Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HANUKA: Celebrating Jewish Victories

In the days of the second bet haMiqdash (Temple of Jerusalem),  there were many holidays, besides Ḥanuka, which celebrated the military victories of the Macabeem (or Ḥashmonayim) over the powerful Greek army. 

Some of them were: 
  1. The 13th of Adar, when the Jews celebrated "Yom Niqanor", because in that day the Macabeem defeated the large army of the Greek general Niqanor. 
  2. The 14th of Nisan, when they recovered the city of Ceasarea. 
  3. The 22nd of Elul, when the Ḥashmonayim brought to justice those who betrayed them joining the enemy's army (meshumadim). 
  4. The 22nd of Shebat, the day that Antiochus himself came with his powerful army and surrounded Yerushalaim with the intention of destroying it and killing all the Jews. That day, news came to Antiochus about the Parthian rebellion against him in the capital city of his Empire. Antiochus was forced to abandon his plans against the Jews. He took his army back to Greece where he was defeated and killed.    

These and other holidays are mentioned in the famous Meguilat Ta'anit.     

After the destruction of the second Bet haMiqdash, in the year 68 ACE (some say: 70 ACE) the Rabbis thought that it did not make sense to celebrate these national holidays while we are defeated, enslaved and in exile. They suspended all the celebrations of military victories brought by Meguilat Ta'anit (batela meguilat ta'anit) and indicated that the only Holiday that should still be celebrated was Ḥanuka, because of the miracle of the oil.  Accordingly, Ḥanuka's celebration does not emphasize the military aspect of it but mainly the miracle of the oil. That is why we celebrate Ḥanuka by lighting the candles. Still, during Ḥanuka's prayers ('al hanisim) we mention the victories of the Macabeem and we recite the Halel, thanking HaShem for the miraculous ways He saved our ancestors from their powerful enemies.