Hanukka 2006: How Ignorant Are Haredim? This Ignorant

Rabbi Nota Schiller is a co-founder of and rosh yeshiva at Ohr Somayach, the "Harvard" of BT yeshivot. Rabbi Schiller was educated at Ner Israel in Baltimore, and has been a leading exponent of kiruv (missionizing) and haredism for 40 years. Yet, in a fanciful attempt to prove both the need for Jewish Otherness – separation from non-Jews – and the validity of the Oral Torah, Rabbi Schiller displays a level of ignorance that, even now, is truly shocking. In his attempt to explain what the midrash means when it says, "Write
upon the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the God of
Israel," Rabbi Schiller writes:

Historically, at Chanukah,
the Jews warred with the Greeks, yet there is no megillah,
no written work chronicling that battle
. Why? Because it is
a story that must be transmitted orally, for at the center of
this battle was the Greeks’ attempt to destroy the Oral Torah.

Instead of being conquered, we persevered and created a new holiday
that could only have been orchestrated through the mechanism of
the Oral Torah.

The blessing we say when
lighting the Chanukah lights is "…Who has sanctified
us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the flame
of Chanukah." Where are we commanded? Which verse in the
Torah mandates such? The oblique origin of this mitzvah is its
very strength: Because the Torah endows our Sages with the initiative
in each generation to legislate for the Jewish People, a mitzvah
such as Chanukah symbolizes the power of the Oral Torah. That
which the Greeks sought to extinguish is symbolized in the light
that illuminates the darkness of exile.

Well, no Rabbi Schiller, there are written works from those days describing the war and the victory of Hanukka. They’re known as 1 & 2 Maccabees. We did not canonize them, although we use them. Why weren’t they canonized? Because, one can easily argue, the books show two things clearly; 1. The sages did not participate in the war (if they even existed) and played no role in national life and, 2. the miracle of Hanuka was the victory. There is no mention in these contemporaneous documents written by believing Jews of any miracle of lights. In fact, mention of the "miracle" does not appear anywhere until more than 100 years later.

The holiday of Hanukka was this: The Maccabees were about to take back the Temple and expected they would in time for the Succor celebrations. They were delayed and took the Temple too late for Succor. To make up for the missed Succor celebrations and to remember the victory, they instituted Hanuka. (That’s why Hanukka is 8 days long – 7 days of Sukkot, 1 day of Shemini Atzeret.) That is what out Hanuka megillot say.

And there is no proof at all for Rabbi Schiller’s assertion that the "Greeks" sought to destroy the Oral Torah. It is unclear whether the Oral Torah even existed at the time of the Maccabees.

Rabbi Schiller continues with his foolishness:

Each holiday that Jews approach
is like a way station along the turnpike of history. The largest
distance on the highway had been between Succos and Pesach, between
which there was no holiday to stop off and refuel.
In the darkness
of exile, G-d in His wisdom provided us with two more fueling
stations, Chanukah and Purim. When we celebrate Chanukah, we
celebrate a holiday that reminds us that it is the wisdom and
genius of the Jew, expressed and refined through the Oral Torah,
that makes us Jewish.

Again, simply untrue. We had holidays then that are not celebrated now, or are "celebrated" by not saying certain prayers connected to sadness. One such holiday is Tu B’Shvat, which falls smack dab in the middle of the Succot – Pesach "gap."

Rabbi Schiller is a fool.

For an extensive post on the origin of Hanuka please see my posts, The Little Menorah That Didn’t: 1, 2, 3, & 4.

For DK’s coverage of Schiller’s idiocy, see his post.

[Hat Tip: DK.]

Advertisements

41 Comments

Filed under BTs, Hanukka, Haredim, Outreach

41 responses to “Hanukka 2006: How Ignorant Are Haredim? This Ignorant

  1. Anonymous

    What about this:

    “Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors and no longer to live by the laws of God”

  2. Not the Oral law. Just the laws of God, like those found in the Torah. You’ll recall one of the things the Syrians tried to get Jews to do was to eat pork and sacrifice non-kosher animals, both biblical laws.

    Schiller is a fool.

  3. Anonymous

    Shmarya,

    Does this mean you don’t believe in what is written in the Talmud? So perhaps “אין דין ואין דיין” and we can do whatever we want?

  4. It means you should read the four posts I did last year and linked at the end of this post.

  5. Anonymous

    I did read them and the impression I got that the Talmud’s story was a result of a distance the Sages wanted to put between themselves and the Macabees – meaning that possibly the menorah story is false. One of the posts, ends off with a comment asking you whether you believe that the rest of the Talmud is falsified.

  6. I believe some of it is not true. That doesn’t mean those who wrote it down knew that, though.

  7. mb

    Read the whole event from beginning to end in any book on the subject by Elias Bickerman. He gives details of various battles amongst other gems.

  8. Isa

    I was at Ohr Somayach during 1985 and there was this fool who taught that the Hebrew script that exits today is what existed during Moshe Rabunnu’s time or the script of the Ten Commandments WRONG I even knew it then. The script changed during or before second Temple time. The script used looks like ancient Phoenecian or a little later:
    See:
    http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/6_middle.html

  9. Yos

    And why is there this constant confusing of ‘Greek’ and ‘Hellenist’? Yes, I know they meant the same thing to the Greeks, but the Greek philosophy and language, didn’t always mean they were from Greece. Like Mel Gibson thinking all Romans were Italian or something.

    The answer to the original question is, Rabbi Schiller knows better. He also knows how easy it is to give a ridiculously simplified story to the credulous.

    As for the ‘sages’. If I, a fool, can find flaw in their history, where does that leave them?

  10. David Bar-Magen

    Hey, Shmarya, that’s a good catch there. Rabbi Schiller indeed neglected to mention the four Maccabee books.

    However, you’ll also notice that he spoke of the miracle not being chronicled in a megilla, which indeed, Macabees 1-4 are not. We do not accept Maccabees as canon, and we do not recite it as part of a ritual on Chanuka; it isn’t a megilla. In that statement, R’ Schiller is correct.

    Furthermore, I don’t see what relevance the absence of the Miracle of Lights in Maccabees has to the article at hand.

    If anything, its absence supports R’ Schiller’s assertion that the miracle we make a blessing on is an oral, not written, tradition, and is meant to symbolize the enemy’s desire to eradicate the Oral Law.

    Whether or not the little menora could or couldn’t, R’ Schiller did nothing objectionable by not counting Macabees as a megilla.

    By the way, for a guy that doubts the validity of much of what rabbis say, you sure seem gung-ho to preserve a Greek work of questionable origin as pure, unadulterated fact.

    If it makes you feel better to “debunk” one of the most beautiful holidays to light up the winter, you are welcome to sit in a corner and sulk while the rest of us enjoy our latkes, sufganiyot, and dreidels.

  11. Your ignorance of history is astounding. All books then were either megillas or codexes. MAccabees 1,2,3,& 4 were certainly megiilot, as was Baruch, most other non-canonical works and, let’s see, tax records, royal records, history books, etc.

    Schiller is a fool and a liar. You, my friend, are only the former.

    And, just to help you out, 2 Maccabees is not of “questionable” origin.

    Slink off into your darkness and homophobia.

  12. Anonymous

    Isa, what you say is interesting, but I havent found full validation of your claim. The talmudic view is that the ashuri script was only used for holy writings, even in ancient Israelite days, and that the ancient cannannite (paleo-hebrew) script was used for secular documents and everything else. I have read that the ashuri script was adopted from the babylonians, but when I look at the babylonian’s ancient scripts, it looks nothing like ashuri script. Is there any solid proof of what you say?

  13. David Bar-Magen

    Did you suffer some sort of epileptic fit while you were reading my post, or are you just pretending to make no sense whatsoever?

    Again: In modern Yeshivaspeak, as I’m sure you know, the term “megilla” refers to a canonical work that we read at specific times of the Jewish year.

    Macabees doesn’t make the cut. I’m sorry if that sends you into fits of righteous rage. Hence, R’ Schiller’s assertion that there is no “megilla” of the war is correct. There is a written record, to be sure, but it is not a megilla. Period.

    Secondly, while Macabees 2 has indeed been more or less unanimously attributed to a devout Jew living in that era, it has never achieved rabbinical recognition as a Divinely-inspired work. 3 & 4 have, at various times been thought of as a Judeo-Greek historical record and/or a philosophical work pairing Judaism with contemporary (of that era) methods of thought. I really don’t think I should have to tell you that.

    Finally:

    “Go slink off into your darkness and homophobia.”

