“Like many folk festivals, Nayrot never made its way into the priestly Torah. The priests were wary of sanctioning any practice that could not easily be identified with Yahveh and the Exodus experience. Nayrot flunked its entry test, leaving Torah Judaism devoid of a decent winter festival.
With the conquest of Israel by the Greeks and the subsequent rebellion against Greek rule, the Maccabee family rose to power. Of priestly origin, the Maccabees became the military leaders of the rebel forces and pursued their own independent road to political power. Having defeated the Greeks and captured Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee decided to rededicate the temple shrine to Yahveh. He chose the folk festival of Nayrot as a perfect vehicle for the continuing commemoration of his victory. He renamed the holiday Hanukka (Dedication) and elevated it to official importance. But the Maccabees had a run-in with the rabbis because of their pretentious assumption of the royal title. When the rabbis came to rule under Roman guidance, they wrought their vengeance. Hanukka was demoted to minor status, since, as a popular folk festival, it could not be easily eliminated. The other Maccabean victory celebration, Nicanor’s Day, was replaced by Purim.
In later centuries, the rabbis sought to diminish the importance of the Maccabees by attributing the victory to the intervention of Yahveh. The Talmudic legend that focuses on holy oil lasting for eight days has a political purpose. It shifts the emphasis from the brilliant skill of the Maccabees (who are barely mentioned) to the magic tricks of Yahveh.”
From “Judaism Beyond God”
Rabbi Sherwin Wine
Milan Press 1995
We’re atheists, but we can give your children a great education in Jewish history and culture.