The Second Book of Maccabees in the Apocrypha commences with letters addressed “to their Jewish brethren in Egypt” by “the Jews in Jerusalem and those in the country of Judea”. They describe the events that followed the desecration of the Temple and conclude, “And now, you must observe a Feast of Tabernacles in the month of Kislev“.
Sukkot in Kislev, not in Tishri?
Josephus tells a similar story. The explanation, as recorded in the halachic works, seems to be that during the Maccabean struggle Sukkot could not be celebrated in the normal way and was postponed until after the fighting.
A Second Sukkot may have been suggested by the law in the Torah that if a person is prevented from celebrating Pesach, a Second Passover was to be kept a month later.
In the case of Sukkot-Chanukah, there were hymns and processions with garlands and branches. Our emphasis on the little jar of oil for the Temple lamp is missing from the Apocrypha and Josephus, though there was a re-kindling of the altar fire.
So the observance of Chanukah was highly reminiscent of Sukkot – and not only in general terms but in a number of specific features:
• Chanukah became an eight-day festival, emulating the eight days of Sukkot (seven days plus Sh’mini Atzeret).
• The Hallel psalms are recited in full throughout both festivals.
• Bet Shammai’s view, eight lights on the first day reducing to one on the last day – Bet Hillel began with one and increased to eight – echoes the practice of reducing the number of Sukkot offerings day by day.
• Both festivals celebrate light – in the case of Sukkot, through the Simchat Bet HaSho’evah, the festival of the water-drawing, when Jerusalem was lit up with torches (Mishnah Sukkah 5:3).
• Both festivals emphasise “publicising the miracle” – in the case of Sukkot, deriving from Lev. 23:45, which ordains “that your generations shall know”.
• Both occasions promote hiddur mitzvah, “beautifying the commandment”. The Talmud recommends a beautiful sukkah and lulav (Shabbat 133b); it also speaks of how the mehadrin (“beautifiers”) kindle the Chanukah lights (Shab. 21b).
• Both festivals are connected with the dedication of the Temple. The building of the sanctuary began just before Sukkot. By 25 Kislev, which was later the date of Chanukah, the project was completed. The enemy chose to desecrate the Temple in Kislev in order to insult the Jews and undermine the anniversary of the dedication of the Temple. No wonder that there was such great Jewish rejoicing when the rededication took place on the same date that had always been so important in the Jewish calendar.
• Both are messianic festivals, symbolising the time to come when the whole world will serve the One God. Chanukah stands for the freedom to believe and worship; Sukkot yearns for all the nations to sit together in the messianic sukkah.