to assimilation, and that's a blunder because the holiday is specifically about not assimilating. Unlike most of our enemies throughout history, the Syrian Greeks who ruled the Middle East in 165 B.C.E. did not desire to kill or enslave the Jewish people. Jews were free to live among them so long as we gave up being Jewish. They banned circumcision, Torah study, and prayer services under pain of death, and then desecrated our Holy Temple by slaughtering a pig upon the altar in honor of their gods.

Tragically, many Jews gave in to the pressure and chose to lead a Hellenized life of scintillating symposia and idolatrous orgies. A few held fast to our then thousand-year-old religion and its precious link to our Creator. War ensued, and against all odds, a small band of warriors led by Yehudah Maccabee freed the Holy Temple from the Greeks. Though the war would rage on for many more years, the Macabees rededicated the Temple immediately, and a small cruse of oil that should have lit the menorah for only one day burned for eight.

One might have thought that the Sages would institute a holiday like Purim to celebrate the miraculous military victory – a holiday which incidentally includes gift-giving. Instead, the Talmud notes:

A miracle was performed with the oil when they kindled the lights of the menorah. In the following year, the Sages established these eight days of Hanukkah as permanent holidays with the recital of Hallel and Thanksgiving. (Shabbos 21b, B. Talmud)

Imagine that. From the very beginning, Hanukkah has been linked to Thanksgiving, in this case, the thanksgiving blessings we add to the “> More pieces like this at