    Ha, I’m afraid not. I’m going to stay in your face, calling you on every vitriolic piece of paranoia you excrete about haredim, in your never-ending battle to put out a fire with gasoline.

    Tell me, what do you hope to accomplish with all your bitterness? Do you expect the haredi leaders of the world to write in their apologies for their nasty behavior, and to cite Shmarya Rosenberg as their biggest inspiration since Moses?

    Lubabvitch, Aish Hatorah, and all of Meah Shearim are about as likely to apologize to you as they are to form death metal bands.

    Surely you must understand this.

    Change in the haredi world can only come from within, and you have placed yourself firmly without. While I’m sure you’re happy to be there, you must realize that your chances of inspiring a wide-scale change from your current position are nil.

    Why not just leave them alone and enjoy whatever brand of Judaism you hold true in peace and happiness?

  14. Let’s be clear:

    1. Schiller’s claim is there is no written record of the war because the whole point of the war was to push offa Greek attack on the Orla Torah by forcing Jews to both violate it and, at the same time, to write it down. This is absolutely insane. There is no historical proof for Schillers assertions and much proof against them

    2. There is no “megilla” (in your hakneyed use of the word) because, more than 200 years AFTER the war, rabbis decided to leave out the MEGILLOT THAT ALREADY EXISTED AND WERE THEN USED. You see, there were “megiilot” even in the limited way you use the term.

    3. Schiller is, at best and under your tortured construction deceptive. That’s at best, and it requires both the parsing of language and the rending of history.

    This is not a place for trolls. Go away.

  15. Isa

    Dear No Name:
    “”””I have read that the ashuri script was adopted from the babylonians, but when I look at the babylonian’s ancient scripts, it looks nothing like ashuri script. Is there any solid proof of what you say?””””
    I certain there is solid proof, my MO rabbi who was educated at YU holds to this view. The script didn’t have to be identical to the Babylonians only be influenced by them. For instance, if there was movable type at around the year 600, Arabic would look a lot different. Arabic is equilavent to cursive English writing (and tough to read), A pious schochet that had a child at the local Orthodox day school in Minneapolis and the kid showed me a chart of the evoulution of the Hebrew script. I just commented ” you know more than the [fool] at the Ohr Somayach Hebrew class” I got this amased look.

    Posted by: | December 14, 2006 at 12:17 AM

  16. Isa

    Oh yeah
    Ohr Somayach, 1985, we go hear some words of ‘wisdom’ from some ‘rabbi’ “the reason Ha-shem put poor people on earth was so we could give them charity” typical nonsense that I don’t notice one way or the other, but my roomie was from the Chezk republic and when we got back to our room ,he started to rant and rave about the nonsense he just heard ,cause he grew up poor. But like I said in an earlier post, going to Ohr Somayach is like to going a buffet good things to eat and then there is crap, one has to have enough sense to avoid ‘eating’ the ‘crap’

  17. JB

    Shmarya,

    The Macabees I and II does mention the fact that they made a new menorah and the lighting itself here:

    “They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple

    and here:

    “They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence”

    Your argument has been that:

    “I believe the rabbinic response to this problem was to gradually push aside the victory of the Maccabees, which was the true miracle of Hanukka, and replace it with the “miracle of the oil.””

    I have heard on a tape from R’ Shmuel Irons (Rosh Kollel of Detroit) that the Pharasees tended not to write anything down other than the 24 books of scripture. The only other books we find before the time of the Mishnah is Megilas Taanis which was explictly sanctioned to be written down.

    Thus, he explains further it is possible that Josephus himself was a Pharisee but most of the sources he used were Saducees.

    In other words, what I am trying to say that you can flip your argument the other way – it is possible that the miracle of oil took place. HOWEVER, it could be that the authors of Macabees I and II were allied with the Macabee dynasty, and purposely demphasized the miracle vs. the military victory. Basically you are claiming that the Sages demphasized the military victory, and I am claiming the opposite.

    Second, are you saying the miracle of oil was invented? If so, do you believe that there are many other things in the Talmud that aren’t true?

  18. Yos

    Arguments that the ‘miracle of the lights’ element was left out of earlier accounts, while impossible to disprove, strain reason. Which is the point of contention.

    As for the Talmud, and even the Tanakh – to preserve any kind of logical existence, there have to be concessions on the acceptance of the words of men. As a boy, I was told that the Greeks had stolen the ideas of mermaids and monsters from us, and the only reason these mythological creatures didn’t exist in the Tanakh is because they were of no importance (Meanwhile other religions were trying to purge their doctrines of fantasy). When I was old enough to discern things on my own, it was the rationalist nature of the Torah that drew me back. I believe it is this rationalism, and only this, that will sustain Judaism.

    Torah = emes = Torah.

  19. S.

    Shmarya, his piece is homiletical, not historical-critical. I don’t think he intended it to be otherwise.

  20. David Bar-Magen

    My dear Shmarya:

    I can’t help but notice how your definition of “troll” is apparently “anyone who disagrees with me.”

    I think my disagreement over points in a trollish blog should name me something else. Ogre, perhaps? No matter. I have no time for fantasy creatures when Chanuka is at stake.

    Now then, to be clearer:

    1. Again, R’ Schiller says there is no megilla because of the nature of the Greek attempt to undermine the Oral Torah. This does not exclude of a written work; just a megilla. His assertion is that, symbolically, we have refrained from placing a written chronicle of the war in our canon because the very focus of the war was our unwritten law. I don’t believe he meant to imply that there is no record whatsoever.

    2. That’s correct, but the reason the rabbis left Maccabees and other works out of the canon was because they determined that there was no Divine inspiration inherent in those works. That was the criterion to include a work in the Oral Torah, not whether that work portrayed things as the rabbis wished them to be portrayed. In fact, our accepted Oral Torah is stock full of quite uncomplimentary tales of our great men, as is the Talmud, for that matter.

    That sets our Oral Torah above most other religious chronicles that depict their leaders in an almost perfect, Godly light.

    3. R’ Schiller was not deceptive, but careless. He assumed that no-one would read into his article a denial of Maccabees existence, but he didn’t count on you.

    Please stop trying to construct Evil Haredi Conspiracies on thin air.

  21. JB

    Why not email R’ schiller and ask?

  22. shmuel

    Last year I posted a comment about Rabbi Adam Mintz’s class regarding the cruise of oil. He used a scholarly article as the basis of his talk. I found it recently. Here’s the cite (perhaps we can link it back to last year’s posts as well):
    “The Miracle of the Cruise of Oil–The Metamorphosis of a Legend: by Vered Noam of Tel Aviv University (Hebrew Union College Annual Vol. 73, pp. 191-226 (2002). It’s rather long and I’m slogging through it. She does an analysis of the Megillas Taanis (mentioned above), from which the Bavli in Shabbos takes its braisa about Chanukah, compares the “Scholium” (the Hebrew commentary on Megillas Taanis) of Parma, Italy (hereinafter “Scholium P”), the Scholium of Oxford University(hereinafter “Scholium O”), and a hybrid Scholium comprised of both (based on a manuscript in Cambridge University). (Be advised that she wrote a 250+ page book on Megillas Taanis titled “Megillat Taanit: Versions, Interpretation, History” (Hebrew; Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak ben Zvi, 2003).

    If I may, here’s what’s written as a brief synopsis of the article (page 191):

    “A popular view among historians considers the famous Hannukah story of the cruise of oil, which appears in the Talmud and seemingly also in the Scholium of Megillat Taanit, as evidence of the determination of the Sages to erase the memory of the Hasmoneans.

    “A careful examination of the traditions about Hanukkah in the Scholium of Megillat Taanit demonstrates, however, that the story, as it appears in the Babylonian Talmud, is a secondary form. The two extant versions of the Scholia offer different traditions in explaining the celebration of Hanukkah. Scholium O makes no mention of finding any oil and offers other reasons for the establishment of the festival. Scholium P does present, among other traditions, an early version of the story, which does not mention any miracle with regard to the finding of the oil. This same episode appears later in the Babylonian Talmud after it had evolved and crystallized, and when all other traditions had been rejected. The Babylonian Talmud is, in fact, the only source for the legend of the bit of oil that lasted eight days. The supernatural basis of this story, as well as its introduction as the only explanation for the celebration of Hanukkah, is a Babylonian manipulation, motivated by literary rather than historical purposes.”

    Sounds pretty damning. Readers?

  23. “Shmarya, his piece is homiletical, not historical-critical. I don’t think he intended it to be otherwise.”

