Today is January 18, 2018 -
Could You Forget Hanukkah?
If I were to suggest one Jewish holiday that many American Jews ignore, it would not be Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover or Hanukkah. Maybe it would be Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks that commemorates the giving of the Torah seven weeks after Passover. Dr. Joshua Kulp, an Israeli scholar reminds us that in the centuries before the beginning of the Common Era, some Jewish communities needed to be reminded to celebrate Hanukkah. In fact there are a number of post Biblical holidays that have been forgotten but of course Hanukkah remains so popular. Dr. Kulp gives many reasons for its observance. He reminds us of one of the main reasons, “…the historical events of the purification of the Temple occurred at a fortuitous time of year…” Would Hanukkah be as popular if it occurred, say during the middle of October? We know the answer. However Dr.Kulp also points to another reason for Hanukkah’s popularity, “Hanukkah has a ritual-the lighting of the Hanukkah candles-which has accompanied the holiday from a very early period…Ritual is the way in which human beings ensconce and physically record meaning. Meaning is internal, we find it in our brains and metaphorically, in our hearts and bones. But without ritual, some external and physical action, we do not have anything tangible to concretize that meaning.” Rituals are essential aspects of Jewish life. I have often been asked by families as they prepare for a bar or bat mitzvah, “Can a member of my family who was not bar mitzved be called to the Torah?” Becoming bar/bat mitzvah occurs when one attains the age of majority in Judaism, whether or not one celebrated it with a ritual. However the question reveals how much meaning we give to rituals. Shavuot has no ritual to mark it (I know we eat cheese cakes and blintzes on Shavuot, but that is not a ritual) and that may be why it is not celebrated so widely. As we celebrate Hanukkah let’s light the candles, sing the prayers and songs and ask as well how we can add meaning to our lives by adding more of our traditional rituals to our lives.