JBuzz News August 30, 2013: A Prayer of Atonement

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A Prayer of Atonement

Source: Huffington Post, 8-30-13

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, Jewish congregations around the world confess their communal transgressions….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-eds March 23, 2013: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: 13 things you need to know for Passover 2013

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13 things you need to know for Passover 2013

1. When does Passover 2013 begin and how long does it last?

2. What is Passover all about, and is it the same as Pesach?

3. Why is Passover the Most Celebrated Jewish holiday in America?

4. What’s a “Passover Seder”?

5. Why is Wine So Prominently Featured at the Seder Meal?

6. What is Matza?

7. Why Eat Bitter Herbs in the Midst of Celebrating Freedom?

8. Is Passover Only for Jews?

9. Was the Last Supper a Seder?

10. How are Passover and Easter related?

11. Passover and Our Founding Fathers

12. Moses Was A Hero to the Pilgrims

13. What the Word Egypt Really Means and Why It Matters for All of Us….READ MORE

JBuzz News February 10, 2013: Alexander H. Joffe: BDS and the Jewish Studies Trap on Brooklyn College’s Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Event

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For more on the controversy over Brooklyn College’s Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Event see complete news coverage on Israel Advocacy 101

Alexander H. Joffe: BDS and the Jewish Studies Trap

Source: The Algemeiner, 2-8-13

The recent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) event at Brooklyn College featuring professional Palestinian Omar Barghouti and celebrity anti-Israel academic Judith Butler was true to form. A dual purpose was served. For one, students and staff were treated to calls for the destruction of Israel, conducted in a quasi-academic setting, with the implicit endorsement of the institution. Second, as always, trap was sprung on opponents of such campus abuses. Having successfully planned the event and represented it as an intellectual exploration of the one state solution, in which Israel is made extinct, the inevitable complaints regarding its one-sidedness and borderline antisemitism were met with the usual howls of censorship and demands for academic freedom. Politicians became involved on both sides. City Council members were opposed to the campus and tax dollars supporting an anti-Israel recruitment rally. Mayor Bloomberg then came out in favor, and with characteristic tact and insight, condemned the event’s content and scolded the presumably close-minded opponents, wittily telling them to apply to school in North Korea….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-ed May 21, 2012: Dovid Katz: An Open Letter to Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder

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An Open Letter to Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder

Source: Algemeiner, 5-21-12

Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University, the author of the famous (and controversial) book “Bloodlands” was brought to Lithuania last week for a symposium on the Holocaust attended also by the director of YIVO in New York. In the course of the same week, the Lithuanian government repatriated, reburied with full honors and held a series of events honoring the 1941 Nazi-puppet prime minister who signed off on the German order for all Jews in Kaunas (Kovno) to be forced into a ghetto.

Dear Tim,

Greetings, and sorry we missed each other in Vilnius this time. I write in the context of our ongoing and respectful conversation, which started in the Guardian (thanks to Matt Seaton, and prominently including Efraim Zuroff) back in 2010 (I, II, III, IV); continuing through our meeting at Yale, the Aftermath Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011 (thanks to Mark Baker, and with participation of Jan Gross and Patrick Desbois), and more recently, via my review of your book Bloodlands (along with Alexander Prusin’s The Lands Between), in East European Jewish Affairs.

In that review, I dealt with a number of areas of disagreement that are on the table concerning the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and the efforts underway to use state funds to downgrade it in a number of countries, particularly the Baltics.

But these debates are inherently separate from the troubling issue on which I’m addressing you today: the ongoing instrumentalization and abuse of your important work by well-oiled government-financed ultra-nationalist and often antisemitic forces in Eastern Europe who have (wrongly) found in your work the ammunition for a discernible slide in the direction of the Double Genocide movement, which reached its zenith with the 2008 Prague Declaration (critiques here), and in the direction of positing the sort of “complexity” that is regularly invoked, particularly here in the Baltics, as euphemism for what is now called Holocaust Obfuscation.

There is, alas, in nationalist and antisemitic circles in some East European states a movement to sanitize or actually glorify local Holocaust collaborators and perpetrators (who were after all, usually quite reliably “anti-Soviet” and “anti-Russian”). In Lithuania alone, this effort has gone hand in hand with a tragic effort to concurrently blame the victims by trying to criminalize, in the absence of any evidence, Holocaust survivors who are alive because they joined the anti-Nazi resistance. Not one of these kangaroo cases has yet led to a public apology, not even to 90 year old Dr. Rachel Margolis in Rechovot, who still dreams of one last visit to her native Vilna.

