Hanukah is not a holiday of the Jewish religion, it is a holiday of the Jewish people. Although not really considered a religious holiday, it is a holiday of miracles.
We’re complicated that way.
The Hanukah miracle most people focus on is that of the oil that lasted eight days when it should only have lasted one. This is the reason we light the Hanukiah for eight days, each day lighting an additional candle or oil lamp so that, as time goes by, the light grows stronger rather than diminishing as it would normally do when the oil runs low.
The larger miracle is actually that of the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, the few against the many that ultimately led to the re-establishment of a Jewish kingdom with Jerusalem its capital. Hanukah is about freedom from an occupying foreign power and Jewish sovereignty in Zion.
Although a symbol for the miracle of light, the tradition of lighting the Hanukiah is also a direct reminder of the miracle of victory and sovereignty.
Hanukah candles are supposed to be lit in a place that can be seen by the public, to remind all who see the lights of the miracle of Hanukah.
The question is, what is public?
In the diaspora, candles are normally lit in a public place within the home so that all members of the family can see the Hanukiah. Some light candles close to a window, so that they can also be seen from outside.
In Israel many religious families use a Hanukkiah that burns oil, placing it in a special glass box outside their home. Weather cannot disturb the lights and everyone passing by can see them.
It seems that the differences in tradition are a function of Jews living in places where it was unsafe and thus unfeasible for a Jewish family to declare to their non-Jewish neighbors: “Look at the miracle that God created for my people!”
The Hanukiah in this image was photographed outside an apartment building in Haifa. It looks lovely but it also declares a message of sovereignty and defiance no Jew can truly express in any other land:
“A great miracle happened HERE, in THIS land, for MY people and I am free to declare it proudly for all to see!”
One thought on “A small Hanukah tradition, a lot of Jewish defiance.”
Wow, thank you for sharing all this with us.