For many people in the diaspora – both Jews celebrating Hanukkah and Gentiles observing this celebration – Hanukkah is all about dreidels and latkes. However, if you happen to be in Israel during Hanukkah, go to a children’s party in a kindergarten or elementary school. You would be amazed, as was I many years ago, that it is all about light and lights! Many Hanukkah celebrations begin in full darkness, then the light of a candle – the first Hanukkah candle – pierces the darkness, and then – more candles and more lights! It’s very beautiful and very impressive! One of the central songs sung during Hanukkah is called BANU CHOSHECH LEGARESH – “WE CAME TO DRIVE AWAY THE DARKNESS” – and this is indeed the overwhelming feeling one gets during these celebrations: The light came to overcome the darkness!
In this sense, one can’t miss the connection between Hanukkah and Christmas. that seems to me absolutely amazing about Christmas, is the fact that it happens in the darkest time of the year (at least, in the northern hemisphere). This is so beautiful and symbolic: In the world’s darkest hour, the light comes! And the same is true about Hanukkah: BANU CHOSHEKCH LEGARESH – Light comes into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it!
Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah
We read in the Gospel of John: And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. What is this winter “Feast of Dedication”? It’s not mentioned in Leviticus 23, where all the biblical feasts are described and their observance is commanded. So what did Jesus celebrate in the Temple?
Of course, John is referring to Hanukkah (Hebrew for dedication.) The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the Maccabees. However, these books are not part of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), and therefore, surprisingly, we find the clearest mention of Hanukkah in the Bible, in the New Testament! Not only did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah, according to the Gospel of John, but he observed it in the same Temple that had been miraculously rededicated by the Maccabees just a few generations earlier. In order to understand it, let’s turn to the history.
History of Hanukkah
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It happened in the 2nd century BCE – the intertestamental period – whi