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The festival celebrated when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem was called "Sukkot in Kislev" for many years but in the I" century A.D. the Megillat Ta'anit, The 'Scroll of Days on which Fasting is Prohibited', called this holiday "Chanukah", meaning Dedication (of the Temple), for the first time. But other literature of that century gave this Maccabean holiday a different name. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish/Roman historian, writing around A.D. 94, said that his people called this holiday the "Festival of Lights", referring to the oil lamps lit in the Temple during the ceremonies (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XH). Josephus did not say how the festival originated or why it was called by this name but he also never mentioned any miracle involving a little cruse of oil The original holiday name, Sukkot in Kislev, seems to have been entirely forgotten by this time.

It appears that almost immediately after the rededication of the Temple the Chanukah festival was subjected to revision and dilution. The prosperous and powerful Babylonian Jewish community, living under the Syrian kings, had enjoyed a large degree of religious freedom and self governance, even during the revolt in Israel, and they were hesitant to celebrate the defeat of their patrons by their co- religionists. Also, soon after the war, the Israelites themselves patched together several favorable peace treaties with the Seleucids and so did not want to antagonize their old enemies by raking up old memories of war. Both groups of Jews did not wish to displease or insult their powerful Syrian overlords and they began a process of making the festival of Chanukah 'diplomatically' and 'politically correct'. To do this they de-emphasized the military miracles of the war and concentrated on the rededication of the Temple and, then later, on the miracle of little jug of oil that burned for eight days. This would be analogous to citizens of the USA celebrating Independence Day as a commemoration of the Bostonians throwing chests of tea into the bay during the Boston Tea Party and never mentioning the military battles with the English at Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill.

The miracle of the jar of oil first appeared in written documents in the Babylonian Talmud, (Shabbat, 21b), written down in around A.D. 500. The teachings of the Talmud had been memorized and communicated orally by Rabbis for many years earlier but only committed to writing in the 6* century A.D., so the actual date that the story of the little jar of oil was introduced into Jewish tradition is unknown. However, the switching of the miracle of Chanukah away from the Maccabean military victories to the rededication of the temple and the little jug of oil may have occurred less than 60 years after the war ended and for several reasons. First, the Maccabean Kings in later years became Hellenized despots and treated their own people cruelly. In fact, Alexander Jamiaeus called Yehonatan the King and High Priest of the Jews on his coins, 103-76 B.C., a great nephew of Judah Maccabee, incited a civil war among his own people that lasted for six years and resulted in the deaths of thousands.' The Jews became disenchanted with the Maccabean kings and turned away from the Hasmonaean dynasty in disgust. Eventually, they tried to diminish and belittle the earlier Maccabean glory and popularity by ignoring their mighty victories over the Syrians. Second, the compassionate rabbis, teaching among the common people, abhorred war because no matter who won, everyone suffered and the countryside was devastated. So they tried to suppress the martial spirit of the nation by downplaying the Maccabean victories. Third, like all nations in any era, the Jews were torn between the policies of 'passive' accommodation and 'active' resistance to political oppression. During the war and for many years afterwards, there was a large pro-Syrian 'passive' party in Jerusalem who were willing to tolerate the Seleucid enforcement of Hellenism on their culture and religion. This passive faction consisted of both politicians and religious leaders including the Syrian appointed High Priests in Jerusalem. The Maccabean leaders led the national, 'activist' faction or the zealots, that rebelled against the foreign persecutors. In the labyrinthine political situation following the Maccabean victory over Antiochus IV, the passive party convinced the majority of Jews to accept Syrian domination as long as their religious freedom was guaranteed. A treaty was worked out between the Jews and Syrians in 155 B.C. and the Maccabean rulers then became Seleucid vassals or feudal princes who enjoyed religious freedom but were politically dominated by the Syrians, These Jewish kings walked a slender tightrope between the new Syrian kings and their usurpers, supporting one rival then the other as the situation warranted.

Turning to the origins of 'Chanukah Gelt', several scholars believe that this custom of giving money as a gift began in eastern Europe probably sometime before the 16* century when, on the fifth day of the holiday, it was customary to celebrate with a family dinner and to give presents of money to the children. But I would suggest another theory for the origin of these money gifts. When the Jews destroyed the armies and camps of the Syrians, they took large quantities of weapons, armor, horses and money as plunder. It is related in I Maccabees 3:12 that, after the victory at Shechem, Judah himself took the golden sword from the dead Seleucid leader, Apollonius, and used it for the rest of his life. The booty included many chests or bags of Syrian coins used to pay the mercenaries and to purchase captives by the slave traders who accompanied the army. (See I Maccabees 3: 41) And, as was usual in ancient days, this loot was distributed among the victorious soldiers. Modem-day war medals, awarded to soldiers after campaigns, look very much like coins and are symbolic of these ancient spoils of war. I propose that this is the true origin of the traditional Chanukah Gelt given during the festival. On the first celebration of Chanukah in Jerusalem, and during the ceremonies of rededicating the Temple, large amounts of these coins were given to the soldiers, the widows and orphans of the war dead, (see II Maccabees 8:28), and perhaps to the general population who had been overtaxed by the Syrians for many years. If this theory for the origins of Chanukah Gelt seems far-fetched, consider the tradition of eating latkes' (potato pancakes) in the diaspora and donuts in Israel as a part of the holiday festivities. These food items are fried in oil and this is, supposedly, an allusion to the oil that miraculously burned for eight days.2 It appears that over the centuries historic traditions can be easily translated into quaint and simple folk customs.

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