    Even if so, which I doubt, it’s told and sold to vulnerable people who don’t know the difference between homiletics and history.

  24. Shmuel –

    Exactly, with one addition: The Sages could not have rewritten history while the Temple still stood and the descendants of the priests who officiated at the Temple at the time of the war were still prominent. It took greater distance and a destruction of both the Hasmonain dynasty and the priestly class for the new spin to created and to dominate.

    The Sages – if they existed at all, which I doubt – were irrelevant to public life during the early to mid Hasmonaim era. And the Talmud is not a history of anything.

  25. shmuel

    One more thought, just to clarify matters:
    Isn’t it odd that an open miracle (of the little cruise of oil) was “hidden” for 500 years? I thought I heard some rabbi explain that the miracle of oil alludes to the oral Torah, which is hidden, so here as well, the miracle was hidden.
    That is the strangest thing to say, isn’t it? I don’t care if the miracle took place in the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies (thus “hidden”); if you later claim it was miraculous, such that it’s worthy of a holiday for everyone to observe, I’m sure it would have been well known. And should have been well known. Weren’t people talking about the miracle? For hundreds of years? Surely in the 50-100 years after it took place you’d think people would be discussing it. If so, why not write it down earlier than the Babylonian Talmud circa 500 ce? It’s already out in the public domain. And, once you have decided to write down all the Oral Law, in the year 220 ce with the Mishna and early Midrash, why not write down the miracle so that it, too, should not be forgotten?
    Amazing, isn’t it, that the Sages did not mention it in the Al Hanisim prayer? Or the Mishna? Or the Midrash?
    Amazing, isn’t it, that it’s not mentioned in I or II Maccabees? Amazing, isn’t it, that it’s not mentioned in the Megillas Taanis or its accompanying commentary, the Scholia O or P? In other words, it is not mentioned whatsoever in contemporaneous or soon-after-the-event documents. Now, why would that be? Why would this miracle have to be “hidden” long after it occurred? Why the need to keep it “oral”? Unless, as Noam contends, it has weak historical legs…

  26. Anonymous

    The Rashba, Avraham ben Harambam, and other great rabbis warn not to take all midrashim literally. They say that there are those who take it literally, and nothing shakes their belief in it. There are those who accept that some midrashhim are true and others metaphorical. And there are those who read it and think that because it seems highly unlikely that some midrashim occurred, they must all be false; which means the torah must then be false (G-d forbid). Couldnt the miracle of chanuka potentially fall under this category of metaphoric midrash? Would taking this midrash metaphorically somehow “disprove” the talmud?

  27. David Bar-magen:

    There is a Lubavitch Death Metal band!

    It’s called “Schneerson”.

    They have a myspace page…

    Happy Chanukah All!

  28. David Bar-Magen

    Dear Shmarya: Oh YEAH? Well YOU’RE stupid, and your momma dresses you funny! Nya nya.

    Dear YidChat, who had something actually intelligent to say: Well then, I expect all the Bad People are going to apologize to Shmarya any day now. Who’da thunk? Still, it might be a good thing: maybe he’ll wake up on the right side of the Red Sea one day as a result. I can dream, can’t I?

  29. Neo-Conservaguy

    “Even if so, which I doubt, it’s told and sold to vulnerable people who don’t know the difference between homiletics and history.”

    Amen. Great arguments, folks – although we could do without insults (ahem). Now, the question is, how you talked yourself out of lighting the chanukiah just because you’ve realized the awful possibility that the sages sometimes bent the stories a bit to suit what they thought were the needs of the people? Not me – I can’t wait to fire them up!

  30. Anonymous

    Hey Shmuel, or anyone who can help me. These scholiums O and P; who wrote them, when, where and what was the author’s religious background? Are O, P and the hybrid the only commentaries that exist to the megillat taanit? I notice you said one commentary was from Parma, Italy? If that is the case, it should be noted that the Roman Jews were pretty different from mainstream Judaism, and broke from rabbinic tradition in a number of areas, from what I remember. I’m just curious how valid these commentaries are.

  31. Noclue

    THE TALMUD RECORDS A DISPUTE BETWEEN BAIS SHAMAI AND BAIS HILLEL AS TO WHETHER YOU ADD A NER TO NER CHANUKAH EACH DAY OR START OFF WITH EIGHT AND SUBSTRACT EACH DAY. UNLESS BAIS SHAMAI AND BAIS HILLEL HAD A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE REASON FOR NER CHANUKAH, WHICH IS MENTIONED IN THE MISHNA, THEN THE DATE GOES BACK BEFORE THE CHURBAN HABAYIS.

    ALSO THE GEMORA QUOTES A BRAISA. THE BRAISAS ARE OLDER MATERIAL, WITH EXACT DATE OF ANY BRAISA NOT ATTRIBUTED TO AN AUTHOR UNKNOWN. IT IS THEREFORE NOT PROPER TO ARGUE THAT THIS WAS NOT WRITTEN DOWN BEFORE 500 CE, AS YOU SEEM TO BE SAYING.

  32. Anonymous

    Very childish attack on Rav Schiller, a very broad minded and intellectual haredi. Comparing a dittie of Torah given in a very traditional context with historical analysis is very honest. Argue with him if you like, but your lack of respect for man who has done tremendous things for Am Yisroel tremendously undermines your credibbilty.

    BETTER issue: How can we daven a wrong fact for chanuka? ie he coulnd have been the Kohen Gadol.

  33. shmuel

    Good questions raised above. Let me see if I can handle them, working off of Rabbi Adam Mintz’s notes, the handout, and my understanding of Vered Noam’s article (which I still haven’t finished, is sitting in the car outside, but which you’re certainly invited to read!):
    1. Who wrote the Scholyon (Scholium)? I am not sure. It was written during the Second Temple times as a commentary. Don’t know the religious affiliation of the author, either.
    But is it off-limits, or less worthy of our attention, because the manuscript hails from Parma, Italy? I wouldn’t have thought so, didn’t know about how maverick that community is, etc. I don’t think scholars raise that as an issue in determining credibility. Personally, I would think it’s not a factor, but you’re welcome to do your research and report back to us.
    2. It is my understanding that O, P and the hybrid are indeed the only extant versions we have of the ancient commentaries known as the Scholyon.
    3. Noclue correctly writes that we have an early record of a disagreement between the schools of Shammai and Hilllel (who lived not too much later than the miracle) as to how to light the menorah.
    True enough. But perhaps I could explain it this way: the rabbis had established the holiday and lighting was a major part of it. The question was, exactly how do we do so? Eight first, or eight last? That’s all. They knew thay had to light for 8 days, because the holiday was established for 8 days (there’s a big discussion of that in Noam’s article) and lighting was how they commemorated it, so they debated the fine point. But all that can be true without ever coming on to a discussion of whether they cruise was found and miraculously lasted 8 days.
    Not sure how clear that was. Might as well lay it out for all of you, and you can take it or leave it. In my next post I’ll give you the notes to Rabbi Mintz’s lecture. Stick tight, and Happy Chanukah! Sorry, shacharis beckons. Will be back asap. Really.

  34. Moshe

    Shmarya,
    There is a more basic reason within the Talmudic tradition,why the story of Chanukah was not canonized. The Talmud Sanhedrin 11a quotes a Braisa that says when Chagai Zecharia & Malachi died (in the beginning of the second temple)there was no longer Ruach Hakodesh(prophetic inspiration. Therefore no books from later periods could be canonized. (See also Rashi on Megillah 14a.)
    I think that Rabbi Schiller is probably aware of this Gemara as well, so why the need for his explanation. I think he was trying to give a deeper explanation of why the Divine providence was such that the story of Chanukah took place when it could not be canonized. Hence his answer that there was no need for it, because it was primarily a war against the oral law.

  35. shmuel

    I know I owe a post, which I hope to provide soon.

  36. shmuel

    Thanks for your patience. Take it away, Rabbi Mintz (from a lecture delivered at Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim, Oct. 26, 2004):

    In 63 BCE the Romans defeated the Chashmonaim. So we no longer had the Hasmonean heroes around. Then, in 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed. So we no longer had the very focal point of the Chanukah holiday to rally around. So, with no Hasmoneans, and no Temple, why celebrate Chanukah? What IS there to celebrate? It’s all a distant memory. Thus, we have a problem: we have a holiday which undeniably exists, celebrating past military glories and victories, but right now, post destruction, it’s really, effectively, irrelevant.

