In 1979, Hadassah magazine published a story about the Karaite Jews of Cairo. Among the interesting tidbits in the piece was that the last remaining Karaites in Cairo had never celebrated Hanukkah. [1.]
Since Karaites historically did not celebrate Hanukkah, some might find it odd that I am offering a Hanukkah gift to the Jewish masses. This offer is not too good to be true.
First, let’s get to the gift: for five days starting Sunday, December 21, 2014, everyone can download the electronic version of As it is Written for free. It will be available through Amazon – just go to the site, download it and boom goes the dynamite.
Now, I don’t really have much to add on the historical nature of Hanukkah. We’ve already discussed that the true miracle of Hanukkah is that the Maccabees defeated the Seleucid Empire, that no early source (rabbinic or otherwise) mentions anything about the oil lasting for eight days, and that the reason Hanukkah is eight days is because the Jews were celebrating Sukkot and dedicated the altar of the Temple for eight days.
So, if the traditional story of Hanukkah is not authentic, can a Karaite celebrate Hanukkah for its true historical purpose? Can we celebrate Hanukkah (without candles and blessings over candles) as a day to commemorate our defeat of the Seleucids and our rededication of the Temple?
As I see it, there is no problem commemorating such a holiday, but I note that we do not have our Temple today; so, to some extent, it would be a rather empty celebration. Of course, if one is willing to celebrate Yom Hazikaron, Yom Yerushalaim, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and even Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving, it is hard to find any reason *not* to celebrate the historical events of Hannukah.
But, I think that one thing that keeps Karaites from celebrating Hanukkah (even in its purest, historical form) is “identity halakha“. For centuries, Karaites have prided themselves on not celebrating the man-made (and post-biblical) holiday of Hanukkah. It is a part of our identity. And, frankly, if we lose certain aspects of our identity, there really is no point to being a Karaite. I do not know where Hanukkah lies on the “preservation of the movement” spectrum.
I do know that even if you are not celebrating Hanukkah, there is no reason to be bitter about it. When he was in San Francisco, I asked Eli Shemuel about his views on Hanukkah (and other man-made feasts that can be observed without sacrilege). He said that if the Jewish people (as a whole) is happy, he is happy as well and wants to increase our people’s happiness. He then explained that in the case of Hanukkah it is difficult to observe the historical aspects wholeheartedly, because we no longer have our Temple. And I get that.
Whether you’re on the historical Hanukkah bandwagon or not, enjoy some light reading this “holiday season” and download your free kindle edition of As it is Written.
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1. Rabbi Boruch K. Helman, The Karaite Jews of Cairo, Hadassah Magazine, March 1979.