What Zionist Historians Have Thought about Hanukkah

“It was one of the decisive events in human history. Never before had men been convinced, as they were then, that an idea was something to fight for and to die for.”

A Hanukkah illustration from a file of cards found in the National Library of Israel. Wikimedia.

A Hanukkah illustration from a file of cards found in the National Library of Israel. Wikimedia.

Asael Abelman
Observation
Dec. 14 2020
About the author

Asael Abelman is the director of academic programs at the Tikvah Fund in Israel and head of the history department at Herzog College. His work appears in numerous Israeli journals and newspapers.

While the basic elements of the Hanukkah story are both straightforward and well known—the Seleucid oppression, the heroic victory, and the miracle of the oil—the ways Jews have understood it have shifted over the centuries. There is, most famously, the striking discrepancy between the Talmud’s explanation of the holiday and the one found in the first and second books of Maccabees. But despite the many anomalies in the Talmud’s treatment of Hanukkah, there is little doubt that even in pre-talmudic times the holiday enjoyed a great deal of popularity in both the Diaspora and the Land of Israel. This very popularity may in part explain why the festival developed so many new shades of meaning over the centuries.

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More about: Hanukkah, Israel & Zionism, Religion & Holidays