Monday, December 06, 2004

Hag Urim Sameach!

Posted by Hello
Hanukkah starts tomorrow night. Upon reflection the holiday has several inter-locking lessons:1)The Freedom to Study Torah and fulfill God's Mitzvot. 2) The strength to stand up before Cultural Imperialism 3) The absolute necessity for political independence to secure the Torah, in its fullest sense and 4) The power of belief, that even in a time of Hester Panim, God's Providence is the ultimate master of history.

I heard the Rav zt"l say on many occasions that Hanukkah was the quintessential holiday of the Torah she-be'al Peh, the Oral Tradition. Prima facie, I always took him to mean that it's the only holiday whose mandate is totally derived from the Masorah, because even Purim is rooted in the Megillah, which is part of the Torah she-be-Khetav. Years later, however, I realized that his observation was much more profound.
The persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes represented the first massive challenge faced by the Hakhme Ha-Masorah since the cessation of prophecy some three hundred years previously. It was necessary to deal, for example, with the question of warfare on Shabbat (IMAcc. 2, 38-41). Considering that wars were previously set pieces waged on one day, it is perfectly possible that even soldiers had never fought on Shabbat. (War only became a 'total' matter after the American Civil War.) Or, a Hazal often say, they may have forgotten the ruling and were forced to rediscover it.

More to the point. the author of IMaccabees is painfully aware of the fact that there are halakhic questions which will only be decided when prophecy returns (though I realize that that's a problem for the Rambam). According to IMacc. 4, 44-46:
And when as they consulted what to do with the altar of burnt offerings, which was profaned; They thought it best to pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them, because the heathen had defiled it: wherefore they pulled it down, And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them. (This, of course, diverges from the Rambam's exclusion of prophets from the Halakhic Process. וצ"ע ).
A similar case relate to the appointment of Simon as 'ethnarch' or 'king' as well as High Priest (something of which HaZaL were less than happy). The same writer says (IMacc. 14, 41): Also that the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their governor and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet.

The bottom line is that Hanukkah commemorates the full functioning of the Torah she-be'al Peh in extremely adverse conditions. It is only fitting, then, that it should derive its authority from the Oral Law alone.

On a lighter note, since it's a holiday of Simha ve-Hallel, here-direct from the UK -are....the
Singing Candles with their unforgettable rendition of 'Mi Yemalel.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Slacking, eh? :-) Nah I'm sure you're busy. But I hope to see a new post sometime soon!

Maria (aka Hatshepsut)