Monday, December 10, 2018

Is Chanukah Really Eight Days?

Today is the eighth day of Chanukah, known as “Zot Chanukah,” a reference to the Torah portion that is read on the eighth day of Chanukah. Chanukah is set apart as an eight-day holiday. On Passover, the eighth day only takes place in the Diaspora (a repeat of the seventh day) and on Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret, in many ways functions as an independent festival from Sukkot’s seven days.

The author of the Code of Jewish Law, Rabbi Yosef Karo, poses a powerful question that academically challenges the very need for an eighth day. If, as the story goes, there was only enough oil to burn for one day, but it ultimately lasted eight days, the miracle was seven days, not eight. If this is the case, why is the festival observed for eight days, if the first day was not miraculous? Rabbi Karo offers a few answers of his own. Others have suggested well over a hundred answers.

There are a few Talmudical references to eight days, which Jewish Treats would like to highlight. The Mishnah (Menachot 85b) relates that the ritual oil used for lighting the Menorah in the Temple came from olives grown in Tekoa. Rabbi Nissim of Gerona (1320-1376, Spain), known by his acronym, the RaN, writes that it took four days to travel from Jerusalem to Tekoa and four days back, which is the basis of the Chanukah story, and the oil that arrived eight days after the first lighting.

A second story about an eight-day festival appears in the Talmud as well. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 8a) relates when Adam saw the amount of daylight decreasing day after day, he wrongly assumed that his sin in the Garden of Eden was causing the decrease in light hours and would result in the eventual total darkening of the world. Adam observed an eight day fast, which happened to end on the winter solstice. He was relieved to observe the days getting longer afterwards, and therefore celebrated an eight-day festival to thank God. This festival which also began on the 25th of Kislev, became the pre-cursor to Chanukah, and was also celebrated on the next seven days.

So, thanks to a fantastic question offered by a renowned rabbi, we have learned two fantastic answers explaining why there are eight days to this wonderful festival, to which we bid farewell this evening.

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