According to ancient legend, the first halakhic dispute between two rabbis occurred during the time of the Maccabean revolt. Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner (1906-1980) adduced this legend in developing his counterintuitive interpretation of Hanukkah, arguing that the eclipse of the law as a result of persecution led to the exciting proliferation of debates and arguments that enliven the Talmud and much rabbinic literature. After providing an introduction to Hutner’s life and thought, Yaakov Elman explicates his original take on the holiday:
Hanukkah represented for [Hutner] a watershed in Jewish history, with [its newfound] appreciation for the individual’s contribution to Judaism’s intellectual life. . . . Hanukkah reflects the transition [from biblical Judaism] to an intellectual rabbinic Judaism, where study and intellectual creativity became the foundation and the hallmarks of Jewish life. Before the early rabbinic sages, the tannaim, we do not hear of individual contributions to Torah study. And it is only with the advent of the tannaitic period that . . . value [is] placed on [the] individual’s contribution, despite the limitations of finite human understanding, [with] its doubts and disputes. . . .
The role of the individual is symbolized by the Hanukkah lights, which [represent] the individual contribution to the intellectual Torah heritage that grows and deepens with each contribution. And, as [Hutner] emphasizes, acknowledging individual contributions, and the unique contribution of each individual, improves the community [and the Jewish people as a whole].
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