    The Jews had been celebrating the holiday for 8 days. The plan: make the holiday relevant again. The sages needed to pin the holiday on something that exists, that’s got some substance, something relevant.

    They therefore consulted the Scholium, the commentary to the Megillat Taanit (mentioned above) and saw that indeed, there was a discussion there of finding kosher oil with which to light the Menorah (though there is no mention of it miraculously lasting 8 days there). From a fortuitous find of oil, it’s a slight jump and elaboration to their version: that find lasted 8 days.

    The rabbinic need to make Chanukah relevant in a Jewish world of unbelievable military defeats, destruction, loss of hope, and a perception that a holiday was now irrelevant allowed them to reinterpret the story this way. They needed to do so to make Chanukah relevant again. That is: (short-lived) military victories? That’s not the real miracle. The miracle was the oil lasted 8 days. That you can take with you always and everywhere.

    There you have it. Heresy? Truth? I haven’t finished Vered Noams article (see above) but perhaps it’s based on that.

    Readers?

  37. ElishBenAvuya

    Thanks Shmuel. Thats a very interesting theory of how channuka developed. I just posted the following on a different post, but I’ll post it too here just in case:

    What is the evidence you present to refute the mirace of oil? People on earlier posts have brought up a number of ideas. The book of Macabees, Josephus, the text of al hanissim, the mishna, the midrash, the megillat taannit commentaries, all apparently fail to mention the miracle of oil burning miraculously for 8 days. Does this prove the miracle didnt happen? I’m not so sure.
    The book of Macabees was written before and during the time of Alexander Janneus, who was a fierce opponent of the rabbis, and a hellenizer and a sadducee (or at the least a sympathizer). These texts were never accepted among the official cannon, and Rabbi Akiva goes so far in Sanhedrin Mishna 11:1 to say that those who read the sefer hachitzonim (which most likely refers to the book of Maccabees) loses his share in the world to come.
    Josephus himself borrows a large amount from these texts, and though he presents his account of chanukka, he writes, “And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I SUPPOSE THE REASON WAS, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.” Josephus is saying that he “supposes” but is not sure himself why the festival is called “lights.” He may have heard a number of reasons why it is called lights but he chose this explanation. Josephus does not always give every possible explanation for why things are the way they are in Judaism. Seeing as how some of his ideas, writings and even his own geneology tracing him back to Jonathan (Judah Maccabees brother) are questionable, he may have been espousing the Sadducean view of hanukka, or the view of some other sect at the time. Furthermore, during this period, there was, with a few exceptions, one hellenistic or pro sadducean king after another. Tradition of a miracle may have been suppressed in order not to lend credence to the pharisaic tradtion.

    The text of al hanissim for Purim fails to mention many of the miracles that occurred at that time. So if the Al hanissim of Chanukka doesn’t mention the miracle of 8 days of oil, does this prove anything?
    The mishna doesn’t mention everything that ever occurred in Judaism, and many laws are expounded upon in the gemara that the mishna does not specify. Plus it says clearly that we learn in a baraisa the eight day miracle of oil, baraisas being written during the same time as the mishna. Furthermore, if you understand the dynamics of the Talmud, no one could just come along and make up a baraisa and say it was authentic. There were many great rabbis at the time analyzing the texts and the precedent set down in the gemara. Just as no one can come along and add to the torah today without being questioned and rejected, so too back then.
    As for the Scholiums describing the Megillat taanit, I would like to know more about them. But again, not mentioning in the commentary of the megilla taanit the miracle of oil may only represent the view of the saducees, essenes, or some other minor sect. As for the midrash, I havent read every midrash, but I ask, are there many midrashim about channuka in general? If not, perhaps that topic was simply not discussed and expounded upon as thoroughly as others.
    These are just some ideas I have. Let me know what you think

  38. David Bar-Magen

    This is just a theory; one I’ve been considering for a while:

    Many times, throughout history, rabbis have striven to maintain that all victory, military or otherwise, belongs to God.

    Modern example: many leading rabbis stated, following the miraculous outcome of the Six Day War, that Mashiach was certainly on his way and that the battle of Gog and Magog had begun. However, as focus slowly shifted from the miraculous nature of the Israeli victory to the superhuman prowess of the Israeli soldiers, many of these same rabbis began to denounce ties with the Zionist state and bemoan that we had forfeited our window of Divine favor with our arrogance.

    Let us consider, then, that the miracle of the oil did happen, but that the rabbis of the era were initially agreeable to the more shocking Jewish military victory being touted as the primary event.

    After all, the oil miracle would’ve mattered greatly to the Kohanim that discovered it, but not nearly as much to the rest of the Jews who suffered through the war and lived to see impossible victory. The victory constituted grounds for all Jews to celebrate.

    But perhaps, as time went on, the word “miraculous” was removed from the victory in favor of celebrating the vast military power and ingenuity of the Maccabees. Perhaps that is why later rabbis began to re-emphasize the miracle of the oil over all else, thus decisively re-attributing the celebration of Chanuka to God, to Whom all Jewish holidays should ultimately be attributed.

  39. shmuel

    Real good posts, EBA and DBM. Very thoughtful and nicely argued.
    EBA argues persuasively that the lack of a discussion in all the contemporaneous sources (Al Ha-Nissim prayer, Josephus, Mishna, Midrash, Megillat Taanit, and its commentary known as the Scholyon)of a reference to the miracle of 8 day oil is of little concern, since they’re either questionable sources in and of themselves, or they normally leave out material anyway, so why should this shock us?

    I don’t have a very good answer to that, other than it still strikes me as a bit odd that the first time we see this discussion of miraculous oil is in a text a full 650 years after the miracle, which I am commanded to be “mifarsem”/publicize, with lots of laws as to how to properly do so. I find that strange, and I think EBA should, too, considering that the whole idea of the holiday is to publicize it. Well, publicize what? If the rabbis themselves don’t explicitly write about it for 650 years, isn’t that a lack in persumei nisa/publicizing the miracle? You don’t get a bigger failing in publication than that, agreed? I hope I can have your thoughts on that, EBA.

    DBM has a theory worthy of our attention, too. It certainly rings true, I think, especially in light of how things work in rabbinic circles today. Perhaps that is exactly how it went down, after all. Who will ever know?

    One thing’s for sure: they never taught me any of this stuff in my yeshiva days. Keep the historical theories coming!

  40. ElishaBenAvuya

    Shmuel, Im working on it.

  41. ElishBenAvuya

    I have found a few more interesting pieces of the puzzle, although I’m not sure how helpful they may prove. But first, regarding the publication of the miracle; it seems that there is almost nothing written about any Jewish traditions other than what we have from secular/non jewish sources, or the dead sea scrolls, prior to the mishna. Most rabbinic tradition was never written down, which is what the tradition says was the law until Yehuda Hanasi 200 C.E. So I would think that to an extent, singling out the miracle of chanuka would be like singling out any other unwritten tradition (unless ofcourse I’m overlooking something?). I have tried to find any sources in the Jerusalem Talmud for chanukka but only have seen in mentioned once in JT shabbos.
    I was analyzing the BT Shabbos 21b and found the following;
    There are three different ways one may light the menorah.
    1. one Ner for a man and his household;

    2. the M’hadrin (zealous – those who wish to beautify and enhance the Mitzvah) [kindle] a light for each member [of the household];

    3. and the M’hadrin min haM’hadrin: a) Beit Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;
    b) but Beit Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased.

