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.]