How the Jews of Cappadocia Contributed to the Modern Shabbat Candle

November 24, 2021 | Mendy Chitrik
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In ancient times, Hanukkah menorahs were oil lamps, on the model of that used in the Temple. Similarly, the Talmud cites the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon that only olive oil should be used for the Sabbath candles. The other rabbis object on the grounds that Jews living in the Diaspora use other substances, as olive oil is not so plentiful in their countries as it is in the Land of Israel. For instance, the Jews of Cappadocia—a region in what is now northeastern Turkey—use naphtha for their candles. The Talmud thus concludes that naphtha and various other fuels are suitable for ritual use—and therefore, the Turkish rabbi Mendy Chitrik observes, Cappadocian Jewry can be credited with paving the way for the paraffin Shabbat candles in wide use today. But that’s not all:

The Jewish community in Cappadocia is mentioned some twenty times in the Talmud. It hosted visiting scholars, such as Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir in the 1st century CE, and Rabbi Nathan in the 3rd. Jews of Cappadocia were frequent travelers to Jerusalem. Some of the ancient headstones of the Jaffa cemetery indicate that they belong to Jews who came from Cappadocia.

Touring at Özkonak Underground City, an impressive construction by the original Hittite inhabitants of Cappadocia, . . . one finds it difficult to walk straight though, as the average height of the ancient Cappadocian was about 55 inches.

Ezekiel 27:11 refers to “gamadim in castles.” The word gamadim literally means dwarves, or very short people. The Jonathan Targum—a rabbinic translation of the prophets into Aramaic written around 200 CE—translated the word gamadim as “Cappadocians.”

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