As reported in DefendingHistory.com last September, a foreign-ministry hosted event in Vilnius in September 2011 included a speech by a leading local historian in which he claimed (wrongly) that your book offers support for the condemnation of Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis. In May 2011, a historian speaking on Lithuanian radio boasted that “It’s not all hopeless” because of Bloodlands.

Even before that, in late 2010, a far-right film production cited you as an expert consultant in a project to glorify the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) perpetrators who unleashed murder and mutilation of Jewish civilians in dozens of Lithuanian towns before the Nazis even arrived (and who announced their intentions before the war even started). (I trust you withdrew from that project, and offer my belated congratulations for so doing).

But that episode somehow connects with this week. The same ultranationalist filmmakers recently announced their premiere on Sunday 20 May 2012 in Kaunas of a new “documentary” (promo clip here) adulating Juozas Ambrazevičius (later Brazaitis), the 1941 Nazi puppet “prime minister” in Kaunas who signed off on orders for the setting up of a concentration camp for Jews, and the requirement that “all the Jews of Kaunas” be moved within four weeks to a ghetto.

The new film premiered yesterday in Kaunas as the grand finale of four days of Lithuanian government financed events (May 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th) focused on the reburial with full honors and the elaborate honoring of the World War II Nazi puppet prime minister.

What do these events have to do with you, or with the director of Yivo from New York who joined you? Directly speaking – absolutely nothing. In fact, people in the Jewish community here in Vilnius feel certain that when you (and he) accepted the invitations for the May 2012 symposium and related events here in Lithuania that you had no idea your presence would coincide with the long-planned glorification of a major Holocaust collaborator.

But when such things happen, it becomes necessary to react, if not by postponing one’s trip then by speaking out unambiguously with moral clarity.

Events featuring a Yale historian and the head of Yivo, coming at the same time as the state-sponsored events to honor the collaborator, have been used, first:  to deflect foreign and diplomatic attention from the Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis outrage, which has drawn protests this past week from B’nai B’rith, the Wiesenthal Center, an international petition, and critically, the remnant Jewish Community of Lithuania; second: to use your appearance to legitimize those events. After all, if a Yale professor and the head of Yivo are happy to appear the same week about the Holocaust and not come out publicly and firmly against the concurrent glorification of the collaborator, well, then it can’t be such a big deal…

It was sad that neither of you publicly condemned the Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis events during your symposium on the Holocaust in Lithuania. However, it did come up in an interviewer’s question to yourself.

According to the interview published on 15min.lt on 18 May 2012 (and for the sake of the Almighty, please do tell us if they misquoted you), your answer to the question about the repatriation, honoring and reburial of the Nazi puppet prime minister underway during your visit was as follows:

“I am going to choose my words very carefully here. I think before you rebury anyone, you should think very very hard and probably wait a very very long time because once you rebury somebody once, you can’t rebury them again.”
Is that really all you have to say to Lithuanian society, during your visit here, regarding the latest in a litany of government sponsored events to honor collaborators and perpetrators of the Lithuanian Holocaust and not seldom to use your own name and book as artillery?

During this past week, very courageous Lithuanian citizens (who remain here and may even have to face this or that consequence in their careers) have raised their proud voices in dignified protest. They include the members of parliament Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis and Algirdas Sysas; member of the European Parliament Leonidas Donskis; political scientist  Darius Udrys; former editor of the Jewish newspaper here, Milan Chersonski; dozens of Lithuanian citizens who have signed Krystyna Anna Steiger’s petition; and, not least, the small remnant Jewish community itself, which issued a bold statement in partnership with the Jewish museum.

As a famous professor soon returning to Yale, would it be too much respectfully to ask you to reconsider your public reaction to the week’s events. You can phrase this much more eloquently and elegantly. Here is just a first thought:

“There are certainly many historical complexities, but as a true friend of Lithuania, I have to tell you frankly that state financing of the honoring of a Nazi-puppet prime minister on whose watch the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry got underway, one who actually signed orders separating out for persecution and worse those citizens who were Jewish, is the worst possible message your government could be sending. It is a tragic mistake, and if I had known it would coincide with my visit, I would have asked to come some other week out of respect for the victims of the Holocaust. As someone who passionately shares your cause of educating the West about Stalinist crimes, I have to tell you that this sort of thing undermines that noble effort through and through.”