    Also interesting is a little later the gemara says, “in times of danger, he should place [the light] on his table and that is sufficient.”
    Both of these points are interesting. For one, if you lacked funds or simply wanted to do the bare minimum, you were only required to light one candle. One burning candle isn’t exactly publicizing the miracle. Furthermore, if it was a time of danger, you didn’t have to even put it near your window, just on the table. I imagine that under the sadducean rulers and its corrupt sanhedrin, as well as under Herod and the Romans, there were a number of times this rule would apply, where publicizing the miracle could have been dangerous to your life. It would be like announcing in Communist Russia, “Look everyone, I’m a religious Jew!” The fact that this was a very tumultuous period, and yet this is the very time that this new rabbinic enactment was created and being taught and spread, it makes you wonder how much the festival would have caught on. Furthermore, if I was a Pharisee back when Alexander Janneus was ruler, I might not want to celebrate anything that had to do with the Macabees. Thats because Janneus was a grandson of the high priest king Shimon Macabee (Judah Macabees brother). However Janneus was a hellenizer who is reported to have massacred 6000 Pharisees in a rage, and then fought a civil war in Israel with the Pharisees in which as many as 50,000 Jews were killed by his army. A truce was finally established and he kept the throne. Nonetheless, I would imagine Chanukka wasnt celebrated the next few years with too much fervor, if at all, simply because it was celebrating the greatness of Janneus’ ancestors, only adding to his legitiamacy and honor, and would seem almost blasphemous to the memory of all those Jews he killed. I have some other ideas too but I’ll end this post here. Let me know what you think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Hanukka 2006: How Ignorant Are Haredim? This Ignorant

Rabbi Nota Schiller is a co-founder of and rosh yeshiva at Ohr Somayach, the "Harvard" of BT yeshivot. Rabbi Schiller was educated at Ner Israel in Baltimore, and has been a leading exponent of kiruv (missionizing) and haredism for 40 years. Yet, in a fanciful attempt to prove both the need for Jewish Otherness – separation from non-Jews – and the validity of the Oral Torah, Rabbi Schiller displays a level of ignorance that, even now, is truly shocking. In his attempt to explain what the midrash means when it says, "Write
upon the horn of an ox that you have no portion in the God of
Israel," Rabbi Schiller writes:

Historically, at Chanukah,
the Jews warred with the Greeks, yet there is no megillah,
no written work chronicling that battle
. Why? Because it is
a story that must be transmitted orally, for at the center of
this battle was the Greeks’ attempt to destroy the Oral Torah.

Instead of being conquered, we persevered and created a new holiday
that could only have been orchestrated through the mechanism of
the Oral Torah.

The blessing we say when
lighting the Chanukah lights is "…Who has sanctified
us with His commandments and has commanded us to light the flame
of Chanukah." Where are we commanded? Which verse in the
Torah mandates such? The oblique origin of this mitzvah is its
very strength: Because the Torah endows our Sages with the initiative
in each generation to legislate for the Jewish People, a mitzvah
such as Chanukah symbolizes the power of the Oral Torah. That
which the Greeks sought to extinguish is symbolized in the light
that illuminates the darkness of exile.

Well, no Rabbi Schiller, there are written works from those days describing the war and the victory of Hanukka. They’re known as 1 & 2 Maccabees. We did not canonize them, although we use them. Why weren’t they canonized? Because, one can easily argue, the books show two things clearly; 1. The sages did not participate in the war (if they even existed) and played no role in national life and, 2. the miracle of Hanuka was the victory. There is no mention in these contemporaneous documents written by believing Jews of any miracle of lights. In fact, mention of the "miracle" does not appear anywhere until more than 100 years later.

The holiday of Hanukka was this: The Maccabees were about to take back the Temple and expected they would in time for the Succor celebrations. They were delayed and took the Temple too late for Succor. To make up for the missed Succor celebrations and to remember the victory, they instituted Hanuka. (That’s why Hanukka is 8 days long – 7 days of Sukkot, 1 day of Shemini Atzeret.) That is what out Hanuka megillot say.

And there is no proof at all for Rabbi Schiller’s assertion that the "Greeks" sought to destroy the Oral Torah. It is unclear whether the Oral Torah even existed at the time of the Maccabees.

Rabbi Schiller continues with his foolishness:

Each holiday that Jews approach
is like a way station along the turnpike of history. The largest
distance on the highway had been between Succos and Pesach, between
which there was no holiday to stop off and refuel.
In the darkness
of exile, G-d in His wisdom provided us with two more fueling
stations, Chanukah and Purim. When we celebrate Chanukah, we
celebrate a holiday that reminds us that it is the wisdom and
genius of the Jew, expressed and refined through the Oral Torah,
that makes us Jewish.

Again, simply untrue. We had holidays then that are not celebrated now, or are "celebrated" by not saying certain prayers connected to sadness. One such holiday is Tu B’Shvat, which falls smack dab in the middle of the Succot – Pesach "gap."

Rabbi Schiller is a fool.

For an extensive post on the origin of Hanuka please see my posts, The Little Menorah That Didn’t: 1, 2, 3, & 4.

For DK’s coverage of Schiller’s idiocy, see his post.

[Hat Tip: DK.]

38 Comments

Filed under BTs, Hanukka, Haredim, Outreach

38 responses to “Hanukka 2006: How Ignorant Are Haredim? This Ignorant

  1. Anonymous

    What about this:

    “Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors and no longer to live by the laws of God”

  2. Anonymous

    Shmarya,

    Does this mean you don’t believe in what is written in the Talmud? So perhaps “אין דין ואין דיין” and we can do whatever we want?

  3. It means you should read the four posts I did last year and linked at the end of this post.

  4. Anonymous

    I did read them and the impression I got that the Talmud’s story was a result of a distance the Sages wanted to put between themselves and the Macabees – meaning that possibly the menorah story is false. One of the posts, ends off with a comment asking you whether you believe that the rest of the Talmud is falsified.

  5. I believe some of it is not true. That doesn’t mean those who wrote it down knew that, though.

  6. Not only are there I and II Maccabees, there are III and IV, which are not accepted as canon by as many groups but they do still exist. IV Maccabees is, in fact, the source for stories like Hannah and her seven sons as well as many of the other martyrologies. It was also probably left out of the canon because most of it is a philosophical treatise on how religious reasoning is master of the emotions (i.e. Judaism + Stoicism), which was felt to be non-canonical material.

    Also, all these books only survive in Greek, therefore making them even more unsuitable for canonization in the Hebraic tradition. But you’re right—this level of willful ignorance is truly shocking.

  7. mb

    Read the whole event from beginning to end in any book on the subject by Elias Bickerman. He gives details of various battles amongst other gems.

  8. Yos

    And why is there this constant confusing of ‘Greek’ and ‘Hellenist’? Yes, I know they meant the same thing to the Greeks, but the Greek philosophy and language, didn’t always mean they were from Greece. Like Mel Gibson thinking all Romans were Italian or something.

    The answer to the original question is, Rabbi Schiller knows better. He also knows how easy it is to give a ridiculously simplified story to the credulous.

    As for the ‘sages’. If I, a fool, can find flaw in their history, where does that leave them?

  9. David Bar-Magen

    Hey, Shmarya, that’s a good catch there. Rabbi Schiller indeed neglected to mention the four Maccabee books.

    However, you’ll also notice that he spoke of the miracle not being chronicled in a megilla, which indeed, Macabees 1-4 are not. We do not accept Maccabees as canon, and we do not recite it as part of a ritual on Chanuka; it isn’t a megilla. In that statement, R’ Schiller is correct.

    Furthermore, I don’t see what relevance the absence of the Miracle of Lights in Maccabees has to the article at hand.

    If anything, its absence supports R’ Schiller’s assertion that the miracle we make a blessing on is an oral, not written, tradition, and is meant to symbolize the enemy’s desire to eradicate the Oral Law.

    Whether or not the little menora could or couldn’t, R’ Schiller did nothing objectionable by not counting Macabees as a megilla.

    By the way, for a guy that doubts the validity of much of what rabbis say, you sure seem gung-ho to preserve a Greek work of questionable origin as pure, unadulterated fact.

    If it makes you feel better to “debunk” one of the most beautiful holidays to light up the winter, you are welcome to sit in a corner and sulk while the rest of us enjoy our latkes, sufganiyot, and dreidels.

  10. Your ignorance of history is astounding. All books then were either megillas or codexes. MAccabees 1,2,3,& 4 were certainly megiilot, as was Baruch, most other non-canonical works and, let’s see, tax records, royal records, history books, etc.

    Schiller is a fool and a liar. You, my friend, are only the former.

    And, just to help you out, 2 Maccabees is not of “questionable” origin.

    Slink off into your darkness and homophobia.

  11. Anonymous

    Isa, what you say is interesting, but I havent found full validation of your claim. The talmudic view is that the ashuri script was only used for holy writings, even in ancient Israelite days, and that the ancient cannannite (paleo-hebrew) script was used for secular documents and everything else. I have read that the ashuri script was adopted from the babylonians, but when I look at the babylonian’s ancient scripts, it looks nothing like ashuri script. Is there any solid proof of what you say?

  12. David Bar-Magen

    Did you suffer some sort of epileptic fit while you were reading my post, or are you just pretending to make no sense whatsoever?

    Again: In modern Yeshivaspeak, as I’m sure you know, the term “megilla” refers to a canonical work that we read at specific times of the Jewish year.

    Macabees doesn’t make the cut. I’m sorry if that sends you into fits of righteous rage. Hence, R’ Schiller’s assertion that there is no “megilla” of the war is correct. There is a written record, to be sure, but it is not a megilla. Period.

