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    Not because of the Christians

    Lighting chanukah candlesMany people think that Chanukah has a mazal because of the Christians.

    If it didn’t fall in December around Christmas time, they argue, Chanukah would never have attained such popularity. According to this view, Jews – especially in America – needed their own celebration to rival Christmas.

    The strange thing is that it isn’t Chanukah but Christmas which occurs at the wrong time. It is highly debatable whether 25 December has any intrinsic connection with the birth of Jesus, and in any case the current calendar (January, February, etc.) was not in use at the time, nor did they have birth registers to record the exact date of anyone’s birth in those days.

    But regardless of that consideration, the argument for Chanukah is only marginally connected with Christmas.

    Its origins are within Judaism and express an internal Jewish problem. What was going on was a tug-of-war between Jewish traditionalists and Hellenists, the mit’yav’nim who wanted to synthesise the tradition of Torah with the tents and tenets of Greek culture.

    According to I Maccabees in the Apocrypha, “certain free-thinking people went out from the midst of Israel and stirred up the masses, saying, ‘Let us covenant with the nations around us.’ They erected houses of entertainment in Jerusalem. They no longer circumcised their sons. They deserted the holy covenant and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of God.”

    It is not that some degree of contemporary culture was altogether ruled out, but the two groups had different priorities – holiness or aesthetics, monotheism or paganism, morality or pleasure, principle or paganism.

    No wonder the traditionalists said Dayyenu! and Mattityahu the Maccabean father cried, Mi LaShem Elai! – “If you are on God’s side, follow me!”

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