Sunday, December 21, 2008

From the archives: First night of Hanukkah, er, Chanukah, er, the Festival of Lights

[Note. At sundown tonight -- Sunday, December 21, 2008 -- Hanukkah begins. This post was first published on December 4, 2007. --RWP]

At sundown tonight, the eight-day Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah begins. Hanukkah (or Chanukah, or however you choose to spell it) marks the
re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV (around 165 B.C.). It commemorates the “miracle of the container of oil.” According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil. Each evening during Hanukkah, another candle is lit on the menorah until, on the final day, the entire menorah is lit.

The dreidel, a four-sided top, is used for a game played during Hanukkah. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (Nun), ג (Gimel), ה (Hei), and ש (Shin), which together form the acronym for the Hebrew phrase
“נס גדול היה שם” (Nes Gadol Haya Sham) which means “a great miracle happened there.” [Note. Most of the information in the preceding two paragraphs was taken from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.]

No matter what anyone might have told you, Hanukkah is not “the Jewish Christmas.”

In the interest of full disclosure, my mother was Jewish (non-practicing) and my father was Christian (lapsed Methodist). I was raised Christian and have never attended a synagogue, but for years I struggled with my own identity. I wondered whether I was Christian or Jewish or half-Jewish, whatever that meant, and whether there could even be such a thing as “half-Jewish.” In 1962, Mrs. Lydia Buksbazen of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whose husband Victor headed the Friends of Israel missionary organization, told me, “Hitler would have considered you Jewish.” So basically, if my great-grandfather Max Silberman had not left Germany and come to America in the 1860s, we might not be having this conversation.


  1. interesting religious side note on there ever a chance that your wife would put you out in a separate tent because you smelll like some of our other 'OLD JEWS'??????????

  2. My boss is Jewish and he told me that Jewish law is very clear, you are Jewish if your mother is Jewish or if you have a valid conversion. But he also told me that to be Jewish does not mean that you are of the faith Judaism. You can be a Jewish Christian.

    So I don't know. Only repeating what he told me.

  3. Dear readers, unless you practice mental telepathy or read Putz's blog, I'm sure you don't have a clue what Putz is referring to. I will enlighten you. He asked recently on his blog, "Is anyone out there in blog land aware of Issac's estrangement from Rebecca?? I hear that she lived 40 years alone in a tent apart from him because he smelled bad."

    I replied, "I never heard that about Isaac and Rebecca. That's interesting. It's not in the Old Testament, but it might be in other writings within Judaism or a tradition in Israel. If it is true that they separated, it might just be the other way 'round, not that she left him because he smelled bad, but he might have put her out for helping Jacob deceive him into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. This sounds more likely, and that Rebecca made up the story in answer to people who wondered why they were not together. This is all just speculation on my part."

    So, Putz, my answer is NO, she (my wife) would not, but she may have other valid reasons. Also, you simply must try to stop commenting about something from your blog on other people's blogs without explaining! We are confused enough as it is!

    Egghead (Vonda), if "you have a valid conversion," wouldn't that mean that "you are of the faith Judaism"? Otherwise, what exactly would you be converting to? I'm confused as to what your boss meant exactly, unless he meant you didn't have to be religious to be a Jew. That is certainly true. My mother was Jewish, and I am a Jewish Christian, although I have always worshiped in a church, never in a synagogue. My heritage and my roots on my mother's side are Jewish.

  4. Ask Mrs Plague for a kippah for Christmas! Actually I shouldn't make light. A few weeks ago I was moved by a programme we have on British TV called "Who Do You Think You Are?". It followed Jerry Springer back to his Jewish roots in Poland/Germany. It was quite heart-rending. One shakes one head in disbelief at the inhumanity that man will sometimes show to man.

  5. Thanks for the bit of history of Hanukkah/Chanukah. Sometime...unless you have already...write about the Talmud; I would really like to know more about that. And, the events between the time of the Old and New Testaments.

    I think you should be very proud of your Jewish ancestry, though I never feel we should get carried away with labeling ourselves as this or that. We're human beings....creations of God.

  6. My father was Jewish, but my mother isn't, so I'm not Jewish - - but you are, because your mother is Jewish, that's the rule - - I think it's because it's always possible to tell for certain who the mother is, but not who the father is.

  7. This was interesting, Bob. I'm glad you pointed out that Hanukkah is quite different from Christmas.

    Have you ever heard of Jews for Jesus? I have friends who work for them.

  8. But the Hitler was part Jewish and he ignored that.
    We are what we choose to become.
    We cease to be what we choose to ignore.
    In the end what does it mean.
    Is Judaism a race or a religion?
    Christianity is not a racial thing. All the first Christians were Jews.

  9. hey rhymsee old boy, i have on my blog something of our sameness that would be very interestin to you as of coruse it was to me...i won't elaborate, you will have to go and see for yourself

  10. Thanks, all of you, for your comments. Sorry to be so late in replying to the new ones.

    YP - I'm such a non-Jewish Jewish person that I had to go look up what a kippah is. So what is the difference between a kippah and a yarmulke, I wonder. I think I knew that Jerry Springer was Jewish, but I had forgotten.

    Jeannelle - The Talmud is so big and so complicated. And Hanukkah was one of the things that happened between the time of the Old and New Testaments.

    Daphne - I think you're every bit as much Jewish as I am. Half. Doesn't matter to me whether the half is your father or your mother. Half is half. I'm different from some of the rabbinical experts in that respect. You are "non-practicing" and so am I.

    Ruth - I have heard of Jews for Jesus. I think it was founded by Moishe Rosen back in the eighties. An older term for what they are is Hebrew Christians.

    Dr. John - Too many thoughts in your comment for me to respond briefly. I don't think we necessarily cease to become what we choose to ignore. We are what we are. Aren't we?

    Putz - I think you mean you visited Denmark and I visited Sweden and we both did it back in the sixties. But Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are probably more alike that you and I are!