Wishing you, as ever, the best of everything,

Dovid

Dovid Katz was visiting professor in Judaic studies at Yale in 1989-1999. From 1999 to 2010 he was professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Vilnius University, Lithuania. He is based in Vilnius, where he edits wwwDefendingHistory.com. His personal website is http://www.dovidkatz.net.

JBuzz Feature May 20, 2012: Was Christopher Columbus secretly a Jew?

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Was Columbus secretly a Jew?

Source: CNN, 5-20-12
Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sunday marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus
  • Charles Garcia: Columbus was a Marrano, or a Jew who feigned to be a Catholic
  • He says that during Columbus’ lifetime, Jews became the target of religious persecution
  • Garcia: Columbus’ voyage was motivated by a desire to find a safe haven for Jews

Today marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus….

Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.

Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn’t speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious — and revealing — provisions….

The evidence seem to bear out a far more complicated picture of the man for whom our nation now celebrates a national holiday and has named its capital.

As we witness bloodshed the world over in the name of religious freedom, it is valuable to take another look at the man who sailed the seas in search of such freedoms — landing in a place that would eventually come to hold such an ideal at its very core….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-eds May 1, 2012: Steven Windmueller: A Perfect Firestorm For Anti-Semitism

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A Perfect Firestorm For Anti-Semitism

Steven Windmueller

Steven Windmueller

The story of world Jewry covering the past six decades must be defined as one of achievement and recognition. American Jews have achieved extraordinary success and influence, and Israel, despite threats to its existence, has flourished as a democracy, and absorbed and resettled millions of Jews. Yet, as the world marks the 80th anniversary of the rise of Nazism, the status of Jews in the world seems to be seriously eroding.

During this period international politics was influenced by the powerful motif of memory. The images of past atrocities that tarnished the 20th century created a baseline for moral action. Over time, though, the power and integrity of this historical record has seemingly faded.

Earl Raab, a prominent social scientist and communal professional, once posited that two factors aligned together could create a serious threat to the Jewish people. An unstable economy and a growing set of tensions between Jerusalem and Washington would present, according to Raab, the “perfect firestorm” for potentially accelerating anti-Semitism and in creating a destabilizing environment for Jews in this nation and beyond. Both factors seem to be in play at this time….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-ed April 6, 2012: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: 8 things you need to know about Passover 2012

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8 things you need to know about Passover 2012

Source: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Fox News, 4-6-12

Passover is the holiday which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the next stage in the unfolding biblical story of the Children of Israel. In 2012 it begins on Friday night, April 6.

Here are eight things you may want to know about it:

1.What is Passover and is it the same as Pesach?

Passover and Pesach are the same thing. One is simply English and the other is Hebrew. In either case, it is the holiday which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the next stage in the unfolding biblical story of the Children of Israel.

After centuries of slavery, Passover celebrates the passage into freedom for an entire people. The specific “passing over” for which the holiday is named refers to the way in which God passed over, or protected, the homes of the Israelites during the night they prepared to leave Egypt, as the last of the Ten Plagues was being visited upon the Egyptians.

2.When does Passover begin and how long does it last?

Passover 2012 begins at sundown on Friday, April 6. That is the date according to the Gregorian calendar. According to the Jewish calendar, Passover always begins on the 15th of Nissan, which is, according to the Hebrew Bible, the first month in the ancient Israelite calendar.

The holiday lasts for 7 days in Israel and 8 days everywhere else, reflecting a long-held custom honoring the fact that maintaining an accurate liturgical calendar far from Israel, where Jewish religious authority was centered in ancient times, was not so simple before people had modern communication technology.

3.What’s the deal with Matzah?

Matzah is the flat, cracker-like, unleavened bread which has become the central symbol of Passover, especially since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the end of the Paschal sacrifice.

The Bible specifically commands eating Matzah on the first night of Passover, and prohibits all leavened products the entire week of the holiday.

Like most great and durable symbols, Matzah invites multiple, and even contradictory interpretations. Sometimes referred to as “bread of poverty”, Matzah recalls the food that the Israelites ate when they were slaves. It also recalls the rapid liberation of the Israelites, which happened so fast that they did not even have time to allow the bread for the journey to rise before setting out from Egypt.

4.What does the word Egypt mean and how can knowing that help you?

Egypt, is not “Egypt” in the Bible. In the original Hebrew, it is called “Mitzrayim”, which means tight places, or in narrow straights. To be in Mitzrayim/Egypt is not simply to be a slave in a story from long ago.

