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By Rabbi Baruch Pesach Mendelson | Series: | Level:

Many questions were posed, and hopefully those questions will be answered here:

One reader wanted to know about the nature of Chanukah. This reader understood that there was a large amount of assimilation at the time of Chanukah. He was under the impression that the Jews who revolted against the Greeks revolted against the assimilated Jews as well, who were then killed as part of the war waged against the Greeks. If that was the case, the reader wondered why we celebrate such a “bloody” holiday.

The answer lies in understanding that the situation was not exactly as this reader thought. The battle was not one between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, although there was a fear of mass assimilation. It was rather a fight against those who sought to insult, disrupt and destroy any and all elements of Judaism completely – the Greeks. This fight was waged on the battlefield. The only incident in which we see a Jew killed by another Jew was one involving Matisyahu. The act involving Matisyahu, while Halachicly justifiable, is still nevertheless difficult to understand, but we can at least put it in perspective by examining the scene surrounding it. The Greeks were attempting to convince Matisyahu to offer a sacrifice to their gods, which he refused to do. One Jew then publicly offered, in front of Matisyahu who was the well accepted elder and leader of the generation, to bring this sacrifice. Such an open rebellion could have swayed the entire Jewish people into following the Greeks and the Jewish religion may have then moved into oblivion. As the leader of the generation, Matisyahu understood his great responsibility and realized the utterly disastrous consequences of passivity. He therefore felt that a very strong statement had to be made. His plan was not to sway people through fear – no one was threatened further. Matisyahu showed that the Jewish people were strong and united and ready to defend the most important thing to them – their religion. In no way can that dramatic scene be equated to any modern day political assassination. When celebrating Chanukah, we should be proud of the fact that we are celebrating the continuity of our religion. Matisyahu accomplished his victory by successfully battling the Greeks on the battlefield, not by oppressing or killing those of his brethren who sided with the Greeks. Indeed, even after Matisyahu and his men were victorious, Hellenistic Jews still remained and were still vocal. Our celebration of Chanukah is a celebration of perseverance against religious persecution by our enemies – those who wished to rid the world of a religion we know as Judaism.

On to some more “technical” questions…(Some of these questions and answers are merely illustrative of general issues that arise and possible solutions. Please ask your local Rabbi for answers to your specific, and possibly fact-dependent, personal questions. -YP)

-Are women obligated to light the Chanukah Menorah/Chanukiya?
As a general rule, women are exempt from all time-bound positive commandments. Nevertheless, by Chanukah, since women were deeply involved in the miracle (as Yehudis, of the Chashmonean family, fed cheese and wine to a Greek governor and then killed him), they are also required to participate in the celebration. Wives, however, are exempt because we consider a husband and a wife as one, and therefore the wife’s obligation is discharged when her husband lights. There are authorities that feel that girls, once their mother is not lighting, should not light as well out of respect for their mother. Rabbi M. Feinstein felt that girls should light for themselves.

-If one is not going to be at home when the time for lighting arrives, what should one do?
When one works and comes home later than the best possible lighting time but before his family goes to sleep, it is best for him to light upon arriving home, with a blessing.

-Where does the custom of distribution of Chanukah “Gelt” (money) come from?
This customs probably stems from the same source as the “draidel,” the Chanukah top. During the Greek persecution, children were prevented from studying the Torah. While the children were hiding and studying the Torah, they kept a “draidel” (top) and money handy so, in the event they were discovered by the Greeks, it would appear as if they were only playing games.

-A reader remembered learning that the war for Israel lasted for some years after the Temple was dedicated. If that was the case, why do we celebrate the military victory on Chanukah?
The purpose of the war was to achieve religious independence. This goal had been accomplished when the Temple was recaptured, and therefore we celebrate this victory. The battles that continued after that time were defensive in nature, to prevent any relapse. Therefore, they are not celebrated.

-What is a proper greeting to use to a fellow Jew on Chanukah?
Two traditional greetings are “Chag Sameyach” and “A freilichin Chanukah.”

Why does it seem that Chanukah is not considered as one of the more important or significant holidays?
The holidays mentioned in the Torah (Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, Pesach, and Shavu’os) are regarded as more important than those holidays which are Rabbinically prescribed, of which Chanukah is one.

What do the letters on the Dreidel stand for?
The letters will very depending on where you are. In the Diaspora, the letters are “nun” “gimel” “heh” “shin” which stands for “Nes gadol haya sham”- “A great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the “heh” is replaced with a “peh” which stands for “poh,” so that the sentence reads “A great miracle happened here.” Some say that the four sides represent the four great powers that subjugated Israel: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.

What makes a Menorah/Chanukiya “kosher?”
A Kosher Chanukah Menorah should have eight branches with the candle/oil holders on one level in a straight line. The Shamash, the candle used to light the others, should either be out of line or on a different level than the other eight candles. It is preferable for the Menorah to look nice (and therefore a Menorah made out of a material which soils and looks unpleasant after one use should preferably not be used) and the nicer the better!

Why is there no Megillat Chanukah (in Navi) or a Mesechet Chanukah (in Talmud)?
There is a Megillas Chashmonaim which tells about the story of Chanukah. However, the miracle of Chanukah occurred after the close of the era when books were still added to the Navi. There is discussion of Chanukah in the Talmud. However, it is so small that it would get lost. (It was for this same concern that T’rai Asar, the book in Navi which really consists of 12 small books, was grouped together.) Therefore, the discussion of Chanukah was placed in the tractate of Shabbos, in the chapter concerning the Shabbos “candles.”

Does Chanukah end the night that we light eight candles?
As with other “day” dependent observances, we say that night proceeds day. Therefore, on the last night on Chanukah, we light eight candles, and then the next day until sunset, we continue to celebrate Chanukah by saying Hallel in the morning services and saying the special “Al HaNissim” prayer in Grace after Meals and in the Shemoneh Esrai prayer.

How was the Menorah lit in the Temple?
The Menorah in the Temple had seven branches (lights). All lights were lit each time the Menorah was lit.

For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.