Chanukah & Christmas Back-2-Back


a Best of Schiffman re-post

Chanukah and Christmas being back to back is a mixed blessing. It gives Jewish people a holiday at the same time Christians have their major holiday. Even though our holiday isn’t major, at least we have something. The importance of Chanukah in Jewish life has been elevated because of its proximity to Christmas, even though on a religious level its a relatively minor holiday. The problem is that its sort of like being on a low-fat diet at the same time everyone around you is feasting on your favorite foods. You can rationalize and observe that at least you have something, at the same time you realize it’s not as tasty, sweet or enjoyable as what everyone else is eating.

Last year my family and I attended our city’s Chanukah Menorah lighting sponsored by our local Chabad. There were several hundred people in attendance, and it was fun. The mayor and fire chief showed up to greet the gathering, as well as a Jewish policeman. It felt good to be included as part of the community. There was a certain irony however, in that the place of the menorah lighting was adjacent to a lot selling Christmas trees. The guy selling the trees even told us he wasn’t doing any business until we showed up! Talk about the covenant of mutual blessing!

Our problem is not that our holiday is so close to Christmas and looks shabby in comparison, but that all we’ve done is try to compete with the superficial materialistic aspects of Christmas, instead of emphasizing the true spiritual meanings of Chanukah. This is shown in the music of the two holidays. Christmas has the most beautiful music that can lift a soul to the throne of God. They have O Holy Night, and we have Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. It’s true that we also have Maor O’Tzur, but that’s one spiritual song and many Dreidel type songs or Adam Sandler’s Chanukah songs. Christmas has its less spiritual songs as well, but they have so many more spiritual songs to offset them. One can only sing Maor O’Tzur so many times before it gets old. We really need some soul-stirring Chanukah songs.

We need to emphasize Chanukah is more than the miracle of the Menorah oil lasting for eight days. There are several books of the Maccabees. They are filled with inspirational stories of bravery, and faith. There are stories of victory by God’s hand, protecting and preserving our people. We need to emphasize more of that side of Chanukah. We need to be giving people an encouragement to believe. Let those lights we kindle stand for something besides longer lasting oil.

Chanukah as it really is, is anything but lame. As a child, I grew up hearing about Hannah and her seven sons, who chose horrible deaths rather than abandon the Torah and the Jewish faith. They were held up as examples to us for their bravery and faith. We were told about Mattathias and his sons, the Hashmonim, who were so troubled by the Syrians desecrating our Temple and trying to separate Jews from our Torah way of life that they led a rebellion and prevailed with the help of God. We learned that later, during the Roman occupation, the Dreidels were a subterfuge to trick the Roman soldiers to think Jews were playing a gambling game to cover up the fact that they were studying Torah, which was against the law. Those stories made us proud to be Jews, and encouraged us to value the Torah, and inspired us in our faith.

Chanukah is far more than keeping up with the Christians. Its more than latkes and heartburn. It has a fine and noble meaning. We need to remember those things and embrace what it really stands for. If all we are going to present to our children and the world is that we can be as materialistic as everyone else, its not worth the bother.


7 thoughts on “Chanukah & Christmas Back-2-Back

  1. Michael,
    There also is “Who Can Retell”?(forgot the Hebrew).Also since Chanukah came first ,historically there would be NO Yeshua.The rejection of the hellenization by a band led by Judah Maccabee helped to maintain a Jewish Temple that stayed Holy and sacred.
    I find it ironic that Christmas today is so pagan in many aspects,where Chanukah fought to maintain the opposite. Yes,Chanukah is a minor holiday,but an important one.Watch those cholestorol-filled latkes!! I am waiting for the huge Menorah lighting in NYC at 59th st and 5th Ave near Central Park.

  2. I think we ought not to spend too much of our time comparing Judaism and Christianity. I am a convert to Judaism, and when I converted I left my old religion and way of life behind, and assumed a new one. That’s not to say there is no relation between the two, because there certainly is, but as far as I am concerned Judaism stands on its own just fine, with no help from anyone, just as it did before Yeshua physically came on the scene.

    Rabbi, I do agree with you as to Christmas music, at least the older, classical music. I don’t advertise that fact, but in my home and my car, I enjoy it a lot, year ’round. As you said, some of it can lift the soul right to the throne of God. I love to sing O Holy Night.

    I celebrate Hanukkah and Passover, and it’s a mere coincidence that the Christians happen to do Christmas and Easter at the same times. No problem, I hope they have a wonderful, blessed Christmas and Easter. I’m here, but I don’t participate and I honestly don’t give it a lot of thought either. I put it under live and let live.

  3. An old friend told me a story about your Hanukkah.
    It went like something like this.
    Where ever the travelling bands of Israelites were camped, they would set up the tabernacle. This tabernacle was the center point of discourses on the law. Therein also was placed the Hanukkah which was lit up according to the days of the week. On the Sabbath all 7 lamps were lit.
    There after according to the day of the week the lamps were lit. If a man wanted to know which day of the week it was, he would send a boy to the tabernacle to check out how many lamps were lit. A handy calendar it was if I might say so.
    When I visited Israel in 1995 I purchased two small Hanukkahs as souvenirs. One always stayed on the sideboard adjoining my dining table, unlit of course.
    One of my daughter’s Jewish friend who used to visit occasionally once asked me as to why I had put th Hanukkah it out it not being the Jewish new year. In their home (which I have never visited), they would put it out only once a year and thereafter it was locked up in a cupboard. Well I said, I just happen to like it. So I keep it out. It has always remained that way in my home till this day. Call it a souvenir of a visit into ancient history of Israel.
    Bye and take care,

  4. Mr. unavaecsunraytony, I think you may have some confusion between Hanukkah, the Hanukkiah, and the Menorah. Hanukkah is the season in which we light candles in the Hanukkiah each day for 8 days. Those words may look the same on a cursory inspection, but if you look you will see a letter “i” in Hanukkiah. It would not be possible to determine the day of the week from a Hanukkiah, which has 9 lights. The device that was in the Tabernacle was what we call a Menorah, which has 7 lights. The Menorah also is taken as the true symbol of the Jewish people, rather than the star of David.

    There is no statement in Torah that would suggest anyone used to go and look at the Menorah to see what day it was. Unless I am mistaken, there slao is no statement in Torah that would suggest they lit the lights based on what day it was in the first place. I have to assume you found it in some commentary, which is the word of man, not God.

    Happu Hanukkah.

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