DENNIS GURA, Ritual Committee
Our Hanukkah liturgy is pretty sparse. In our 3-times daily prayers, we insert two paragraphs, one thanking God for the victory of the Hasmoneans, the other recounted the various miracles that happened “in those days, at this time.” The formal home service consists of the two blessings prior to lighting the candle, a brief paragraph after (“These lights we kindle to recall the wondrous triumphs…”), then a bit of the medieval piyyut, Ma’oz Tsur.
Our rabbinic forbearers were ambivalent about the Hasmoneans. The absence of any formal text in the Bible about them demonstrates this. A number of “Books of the Maccabees” were included in the Septuagint, the Bible used in the Greek speaking Jewish diaspora until the end of the 2nd century CE or so, before the Rabbis determined the final form of our canon. In this process of closing the canon, the original Hebrew language “1st Book of Maccabees” was lost, and only transmitted in Greek in the Christian Bible.
But a good story cannot be ignored, regardless of how uncomfortable the Rabbis might have been with the original “Book of Maccabees”. In his mid-century American Siddur, Phillip Birnbaum added to the Hanukah service “Megillat Antiochos”. This text, which we have from Yemenite Jewry, has a disputed history; there appears to be a 9th century Arabic translation of an Aramaic original. In the Birnbaum Siddur, this short history of the Hasmonean rebellion precedes the miracle of the oil in the Temple, and closes with:
“From that time on the Greek government was stripped of its renown. The Hasmoneans and their descendants ruled for two hundred and six years…. And so the Jews everywhere observe this festival for eight days…. These days, instituted by the priests, Levites and sages of Temple times, shall be celebrated by their descendants forever.”
Happy Hanukah, and have some latkes!