It will feel rather strange for us not to be celebrating Chanukah with Kol HaLev this year--it will be the first time that I have not been there to help Rabbi Geoff with the singing and candlelighting, and I will miss being with you in person. But Ricki and I will certainly be there with you in spirit. I have the rare and wonderful honor of serving as the Cantor aboard the Queen Mary 2 this month, and that, of course, includes Chanukah. My "temporary congregation" will consist of folks from all across the globe, and I look forward to singing in the holiday with them---to meeting them and learning about their customs, as well. And while I'm here, I will try to post a few blog entries on the KHL website during the next week or two. Please feel free to respond to anything that you find interesting, or just if you want to say hi---through the wonders of modern technology, you can reach me, as always, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I thought I might just start off with a few things about Chanukah that you might not already know. Historically, the story of Chanukah is not found anywhere in the Jewish Bible--the Torah, Prophets, and Writings--usually called by the acronym "Tanach." This is because the Tanach had been codified several centuries earlier--the events of Purim are included, but not Chanukah.
Two versions of Chanukah are described in the two books of Maccabees (called, strangely enough 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees)--these books are carried forward in the Greek version of the Bible and the Catholic Bible. Neither book says anything about a miracle of one cruse of oil lasting 8 days; that element comes from the Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat 21b. In that regard, the Talmud spelled out three ways of lighting candles over an eight day period to commemorate the miracle: one could light one light each night per household; or one could light one light each night for each member of the household; or the number of candles would change each night of the holiday. The Talmud did not indicate how that would be accomplished.
Which, of course, led to the well-known dispute between the great sages Hillel and Shammai. Shammai's followers favored starting the first night of the holiday with eight lights, and reducing the number by one each successive night; Hillel's followers favored starting with one candle the first night, adding one candle each night of the holiday. As with most Hillel-Shammai disputes, the school of Hillel won out, and today we light candles in the Hillel way.
One last thing for now: the Chanukah candles are not intended for the lighting of the house within, but rather, they are supposed to be placed in a window so that people passing by see them and are reminded of the miracle of the holiday.
In my next post, I'll talk about some of the customs that we follow in celebrating Chanukah, and I'll fill you in on our onboard celebrations, as well. Wishing you all a Happy Chanukah!