    Secondly, while Macabees 2 has indeed been more or less unanimously attributed to a devout Jew living in that era, it has never achieved rabbinical recognition as a Divinely-inspired work. 3 & 4 have, at various times been thought of as a Judeo-Greek historical record and/or a philosophical work pairing Judaism with contemporary (of that era) methods of thought. I really don’t think I should have to tell you that.

    Finally:

    “Go slink off into your darkness and homophobia.”

    Ha, I’m afraid not. I’m going to stay in your face, calling you on every vitriolic piece of paranoia you excrete about haredim, in your never-ending battle to put out a fire with gasoline.

    Tell me, what do you hope to accomplish with all your bitterness? Do you expect the haredi leaders of the world to write in their apologies for their nasty behavior, and to cite Shmarya Rosenberg as their biggest inspiration since Moses?

    Lubabvitch, Aish Hatorah, and all of Meah Shearim are about as likely to apologize to you as they are to form death metal bands.

    Surely you must understand this.

    Change in the haredi world can only come from within, and you have placed yourself firmly without. While I’m sure you’re happy to be there, you must realize that your chances of inspiring a wide-scale change from your current position are nil.

    Why not just leave them alone and enjoy whatever brand of Judaism you hold true in peace and happiness?

  13. Let’s be clear:

    1. Schiller’s claim is there is no written record of the war because the whole point of the war was to push offa Greek attack on the Orla Torah by forcing Jews to both violate it and, at the same time, to write it down. This is absolutely insane. There is no historical proof for Schillers assertions and much proof against them

    2. There is no “megilla” (in your hakneyed use of the word) because, more than 200 years AFTER the war, rabbis decided to leave out the MEGILLOT THAT ALREADY EXISTED AND WERE THEN USED. You see, there were “megiilot” even in the limited way you use the term.

    3. Schiller is, at best and under your tortured construction deceptive. That’s at best, and it requires both the parsing of language and the rending of history.

    This is not a place for trolls. Go away.

  14. Isa

    Dear No Name:
    “”””I have read that the ashuri script was adopted from the babylonians, but when I look at the babylonian’s ancient scripts, it looks nothing like ashuri script. Is there any solid proof of what you say?””””
    I certain there is solid proof, my MO rabbi who was educated at YU holds to this view. The script didn’t have to be identical to the Babylonians only be influenced by them. For instance, if there was movable type at around the year 600, Arabic would look a lot different. Arabic is equilavent to cursive English writing (and tough to read), A pious schochet that had a child at the local Orthodox day school in Minneapolis and the kid showed me a chart of the evoulution of the Hebrew script. I just commented ” you know more than the [fool] at the Ohr Somayach Hebrew class” I got this amased look.

    Posted by: | December 14, 2006 at 12:17 AM

  15. JB

    Shmarya,

    The Macabees I and II does mention the fact that they made a new menorah and the lighting itself here:

    “They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple

    and here:

    “They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence”

    Your argument has been that:

    “I believe the rabbinic response to this problem was to gradually push aside the victory of the Maccabees, which was the true miracle of Hanukka, and replace it with the “miracle of the oil.””

    I have heard on a tape from R’ Shmuel Irons (Rosh Kollel of Detroit) that the Pharasees tended not to write anything down other than the 24 books of scripture. The only other books we find before the time of the Mishnah is Megilas Taanis which was explictly sanctioned to be written down.

    Thus, he explains further it is possible that Josephus himself was a Pharisee but most of the sources he used were Saducees.

    In other words, what I am trying to say that you can flip your argument the other way – it is possible that the miracle of oil took place. HOWEVER, it could be that the authors of Macabees I and II were allied with the Macabee dynasty, and purposely demphasized the miracle vs. the military victory. Basically you are claiming that the Sages demphasized the military victory, and I am claiming the opposite.

    Second, are you saying the miracle of oil was invented? If so, do you believe that there are many other things in the Talmud that aren’t true?

  16. Yos

    Arguments that the ‘miracle of the lights’ element was left out of earlier accounts, while impossible to disprove, strain reason. Which is the point of contention.

    As for the Talmud, and even the Tanakh – to preserve any kind of logical existence, there have to be concessions on the acceptance of the words of men. As a boy, I was told that the Greeks had stolen the ideas of mermaids and monsters from us, and the only reason these mythological creatures didn’t exist in the Tanakh is because they were of no importance (Meanwhile other religions were trying to purge their doctrines of fantasy). When I was old enough to discern things on my own, it was the rationalist nature of the Torah that drew me back. I believe it is this rationalism, and only this, that will sustain Judaism.

    Torah = emes = Torah.

  17. S.

    Shmarya, his piece is homiletical, not historical-critical. I don’t think he intended it to be otherwise.

  18. Tam

    Regarding the scripts used in ancient Israel, I don’t think there is a single Talmudic view. I think the Bavli says one thing and the Yerushalmi says another. I’d need to look it up, though.

  19. David Bar-Magen

    My dear Shmarya:

    I can’t help but notice how your definition of “troll” is apparently “anyone who disagrees with me.”

    I think my disagreement over points in a trollish blog should name me something else. Ogre, perhaps? No matter. I have no time for fantasy creatures when Chanuka is at stake.

    Now then, to be clearer:

    1. Again, R’ Schiller says there is no megilla because of the nature of the Greek attempt to undermine the Oral Torah. This does not exclude of a written work; just a megilla. His assertion is that, symbolically, we have refrained from placing a written chronicle of the war in our canon because the very focus of the war was our unwritten law. I don’t believe he meant to imply that there is no record whatsoever.

    2. That’s correct, but the reason the rabbis left Maccabees and other works out of the canon was because they determined that there was no Divine inspiration inherent in those works. That was the criterion to include a work in the Oral Torah, not whether that work portrayed things as the rabbis wished them to be portrayed. In fact, our accepted Oral Torah is stock full of quite uncomplimentary tales of our great men, as is the Talmud, for that matter.

    That sets our Oral Torah above most other religious chronicles that depict their leaders in an almost perfect, Godly light.

    3. R’ Schiller was not deceptive, but careless. He assumed that no-one would read into his article a denial of Maccabees existence, but he didn’t count on you.

    Please stop trying to construct Evil Haredi Conspiracies on thin air.

  20. JB

    Why not email R’ schiller and ask?

  21. shmuel

    Last year I posted a comment about Rabbi Adam Mintz’s class regarding the cruise of oil. He used a scholarly article as the basis of his talk. I found it recently. Here’s the cite (perhaps we can link it back to last year’s posts as well):
    “The Miracle of the Cruise of Oil–The Metamorphosis of a Legend: by Vered Noam of Tel Aviv University (Hebrew Union College Annual Vol. 73, pp. 191-226 (2002). It’s rather long and I’m slogging through it. She does an analysis of the Megillas Taanis (mentioned above), from which the Bavli in Shabbos takes its braisa about Chanukah, compares the “Scholium” (the Hebrew commentary on Megillas Taanis) of Parma, Italy (hereinafter “Scholium P”), the Scholium of Oxford University(hereinafter “Scholium O”), and a hybrid Scholium comprised of both (based on a manuscript in Cambridge University). (Be advised that she wrote a 250+ page book on Megillas Taanis titled “Megillat Taanit: Versions, Interpretation, History” (Hebrew; Jerusalem: Yad Itzhak ben Zvi, 2003).

    If I may, here’s what’s written as a brief synopsis of the article (page 191):

    “A popular view among historians considers the famous Hannukah story of the cruise of oil, which appears in the Talmud and seemingly also in the Scholium of Megillat Taanit, as evidence of the determination of the Sages to erase the memory of the Hasmoneans.

    “A careful examination of the traditions about Hanukkah in the Scholium of Megillat Taanit demonstrates, however, that the story, as it appears in the Babylonian Talmud, is a secondary form. The two extant versions of the Scholia offer different traditions in explaining the celebration of Hanukkah. Scholium O makes no mention of finding any oil and offers other reasons for the establishment of the festival. Scholium P does present, among other traditions, an early version of the story, which does not mention any miracle with regard to the finding of the oil. This same episode appears later in the Babylonian Talmud after it had evolved and crystallized, and when all other traditions had been rejected. The Babylonian Talmud is, in fact, the only source for the legend of the bit of oil that lasted eight days. The supernatural basis of this story, as well as its introduction as the only explanation for the celebration of Hanukkah, is a Babylonian manipulation, motivated by literary rather than historical purposes.”

