Religious : : Thoughts from Our Rabbi

When I light Chanukah candles, they give me hope during a time of darkness. We need the warmth of these candles more than ever this Chanukah, after what has been one of the most painful and difficult years in recent memory. We are feeling the pain and trauma of the ongoing bloodshed in Israel.

We hold this pain – and hold one another close. And we believe firmly that amidst our grief, we must persist in our vision of peace and justice around the world. The story of the Maccabees reminds us that even in the darkest times, our actions can make a difference.

Amid that darkness, many bright lights have also emerged – support of Jews and Israel shines brightly against a backdrop of hate and propaganda. There have been countless hundreds of thousands of volunteers in the U.S., in Israel and around the world working tirelessly day and night to coordinate logistics and organize intricate networks of resources. In the U.S., entire relief operations formed virtually overnight. Volunteers came together to provide vitally needed medical supplies and tactical gear for soldiers. When we work together, we are acting on our Jewish tradition’s deepest values.

The holiday of Chanukah has many beautiful customs such as the dreidl, latkes, sufganiyot, yet there’s one custom we’d expect to find which seems to be missing. The missing custom is the reading of a sacred scroll in public. After all, on Purim we read the Scroll of Esther every year to publicize the miracle. Why don’t we read a scroll on Chanukah to publicize the miracles which God brought our ancestors in the days of Matityahu and his sons? By not reading a scroll, most Jews only know the legend about the miracle of the oil, and we don’t necessarily know about the actual military victories of the Maccabees.

Such a scroll was read in private or public between the 9th and the 20th centuries. It’s called “The Scroll of Antiochus” and other names as well; it was written in Aramaic during Talmudic times and then translated into Hebrew, Arabic and other languages. The book describes the Maccabean victories based on a few stories coming from the Books of the Maccabees and our Talmud with the addition of several legends without any historic basis whatsoever. It was read in Babylonia, North Africa, Italy, Russia, Livorno, Yemen, and Kurdistan.

Our rabbis concluded today there is no point in reviving the specific custom of reading the Scroll of Antiochus in public, because the work is legendary in nature and not a reliable source for the events of Chanukah. Yet we do possess such a source for those events — the First Book of Maccabees, which was written in Hebrew in the Land of Israel by an eyewitness to the events. It is intended for reading in public or in private during the holiday.

As we gather via ZOOM each night of Chanukah at 5:30 pm to bring light and joy to this dark season, may each of us, and those we love, feel that miracles are possible and each of us play a role in making them happen.

Chag Urim Sameach, Happy Chanukah,

Rabbi Dennis