In Defense of Chanukah
(And other non-High Holy Days)
By Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
There are those of the Hebrew Roots – Natsari Movement who are Sola Scriptura or Karite like in their beliefs and practices and who come against extra Biblical celebrations not commanded in the High Holy Day line-up of Leviticus 23. Their fall reverb defense is:
Deut. 4:2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish [ought] from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
They feel by celebrating pertinent moves of G-d and Historic events within Jewish History but out side Leviticus 23 is “adding” to the Word of G-d. Since when is giving G-d the praise and glory for something adding to the Torah and since when is giving YHWH the credit a sin!?
No one is saying… well maybe a few orthodox religious extremists… that you HAVE to observe Purim, Chanukah, Yom HaShoah, Tu’ B’Shavat, Lag B’Omer, and other Jewish holidays or you are sinning against the Torah and or are going to hell. Such Jewish observances outside of Leviticus 23 is optional and by the observation is not in any way adding to the Torah, especially Leviticus 23.
Usually the first extra Biblical observance to be condemned by usually well intending Karite-ish Natsarim is Chanukah. The first argument is that “we should not add or take away from Torah.” Then they go to John ten and make the claim Yeshua was there for the Feast of Dedication (Chanukah) but that He did not participate in the celebration. Wow! What an assumption based on nothing. They say that because the passage doesn’t say “He went up to Jerusalem” means that He just happened to be there for Chanukah but was not a participant of it. The reason it says that He did not “go up” to Jerusalem is because that was a Hebraic idiom to indicate sacrifice at the Temple which many Festivals required, but was not required regarding Chanukah and so “He was there” instead of “He went up.”
John 10:22-23 And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Yeshua walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.
If He was so against Chanukah then why was He even there at this “questionable” event and why did He use this when confronted to imply that He was Moshiach!? He could have easily used this as a platform to disapprove of Chanukah and preach against it using the argument used to day, “Do not add or take away from Torah…” But we see no such thing. All He did was disapprove of their hypocrisy and their tricks to try to trap and stone Him. He said nothing about Chanukah. The issue was His Messiahship, not the Feast of Dedication they were participating in. It was clear to me Yeshua was there to join in the Chanukah festivities.
Chanukah was originally kept at the same time as Sukkot and then, due to the Maccabees was held as it is today on the 25th of Kislev (I Kings 8, II Chron. 7). When the exiles returned they kept Chanukah (Ezra 6:16-17). I Maccabees 4:52-59 and II Maccabees 10:1-8 recounts the reason we celebrate Chanukah today. Seems to me is Messiah had a problem celebrating Chanukah He had ample opportunity to be very clear in the matter. Instead we see he was silent on it and the passages seem to point to the fact that instead He celebrated Chanukah.
As mentioned earlier, the dates for celebrating Chanukah have changed through out the ages. A new date for each time the Temple was built and dedicated, or cleansed and rededicated. But to this day we keep the days set forth by the Maccabees in I Maccabees 4:59 and II Maccabees 10:8 because that was the last rededication until the Messiah returns to build the 3rd Holy Temple. Chanukah today commemorates the rededication of the Temple, the defeat of the Greco-Syrian invaders, affirms our Jewishness, and commemorates the miracle of the oil.Because of II Maccabees 10:8 (who some Natsarim regard as cannon) commanding the Jewish people to keep the 25th day of the month of Kislev and the 7 days that follow, we see Yeshua in John 10:22-23 keeping Chanukah! If Messiah celebrated Chanukah, that’s good enough for me!
Another extra-Biblical Jewish holiday that gets attacked is Purim.
The Brit Chadasha is by far not an exhaustive commentary on the first century beliefs and practices of the Jewish believer; it is but a series of snap shots in time.
The Brit Chadasha was never written with the intent of becoming ‘Scripture.” The Besorah (Gospels) are mostly a historical, testimonial type of document as a witness to Yeshua that falls way short of the entirety of His life, activities, teachings and miracles. It has been said by one of the writers of the Besorah that all the libraries and books couldn’t contain such information (John 21:25). Other parts of the Brit Chadasha are instructional correspondence between a Sheliachim (an Apostle) and various synagogues.
Much of the Brit Chadasha is written in such a way that it is assumed the readers were Torah Obedient and knew about many of the customs and traditions of Judaism.
This being said, it is a given and obvious that Yeshua kept the Saturday Sabbath, went to synagogue (Luke 4:16), participated in the Feasts of Leviticus 23 and even celebrated a non-biblical feast called Chanukah (John 10). But what about Purim, it is mysteriously not mentioned in the Brit Chadasha just as G-d’s Name is not found in the text of the book of Esther. So did He observe it? I think it is safe to say He did because though it is not mentioned he did, Yeshua was a Torah Observant Jew even keeping many of the customs and traditions of His people which Purim was one of them:
Esther 9:28 And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
The reason it is not mentioned as being celebrated in the Brit Chadasha is because in the time of Yeshua, Rome occupied and ruled Israel and thus Purim was ban as a public festival out of fear it would insight rebellion among the Jews against Rome. However, the Meggillah was still permitted to be read and Purim was allowed to be observed in private. Wouldn’t Chanukah incite such rebellion too, why was it celebrated and not Purim? Great question, it is because Chanukah was all about the defeat of Rome’s enemy; the Greco-Syrians and encouraged the Jews to celebrate that fact by allowing Chanukah observance to continue (John 10).
So though the motive by such Karite-ish Natsarim is well intended, I really do not think they have a strong, let alone solid case for one not to celebrate extra-Biblical Jewish holidays.
Regarding these extra holidays Rav Sha’ul said:
Rom. 14:5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.