    Sounds pretty damning. Readers?

  22. “Shmarya, his piece is homiletical, not historical-critical. I don’t think he intended it to be otherwise.”

    Even if so, which I doubt, it’s told and sold to vulnerable people who don’t know the difference between homiletics and history.

  23. Shmuel –

    Exactly, with one addition: The Sages could not have rewritten history while the Temple still stood and the descendants of the priests who officiated at the Temple at the time of the war were still prominent. It took greater distance and a destruction of both the Hasmonain dynasty and the priestly class for the new spin to created and to dominate.

    The Sages – if they existed at all, which I doubt – were irrelevant to public life during the early to mid Hasmonaim era. And the Talmud is not a history of anything.

  24. DBM –

    You’re a fool. Go ply your troll-keit elsewhere.

  25. shmuel

    One more thought, just to clarify matters:
    Isn’t it odd that an open miracle (of the little cruise of oil) was “hidden” for 500 years? I thought I heard some rabbi explain that the miracle of oil alludes to the oral Torah, which is hidden, so here as well, the miracle was hidden.
    That is the strangest thing to say, isn’t it? I don’t care if the miracle took place in the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies (thus “hidden”); if you later claim it was miraculous, such that it’s worthy of a holiday for everyone to observe, I’m sure it would have been well known. And should have been well known. Weren’t people talking about the miracle? For hundreds of years? Surely in the 50-100 years after it took place you’d think people would be discussing it. If so, why not write it down earlier than the Babylonian Talmud circa 500 ce? It’s already out in the public domain. And, once you have decided to write down all the Oral Law, in the year 220 ce with the Mishna and early Midrash, why not write down the miracle so that it, too, should not be forgotten?
    Amazing, isn’t it, that the Sages did not mention it in the Al Hanisim prayer? Or the Mishna? Or the Midrash?
    Amazing, isn’t it, that it’s not mentioned in I or II Maccabees? Amazing, isn’t it, that it’s not mentioned in the Megillas Taanis or its accompanying commentary, the Scholia O or P? In other words, it is not mentioned whatsoever in contemporaneous or soon-after-the-event documents. Now, why would that be? Why would this miracle have to be “hidden” long after it occurred? Why the need to keep it “oral”? Unless, as Noam contends, it has weak historical legs…

  26. Anonymous

    The Rashba, Avraham ben Harambam, and other great rabbis warn not to take all midrashim literally. They say that there are those who take it literally, and nothing shakes their belief in it. There are those who accept that some midrashhim are true and others metaphorical. And there are those who read it and think that because it seems highly unlikely that some midrashim occurred, they must all be false; which means the torah must then be false (G-d forbid). Couldnt the miracle of chanuka potentially fall under this category of metaphoric midrash? Would taking this midrash metaphorically somehow “disprove” the talmud?

  27. David Bar-Magen

    Dear Shmarya: Oh YEAH? Well YOU’RE stupid, and your momma dresses you funny! Nya nya.

    Dear YidChat, who had something actually intelligent to say: Well then, I expect all the Bad People are going to apologize to Shmarya any day now. Who’da thunk? Still, it might be a good thing: maybe he’ll wake up on the right side of the Red Sea one day as a result. I can dream, can’t I?

  28. Neo-Conservaguy

    “Even if so, which I doubt, it’s told and sold to vulnerable people who don’t know the difference between homiletics and history.”

    Amen. Great arguments, folks – although we could do without insults (ahem). Now, the question is, how you talked yourself out of lighting the chanukiah just because you’ve realized the awful possibility that the sages sometimes bent the stories a bit to suit what they thought were the needs of the people? Not me – I can’t wait to fire them up!

  29. Anonymous

    Hey Shmuel, or anyone who can help me. These scholiums O and P; who wrote them, when, where and what was the author’s religious background? Are O, P and the hybrid the only commentaries that exist to the megillat taanit? I notice you said one commentary was from Parma, Italy? If that is the case, it should be noted that the Roman Jews were pretty different from mainstream Judaism, and broke from rabbinic tradition in a number of areas, from what I remember. I’m just curious how valid these commentaries are.

  30. Noclue

    THE TALMUD RECORDS A DISPUTE BETWEEN BAIS SHAMAI AND BAIS HILLEL AS TO WHETHER YOU ADD A NER TO NER CHANUKAH EACH DAY OR START OFF WITH EIGHT AND SUBSTRACT EACH DAY. UNLESS BAIS SHAMAI AND BAIS HILLEL HAD A DIFFERENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE REASON FOR NER CHANUKAH, WHICH IS MENTIONED IN THE MISHNA, THEN THE DATE GOES BACK BEFORE THE CHURBAN HABAYIS.

    ALSO THE GEMORA QUOTES A BRAISA. THE BRAISAS ARE OLDER MATERIAL, WITH EXACT DATE OF ANY BRAISA NOT ATTRIBUTED TO AN AUTHOR UNKNOWN. IT IS THEREFORE NOT PROPER TO ARGUE THAT THIS WAS NOT WRITTEN DOWN BEFORE 500 CE, AS YOU SEEM TO BE SAYING.

  31. shmuel

    Good questions raised above. Let me see if I can handle them, working off of Rabbi Adam Mintz’s notes, the handout, and my understanding of Vered Noam’s article (which I still haven’t finished, is sitting in the car outside, but which you’re certainly invited to read!):
    1. Who wrote the Scholyon (Scholium)? I am not sure. It was written during the Second Temple times as a commentary. Don’t know the religious affiliation of the author, either.
    But is it off-limits, or less worthy of our attention, because the manuscript hails from Parma, Italy? I wouldn’t have thought so, didn’t know about how maverick that community is, etc. I don’t think scholars raise that as an issue in determining credibility. Personally, I would think it’s not a factor, but you’re welcome to do your research and report back to us.
    2. It is my understanding that O, P and the hybrid are indeed the only extant versions we have of the ancient commentaries known as the Scholyon.
    3. Noclue correctly writes that we have an early record of a disagreement between the schools of Shammai and Hilllel (who lived not too much later than the miracle) as to how to light the menorah.
    True enough. But perhaps I could explain it this way: the rabbis had established the holiday and lighting was a major part of it. The question was, exactly how do we do so? Eight first, or eight last? That’s all. They knew thay had to light for 8 days, because the holiday was established for 8 days (there’s a big discussion of that in Noam’s article) and lighting was how they commemorated it, so they debated the fine point. But all that can be true without ever coming on to a discussion of whether they cruise was found and miraculously lasted 8 days.
    Not sure how clear that was. Might as well lay it out for all of you, and you can take it or leave it. In my next post I’ll give you the notes to Rabbi Mintz’s lecture. Stick tight, and Happy Chanukah! Sorry, shacharis beckons. Will be back asap. Really.

  32. Moshe

    Shmarya,
    There is a more basic reason within the Talmudic tradition,why the story of Chanukah was not canonized. The Talmud Sanhedrin 11a quotes a Braisa that says when Chagai Zecharia & Malachi died (in the beginning of the second temple)there was no longer Ruach Hakodesh(prophetic inspiration. Therefore no books from later periods could be canonized. (See also Rashi on Megillah 14a.)
    I think that Rabbi Schiller is probably aware of this Gemara as well, so why the need for his explanation. I think he was trying to give a deeper explanation of why the Divine providence was such that the story of Chanukah took place when it could not be canonized. Hence his answer that there was no need for it, because it was primarily a war against the oral law.

  33. shmuel

    Thanks for your patience. Take it away, Rabbi Mintz (from a lecture delivered at Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim, Oct. 26, 2004):

    In 63 BCE the Romans defeated the Chashmonaim. So we no longer had the Hasmonean heroes around. Then, in 70 CE, the Temple was destroyed. So we no longer had the very focal point of the Chanukah holiday to rally around. So, with no Hasmoneans, and no Temple, why celebrate Chanukah? What IS there to celebrate? It’s all a distant memory. Thus, we have a problem: we have a holiday which undeniably exists, celebrating past military glories and victories, but right now, post destruction, it’s really, effectively, irrelevant.

    The Jews had been celebrating the holiday for 8 days. The plan: make the holiday relevant again. The sages needed to pin the holiday on something that exists, that’s got some substance, something relevant.

    They therefore consulted the Scholium, the commentary to the Megillat Taanit (mentioned above) and saw that indeed, there was a discussion there of finding kosher oil with which to light the Menorah (though there is no mention of it miraculously lasting 8 days there). From a fortuitous find of oil, it’s a slight jump and elaboration to their version: that find lasted 8 days.

