Hanukkah is the least important holiday on the Jewish calendar. Funny, it’s the one everyone’s heard of.
Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday based on a story we know is not true. Other stories may or may not be true, but this one we know is historical hooey.
Some other Jewish holidays also celebrate events: Passover — the escape of the Jews from Egypt including the parting of the Red Sea and the plagues; Purim — Queen Esther saved the Jews from the evil Haman when she told the king that if he killed all the Jews, he’d have to kill her as well because she, too, as Jewish; Shavuot — the giving of the law, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; Tisha B’Av — the destruction of the first and second temples. The two destructions may not have happened on the same dates, but there’s little question they were destroyed.
But Hanukkah and the myth of the oil? Never happened. Not even in someone’s drug-addled dreams.
The story was made up about 200 years later, which is probably the most interesting part of the Hanukkah story — but definitely not part of the holiday celebration.
Hanukkah celebrated the victory of the Maccabees (also known as Hasmoneans, aka the Jews) over the Assyrians (aka the Seleucids) in the year 165 BCE. With about 4,000 men, Judah Maccabee whooped the crap out of 40,000 Assyrians.
OK, first lie. Judah Maccabee had already been killed in battle when the Jews won.
When the Romans later beat the Greeks and took over the Middle East, they found this band of people celebrating this big war victory they won over an army 10 times its size. Whoops. No, no, no. Time to revise history.
First, the rabbis hated this holiday. As originally celebrated, it glorified Judah Maccabee and Jewish holidays honor God or remember an event. So they were ready to get rid of it anyway.
But to continue worshipping their own religion, the Jews couldn’t be throwing their military might in the faces of the Romans. After all, that victory was 200 years earlier and they actually had very few F-16 fighters yet.
So Hanukkah became the celebration of the re-dedication of the temple. And what was so special? The rabbis made up the story that a great miracle happened. When the Jews got to the temple in Jerusalem, there was only enough oil to last one day. But a great miracle happened. The oil lasted eight days until they could get back to Jerusalem with more oil.
Eight days? Really? Are Jews really the slowest damn travelers in the history of the world?
OK, so it took 40 years to cross the Sinai during the Exodus. I get it. There are lovely beaches up and down the Red Sea as well as the Mediterranean coasts of the Sinai. Few places to eat, fewer Chinese restaurants, although I had a very nice lunch at the Hilton in Taba, Egypt, once.
But eight days to get to any oil? Not one damn person in Jerusalem had any oil? Really? OK, so schlep to Jaffa, the ancient port on the coast just south of Tel Aviv, about the distance of Dallas to Fort Worth. Still not eight days even without Highway 1.
So did the Jews buy the story? That miracle of the oil? Hook, line and sinker. If Moses could part the Red Sea, then everyone in Jerusalem was waiting for an oil shipment.
So that’s the actual story of Hanukkah. And if you’re going to Israel and want to trace the story of the Maccabees, they were from the town of Modi’in, a city off Highway 1, west of Ben Gurion Airport on the main road to Jerusalem.
However, my travel recommendation is to continue a few miles further on Hwy 1 to the town of Abu Ghosh. Just off the road is the Elvis Inn, a gas station and diner covered in Elvis memorabilia. Look for the huge Elvis statue outside. Inside, you can get babaganoush, shwarma and every imaginable crappy Elvis souvenir ever manufactured in China. It’s one of my favorite places in Israel. But I digress …
Today is the second day of Hanukkah. Wednesday night (which is part of Thursday on the Jewish calendar) was the first candle. The holiday drags on through Dec. 9.