It is the paradigmatic experience of being stuck between a rock and a hard place – an experience which virtually all people have at some point in their lives. Passover reminds all people that while getting jammed up can, and likely will, happen to each of us, there is always the possibility of redemption and release.

Whoever you are, and whatever faith you follow, Passover invites us to take stock of where we are stuck, and seek the help we need to get un-stuck.

5.Why is Passover the most widely celebrated ritual among American Jews?

American Jews, not to mention increasing numbers of others, celebrate Passover because it just works.

To put it simply, Passover is about freedom, family, and food. At least that is how it works for most people, and what more could one ask for in a holiday?

But it’s more than that.

Nowhere, and at no time, in 3,000 years of Jewish history have Jews known the kind of centuries-long freedom and security which are the American Jewish experience. The Passover story of freedom — of the journey from oppression to opportunity — is also the American story at its best, not just for Jews but for all people, and it rings deeply true when it is told at Seder tables across this nation. It makes perfect sense that this holiday has “won,” at least for now.

6.How is Passover celebrated, or, What’s a Seder?

Seder is the Hebrew word for ‘order’ and it refers to the carefully ordered Passover dinner party/symposium, typically held at home, which brings people together to experience the move from slavery to freedom in story, song, and conversation – especially the raising of questions about what it means to go free and to be free.

The evening is anchored by rituals including drinking, over the course of the evening, four cups of wine recalling the four times when the Israelites are described as being redeemed, eating the Matzah, and also bitter herbs, meant to evoke the bitterness of slavery. Those bitter herbs are dipped in a bit of sweet apple or date relish, reminding those gathered of the sweetness that can be found at even the most difficult of times, and of the promise of even greater sweetness to come.

7.Was the Last Supper a Seder?

The Last Supper is often explained, based on readings of the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, as having been a Passover Seder. Certainly the time of year at which Jesus came to Jerusalem fits, and the communal meal at which he gathered his disciples is suggestive of something like a Seder, with ritualized eating, drinking and teaching through conversation. Of course, those are also regular features of any classically Jewish meal of religious import. Also, according to the Book of John, the Last Supper was the day before Passover. Scholars can continue to fight this out, but one thing is clear: both the Last Supper and the Seder point to power of celebrating ones most deeply held values in the presence of those about whom we care, in the context of a freely offered table.

8.How are Passover and Easter related?

While the tradition of calculating the date of Easter based on the date of Passover ended many centuries ago, the holidays share some very deep truths of which all people can avail themselves. Who doesn’t need to be reminded that however dark and cold the winter has been, the promise of spring — of rebirth and renewal is always there? Whether discovered in the story of a nation that goes from freedom to slavery and back to freedom again, or in the story of one who lives, dies and is born again, we must all locate how to celebrate that life holds more possibility and potential than we first imagine — that there is reason for hope, and that in celebrating triumphs of hope from the past, we can unleash new stories of hope in the present and in the future.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism,” and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

JBuzz Op-eds March 7, 2012: Brad Hirschfield: Purim celebrates the good and bad in all of us

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Brad Hirschfield: Purim celebrates the good and bad in all of us

Source: WaPo, 3-6-12

Purim 2012 begins at sundown this Wednesday, March 7, and all I can say is thank you God! Of course that’s a bit ironic because despite the fact that both this holiday and its story appear in the Hebrew Bible, God is never mentioned. That’s right, among other reasons to love this holiday is that from its very inception, and to this very day, it could be shared by believers and non-believers alike.

Why is that so important? Maybe it’s the fact that each day brings new stories in which faith and/or faithlessness are used by politicians and their proxies to vilify those who don’t share their beliefs. Perhaps it’s because the language of who is evil and who is good are being used more and more to describe conflicts both at home and abroad. Perhaps it’s simply that I cling to the notion that we don’t have to demean those with whom we have genuine disagreements, or even those with whom we may need to do battle – cultural or physical.


Schoolchildren wear costumes during a parade ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim outside the Bialik Rogozin school in south Tel Aviv March 6, 2012. At Bialik Rogozin, children of migrant workers and refugees from 48 states are educated alongside native Israelis. (NIR ELIAS – REUTERS)

Whatever the reasons, and it’s actually a combination of all of the above, Purim reminds us of a key insight –one which doesn’t shrink from difference, or even the need to fight existential foes –and it all comes down to knowing that we are one. Even in a world where people speak of good guys and bad guys, sometimes appropriately so, those same people are part of a single human family. Truly knowing that fact should change how we battle, when we battle, how long we battle, etc., whether with words or with weapons….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-eds February 28, 2012: Jonathan D. Sarna: General Ulysses S. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

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Jonathan D. Sarna: Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

Source: NY Jewish Week, 2-28-12

Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses S. Grant.