    The rabbinic need to make Chanukah relevant in a Jewish world of unbelievable military defeats, destruction, loss of hope, and a perception that a holiday was now irrelevant allowed them to reinterpret the story this way. They needed to do so to make Chanukah relevant again. That is: (short-lived) military victories? That’s not the real miracle. The miracle was the oil lasted 8 days. That you can take with you always and everywhere.

    There you have it. Heresy? Truth? I haven’t finished Vered Noams article (see above) but perhaps it’s based on that.

    Readers?

  34. ElishBenAvuya

    Thanks Shmuel. Thats a very interesting theory of how channuka developed. I just posted the following on a different post, but I’ll post it too here just in case:

    What is the evidence you present to refute the mirace of oil? People on earlier posts have brought up a number of ideas. The book of Macabees, Josephus, the text of al hanissim, the mishna, the midrash, the megillat taannit commentaries, all apparently fail to mention the miracle of oil burning miraculously for 8 days. Does this prove the miracle didnt happen? I’m not so sure.
    The book of Macabees was written before and during the time of Alexander Janneus, who was a fierce opponent of the rabbis, and a hellenizer and a sadducee (or at the least a sympathizer). These texts were never accepted among the official cannon, and Rabbi Akiva goes so far in Sanhedrin Mishna 11:1 to say that those who read the sefer hachitzonim (which most likely refers to the book of Maccabees) loses his share in the world to come.
    Josephus himself borrows a large amount from these texts, and though he presents his account of chanukka, he writes, “And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I SUPPOSE THE REASON WAS, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.” Josephus is saying that he “supposes” but is not sure himself why the festival is called “lights.” He may have heard a number of reasons why it is called lights but he chose this explanation. Josephus does not always give every possible explanation for why things are the way they are in Judaism. Seeing as how some of his ideas, writings and even his own geneology tracing him back to Jonathan (Judah Maccabees brother) are questionable, he may have been espousing the Sadducean view of hanukka, or the view of some other sect at the time. Furthermore, during this period, there was, with a few exceptions, one hellenistic or pro sadducean king after another. Tradition of a miracle may have been suppressed in order not to lend credence to the pharisaic tradtion.

    The text of al hanissim for Purim fails to mention many of the miracles that occurred at that time. So if the Al hanissim of Chanukka doesn’t mention the miracle of 8 days of oil, does this prove anything?
    The mishna doesn’t mention everything that ever occurred in Judaism, and many laws are expounded upon in the gemara that the mishna does not specify. Plus it says clearly that we learn in a baraisa the eight day miracle of oil, baraisas being written during the same time as the mishna. Furthermore, if you understand the dynamics of the Talmud, no one could just come along and make up a baraisa and say it was authentic. There were many great rabbis at the time analyzing the texts and the precedent set down in the gemara. Just as no one can come along and add to the torah today without being questioned and rejected, so too back then.
    As for the Scholiums describing the Megillat taanit, I would like to know more about them. But again, not mentioning in the commentary of the megilla taanit the miracle of oil may only represent the view of the saducees, essenes, or some other minor sect. As for the midrash, I havent read every midrash, but I ask, are there many midrashim about channuka in general? If not, perhaps that topic was simply not discussed and expounded upon as thoroughly as others.
    These are just some ideas I have. Let me know what you think

  35. David Bar-Magen

    This is just a theory; one I’ve been considering for a while:

    Many times, throughout history, rabbis have striven to maintain that all victory, military or otherwise, belongs to God.

    Modern example: many leading rabbis stated, following the miraculous outcome of the Six Day War, that Mashiach was certainly on his way and that the battle of Gog and Magog had begun. However, as focus slowly shifted from the miraculous nature of the Israeli victory to the superhuman prowess of the Israeli soldiers, many of these same rabbis began to denounce ties with the Zionist state and bemoan that we had forfeited our window of Divine favor with our arrogance.

    Let us consider, then, that the miracle of the oil did happen, but that the rabbis of the era were initially agreeable to the more shocking Jewish military victory being touted as the primary event.

    After all, the oil miracle would’ve mattered greatly to the Kohanim that discovered it, but not nearly as much to the rest of the Jews who suffered through the war and lived to see impossible victory. The victory constituted grounds for all Jews to celebrate.

    But perhaps, as time went on, the word “miraculous” was removed from the victory in favor of celebrating the vast military power and ingenuity of the Maccabees. Perhaps that is why later rabbis began to re-emphasize the miracle of the oil over all else, thus decisively re-attributing the celebration of Chanuka to God, to Whom all Jewish holidays should ultimately be attributed.

  36. shmuel

    Real good posts, EBA and DBM. Very thoughtful and nicely argued.
    EBA argues persuasively that the lack of a discussion in all the contemporaneous sources (Al Ha-Nissim prayer, Josephus, Mishna, Midrash, Megillat Taanit, and its commentary known as the Scholyon)of a reference to the miracle of 8 day oil is of little concern, since they’re either questionable sources in and of themselves, or they normally leave out material anyway, so why should this shock us?

    I don’t have a very good answer to that, other than it still strikes me as a bit odd that the first time we see this discussion of miraculous oil is in a text a full 650 years after the miracle, which I am commanded to be “mifarsem”/publicize, with lots of laws as to how to properly do so. I find that strange, and I think EBA should, too, considering that the whole idea of the holiday is to publicize it. Well, publicize what? If the rabbis themselves don’t explicitly write about it for 650 years, isn’t that a lack in persumei nisa/publicizing the miracle? You don’t get a bigger failing in publication than that, agreed? I hope I can have your thoughts on that, EBA.

    DBM has a theory worthy of our attention, too. It certainly rings true, I think, especially in light of how things work in rabbinic circles today. Perhaps that is exactly how it went down, after all. Who will ever know?

    One thing’s for sure: they never taught me any of this stuff in my yeshiva days. Keep the historical theories coming!

  37. ElishaBenAvuya

    Shmuel, Im working on it.

  38. ElishBenAvuya

    I have found a few more interesting pieces of the puzzle, although I’m not sure how helpful they may prove. But first, regarding the publication of the miracle; it seems that there is almost nothing written about any Jewish traditions other than what we have from secular/non jewish sources, or the dead sea scrolls, prior to the mishna. Most rabbinic tradition was never written down, which is what the tradition says was the law until Yehuda Hanasi 200 C.E. So I would think that to an extent, singling out the miracle of chanuka would be like singling out any other unwritten tradition (unless ofcourse I’m overlooking something?). I have tried to find any sources in the Jerusalem Talmud for chanukka but only have seen in mentioned once in JT shabbos.
    I was analyzing the BT Shabbos 21b and found the following;
    There are three different ways one may light the menorah.
    1. one Ner for a man and his household;

    2. the M’hadrin (zealous – those who wish to beautify and enhance the Mitzvah) [kindle] a light for each member [of the household];

    3. and the M’hadrin min haM’hadrin: a) Beit Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;
    b) but Beit Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased.

    Also interesting is a little later the gemara says, “in times of danger, he should place [the light] on his table and that is sufficient.”
    Both of these points are interesting. For one, if you lacked funds or simply wanted to do the bare minimum, you were only required to light one candle. One burning candle isn’t exactly publicizing the miracle. Furthermore, if it was a time of danger, you didn’t have to even put it near your window, just on the table. I imagine that under the sadducean rulers and its corrupt sanhedrin, as well as under Herod and the Romans, there were a number of times this rule would apply, where publicizing the miracle could have been dangerous to your life. It would be like announcing in Communist Russia, “Look everyone, I’m a religious Jew!” The fact that this was a very tumultuous period, and yet this is the very time that this new rabbinic enactment was created and being taught and spread, it makes you wonder how much the festival would have caught on. Furthermore, if I was a Pharisee back when Alexander Janneus was ruler, I might not want to celebrate anything that had to do with the Macabees. Thats because Janneus was a grandson of the high priest king Shimon Macabee (Judah Macabees brother). However Janneus was a hellenizer who is reported to have massacred 6000 Pharisees in a rage, and then fought a civil war in Israel with the Pharisees in which as many as 50,000 Jews were killed by his army. A truce was finally established and he kept the throne. Nonetheless, I would imagine Chanukka wasnt celebrated the next few years with too much fervor, if at all, simply because it was celebrating the greatness of Janneus’ ancestors, only adding to his legitiamacy and honor, and would seem almost blasphemous to the memory of all those Jews he killed. I have some other ideas too but I’ll end this post here. Let me know what you think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s