The Bible Says What? ‘Nothing about… Chanukah’

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The Bible Says What? ‘Nothing about… Chanukah’

 Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner looks into Jewish texts, and explains why nothing is said about the festival of light

Chanukah candles
Chanukah candles

As with any festival, when you want to know the story behind the celebrations you may decide to flick through the Tanakh – the compilation of all the Jewish traditional texts. But at Chanukah, you will encounter a problem: the story isn’t there.

In fact, the Book of Maccabees, which contains the story of defeating the mighty Greeks and the jug of oil lasting eight nights, was excluded from our canon of texts. 

Curiously, these texts appear in the Catholic Bible, even though they don’t celebrate Chanukah.

The story behind Chanukah did occur much later than many of our holy texts, which may explain the exclusion. This only falls down when you realise that the events are at a similar time to the Book of Daniel, which did get included.

A number of theories about the politics of the time – when the canonical Tanakh we know today was compiled – exist to explain the exclusion of this story, which is now one of our most well-known and connected to one of our most popular celebrations. We will probably never truly know why it was excluded, but what can we learn from the fact it was?

The Tanakh may be our go-to set of texts, but there is an important lesson to learn from the fact that it is not all-encompassing. 

Judaism is so much more than our canonical set of texts, and our tradition did not end when that series of books was formalised. Instead, through the centuries, we continued to grow the library of Jewish wisdom. We are always learning more.

Sometimes inspiration and learning come from places other than those you expect. 

That we are blessed with this festival from outside our canonical texts reminds us to open our eyes to all the inspiration we may miss if we only look in the same old places.

  •  Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is the former senior rabbi of Reform Judaism

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