The surprising tale of how he turned into ‘America’s Haman.’

Purim serves as an appropriate moment to recall a man known for a time as “America’s Haman.” That Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s story ended very differently than the story of Haman in the Book of Esther reminds us how America itself is different, and how often it has surprised Jews for the better.

On Dec. 17, 1862, as the Civil War entered its second winter, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued the most Haman-like order in American history: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” Known as General Orders No. 11, the document blamed “Jews, as a class” for the widespread smuggling and cotton speculation that affected the area under Grant’s command. It required them to leave a vast war zone stretching from northern Mississippi to Cairo, Ill., and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.

Less than 72 hours after the order was issued, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs, Miss., were raided, knocking out rail and telegraph lines and disrupting lines of communication for weeks. As a result, news of General Orders No. 11 spread slowly, and did not reach company commanders and army headquarters in Washington in a timely fashion. Many Jews who might otherwise have been banished were spared.

A copy of General Orders No. 11 finally reached Paducah, Ky. — a city occupied by Grant’s forces — 11 days after it was issued. Cesar Kaskel, a staunch union supporter, as well as all the other known Jews in the city, were handed papers ordering them “to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.

Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw that telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on contemporaries. Some Jewish leaders feared that Jews would replace blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority.

Kaskel decided to appeal to Abraham Lincoln in person. Paul Revere-like, he sped down to Washington, spreading news of General Orders No. 11 wherever he went. With help from a friendly congressman, he obtained an immediate interview with the president, who turned out to have no knowledge whatsoever of the order, for it had not reached Washington. According to an oft-quoted report, he resorted to biblical imagery in his interview with Kaskel, a reminder of how many 19th-century Americans linked Jews to Ancient Israel, and America to the Promised Land:

“And so,” Lincoln is said to have drawled, “the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”

“Yes,” Kaskel responded, “and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”

“And this protection,” Lincoln declared “they shall have at once.”

General-in-Chief of the Army Henry Halleck, ordered by Lincoln to countermand General Orders No. 11, chose his words carefully.  “If such an order has been issued,” his telegram read, “it will be immediately revoked.”

In a follow-up meeting with Jewish leaders, Lincoln reaffirmed that he knew “of no distinction between Jew and Gentile. To condemn a class,” he emphatically declared, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”…READ MORE

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: The 411 on Hanukkah and Why It Matters for Jews and for America

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Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: The 411 on Hanukkah and Why It Matters for Jews and for America

Source: Fox News, 12-20-11

What is Hanukkah and does it really matter? What if you’re not Jewish? Does it still matter? The answer is yes to all of the above. First some basic information.

Hanukkah 2011 begins on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which corresponds, this year to sundown on the evening of December 20th. Why does the holiday begin then – not at midnight? Because in the Jewish calendar, the day begins at sundown.

It’s actually pretty cool to imagine that something is beginning when most people think its ending. It’s about asserting new possibilities when others may not see them. It’s related to Christmas too, but more on that below.

What is the story of Hanukkah? The story of Hanukkah is that of a four-year war in the land of Israel, which lasted from 167 BCE – 163 BCE. Some accounts portray a battle between oppressed Jews and the imperialist descendants of Alexander the Great, when the latter became increasingly harsh with those living under their rule. Other accounts tell of what was essentially a civil war between those Jews who collaborated with their Pagan masters and those who did not. Either way, the holiday story culminates in the re-taking of the Jerusalem Temple and the re-establishment of its sacred service.

Why is Hanukkah eight days long? Hanukkah lasts eight days for two reasons, one well-known, and the other much less so. According the better known story, the holiday lasts eight days in honor of the eight days that oil, which should have lasted only one day, continued to burn in the newly re-dedicated Jerusalem Temple’s menorah (sanctuary candelabrum).

According to a lesser known account in the Book of Maccabees (part of the Apocrypha — writings which are part of the biblical canon for Catholics, but not for Jews and Protestants), when the Temple was taken back by the Jews, they celebrated the eight day holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which they had not been able to observe when Pagans controlled the institution. There is a good possibility that was the basis for declaring the new holiday of Hanukkah as an eight day festival….READ MORE