From Delayed Thanksgiving Days to a Celebration of
Allen S. Maller
American Jews will celebrate a double holiday this year
as they first did 2,177 years ago.
November 28 of 2013 is Thanksgiving Day and
the first full day of Hanukah, the eight-day
Jewish festival of lights, which begins at sundown the previous
The last time the two holidays converged occurred 125
years ago, in 1888.
The next convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will
not happen until 2070, when the first night
of Hanukkah — the holiday begins at sundown — will fall on
The American holiday of Thanksgiving was originally
inspired by the Biblical holiday of Sukkot, a fall harvest pilgrimage
festival of thanksgiving.
The pilgrimage festival of Sukkot during Biblical times
was one of the two most important holidays in the Jewish year,
especially for Jewish farmers. In Jewish sources it is often called
“HeChag”—” “The Holiday.”
On Sukkot vast numbers of Jews traveled to Jerusalem to
give thanks to God for the crops they had just harvested. Thus, the
Temple was usually crowded with grateful worshippers rejoicing on
Sukkot as at no other time of the year.
And then came the dreadful years of persecution by
IV, the Syrian Greek king.
This was the first known attempt
at suppressing a minority religion, but unfortunately not the last.
Other well known attempts were the
three century long Roman persecution of Christianity, and the
persecution of Muhammad and his followers by the majority of pagan
Arabs in Makka.
All three religions emerged from
their varying periods of persecution stronger than ever, and this is
the ongoing spiritual lesson of the Hanukah lamp that once lit by
faithful believers, filled with hope and trust in God; lasts longer
than anyone else thinks possible.
200 BCE, King Antiochus III of Syria defeated Egypt and made the Land
of Israel a part of the Seleucid Empire. King Antiochus III, wanting
to conciliate his new Jewish subjects, guaranteed their right to
"live according to their ancestral customs" and to continue
to practice their religion in the Temple of Jerusalem.
However in 175 BCE, his son
Antiochus IV invaded Judea to put in power a pro Syrian high Priest.
As the first century Jewish historian Josephus relates:
167 BCE Antiochus IV,who named himself 'Manifest God'): “came upon
the Jews with a great army, took their city (Jerusalem) by force,
slew a great multitude of those that favored Egypt, and sent out his
plunder the Jews without mercy.
He also polluted the temple (erecting an idol in it that looked like
himself, and thus) put a stop to the daily offerings (to God) for
three years and six months."
He also banned circumcision and
ordered pigs to be sacrificed on the altar of the Temple.
This provoked a large-scale revolt
led by a man called Judah Maccabee and his four brothers.
When the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and completed
the purification of the Holy Temple, they were faced with a problem.
The Greek polytheists who had taken over the Holy Temple
for the previous three and a half years, were still in control of the
Temple a few months before, in the month of Tishri, Thus, for a
fourth year Jews had refused to go on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to
Sukkot: Now that the Temple
was theirs again, their first act was to belatedly celebrate Sukkot,
two months later, in the month of Kislev.
Celebrating the Sukkot pilgrimage in Jerusalem's Holy
Temple was so important, that it was “better late than never.”
They marched around the Temple alter seven times, and
sang the Hallel Psalms as on any Sukkot, celebrating for eight
days, the length of Sukkot. They participated
in the Sukkot torchlight processions.
The torchlight procession and large golden oil lamps
burning in the Temple Courtyard lit up the entire city of Jerusalem.
(Mishnah Sukkah 4:9-5:5)
The first eight-day celebration of the Maccabees was a
belated Sukkot celebration.
Hanukah: The following year,
the new Festival of Hanukkah, celebrating the purification and
rededication (Hanukah) of the Temple, borrowed some of the rituals
of Sukkot from that first celebration—the eight days, the recital
of Hallel Psalms, the lights brightly glowing (eventually in every
The Second Book of Maccabees,
originally written in Greek, was clearly intended for distribution to
the Jewish communities living outside the land of Israel, especially
in the bustling commercial Mediterranean port city of Alexandria in
The purpose of Second Maccabees
is clearly stated in the two letters that
open the book, urging the Jews of Alexandria to adopt this new
festival, which it appears, they were slow to accept.
The author claims that his source for the history of the
Maccabean war was a (now lost) larger five-volume history by one
Jason of Cyrene.
Chapter 10:1-8 of Second
Maccabees describes the purification of the
Temple as follows:
Judah the Maccabee and his men, under the Lord’s
leadership, recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. …
After purifying the Temple, they made a new altar... a new fire and …
offered sacrifices and incense … lit the lamps. … On the
anniversary of the very same day on which the Temple had been
defiled, the 25th of Kislev, they now purified the Temple.
They celebrated joyfully for eight days, just as on
Sukkot, knowing that (a few months before) on
Sukkot they had (been unable to celebrate at
the Temple) and had spent the festival
(hiding) like wild animals in the mountains
and caves. That is why they came... and
sang hymns of praise (Hallel), to
the One Who had given them the victory that had brought about the
purification of His Temple.
By a vote of the community they decreed that the
whole Jewish nation should celebrate these festival days every year.
(Second Maccabees 10:1-8)
Thus Hanukah, which started as a delayed Sukkot harvest
pilgrimage festival, became an additional holiday on which we can
give thanks to God, not just for the fruits of the land, but even
more important, for the fruits of attaining freedom to worship
according to our own religious principles.
Thus, on this once in a lifetime occasion, when both
holidays overlap. we should be twice as grateful as usual, for our
The historical part of this essay was mostly prepared by
Rabbi Manual Gold.