The holiday of Chanukah is celebrated annually to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple of Jerusalem which took place in December 164 BCE. On the third anniversary of the Temple’s defilement through pagan sacrifice at the hands of Jewish Hellenizers, the Temple was restored to pristine Jewish worship of God in accordance with the Torah’s commands. This reversal of fortune for the Temple was made possible by the guerrilla warfare of the Maccabees, who attributed their unprecedented military successes to the will of God. According to rabbinic tradition, in the following year the Hasmoneans decreed an annual eight day festival of praise and thanksgiving.
Considering the historical basis of Chanukah, it is something of a wonder that the holiday continued to be observed even after the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Why persist in celebrating the rededication of a Temple which would only survive another 233 years and which is no longer extant? The rabbis of the talmudic era were truly bothered by this question. They never doubted that Chanukah was still obligatory, as four centuries of uninterrupted observance tended to confirm. Beyond the evidence of popular practice, the Mishnah reports that messengers were sent out, even in the post-Temple period, announcing the New Month of Kislev so as to ensure timely observance of the rites of Chanukah. The question remained why our people would tenaciously hold onto the memory of a temporary salvation, seemingly made irrelevant by the innumerable ups and downs experienced in the intervening years.
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