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"Hanukkah: The Miracles of Oil and Metal" by Dr. Terry Harman 12.6.23

Updated: Jan 13

Hanukkah Menorah crafted by The Tabernacle Man, photo by Terry Harman, 2020

Origins of Hanukkah

Although Hanukkah is not a biblical Jewish holiday in the sense of Pesach, Shavuot, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, it is one of the most widely observed by Jews worldwide. Hanukkah, also spelled Chanukkah, is a Jewish festival of lights celebrated for eight days during the winter season. During the first century, the holiday was known as the "Festival of Dedication" (John 10:22-23). Josephus referred to the holiday as the Festival of Lights and not as Hanukkah. In the future, I will attempt to explain whether Jesus observed the "Festival of Dedication."


In this post, I will not go into depth about the history behind Hanukkah. For now, keep in mind this holiday is more of a commemoration of victory over the Seleucid empire after a multi-year bloody war and the re-establishment of Temple rituals and practices in Jerusalem. The holiday as we know it today of lighting candles on a menorah came many later years.


"It is in the Gemara (a commentary on the Mishnah) of the Babylonian Talmud that we are given more details and can clearly see the development of both the holiday and the stories associated with it. The discussion of Hanukkah is mentioned in Tractate Shabbat. Only three lines are devoted to the events of Hanukkah while three pages detail when, where and how the Hanukkah lights should be lit." (1)


What we know about Hanukkah comes from the books of Maccabees. These books were written sometime during the period of 300 BC to 100 AD and are considered apocryphal or of doubtful authenticity, by Jews and Protestants and are not included in the Tanach or the Bible. Only the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches include these writings in their Bibles.


Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Greeks. As the narrative unfolds, it reveals two miracles – the use of iron for reconstructing the Menorah and the single cruse of oil that lasted for eight days. (1)


Building the Hasmonean Menorah

A few years ago, I decided to add a Hasmonean Menorah to my collection of teaching props. When building props, I do my best to research both Jewish and Christian scholarly sources. The title picture is my prop for the Hasmonean Menorah.


A frequent go-to source when studying the Tabernacle of the Temple is The Temple Institute in Jerusalem. (2) Below is a painting of the Hasmonean era Menorah created by The Temple Institute.



To purify the Holy Temple from the desecration by the Greeks, the Hasmonean priests ventured into the Temple Sanctuary, discovering the theft of the golden Menorah and the golden Incense Altar. Olive oil, appropriate for the Menorah, had to be secured, and the Menorah had to be rebuilt.


A short supply of oil was found. So shortly after the war, a sufficient amount of gold would be scarce. As the story unfolds, we will learn of two miracles during the rededication of the Temple.


The Miracle of the Metal

Delving deeper into the narrative, without the authentic Menorah, the priests faced a dilemma. How would they kindle the light without the Menorah? The urgency to reinstate Temple's service compelled the Hasmoneans to utilize available materials promptly. The priests made the conscious choice to use iron for the Menorah's reconstruction.


Where did the iron come from? Historian Ido Hebroni, referencing Professor Daniel Sperber's insights, used ancient Hebrew texts to deduce that the Hasmoneans built their first Menorah using their weapons to defeat their Greek oppressors to build the Menorah. (4)


While questions may arise concerning the familiar requirements for a Menorah, Halachah clarifies that if gold is unavailable, another metal, such as iron, can be used, exempting the intricate details of flowers, knobs, and bowls.


The Miracle of the Oil

This quickly crafted Menorah was kindled with the sole remaining cruse of pure olive oil within the Temple, bearing the High Priest's seal. Initially sufficient for just one day, this meager supply miraculously burned for eight days. Referencing Bavli Shabbat 21b, Joshua Kulp states:


“For the Greeks entered the Temple and they defiled all of the oil in the Temple, and when the Hasmoneans prevailed, they looked and didn't find anything but one flask of oil that was stamped with the High Priest's seal. And there was only enough to light for one day. And a miracle was made, and they lit for 8 days. The next year they established these days as holidays, for the recitation of the Hallel and for Thanksgiving.” (5)


The Iron Replaced with Gold

As conditions improved, the Hasmoneans replaced the iron Menorah with silver, eventually culminating in a Menorah made of pure gold, meticulously following the Torah's description in the book of Exodus.


63 Inch tall Second Temple Menorah available from The Tabernacle Man, photo Terry Harman, 2021 (6)


Why 9 Branches on the Menorah for Hanukkah

This is an addition to the original article. From time to time I receive emails from my readers with words of encouragement, questions, and sometimes points of disagreement. I received this comment from Bobby and I am sharing it with you along with my clarification.


"Terry, the Hanukkah menorah has 8 lamps. A seven lamp menorah was not used outside the Temple. Enjoy your articles."


You are correct on some points. The 7 branch Hasmonean menorah made from spears quickly made after defeating the Greeks. See Temple Institute in Jerusalem for more details.

Once the Temple was restored the regular 7 branch menorah we are used to seeing was used.


Today, Orthodox Jews have a prohibition on making full-size 7-branch menorahs until the 3rd temple is restored. I’ve been allowed to take my full size to Chabad synagogue and Orthodox Yeshiva in Chicago because they understand my items are only used for teaching purposes.


Today to celebrate Hanukkah while not violating the 7 branch rule there are two additional branches. One for the 8th day of Hanukkah and one for the Shamash or servant that is used to kindle the other flames. Thanks for reading.


 "Fifth Night of Hannukah" December 2022

Nine Branch

The nine-branch candelabra, also known as Hanukkah Menorah or Chanukiah. There are other alternative spellings such as “Hanukkiah” or “Chanukkiyah." The Menorah comprises 8 branches – one for each day of Hanukkah, plus another for the "Shamash" or the "helper."


It is my understanding that the light is the most important aspect of Hanukkah. Therefore, if you do not have the nine branch menorah you can use nine candles.


Last night, December 10, 2023, I was invited by the Rabbi of a local Chabad synagogue to celebrate Hanukkah. Tiki Torches were used for the lighting of the Hanukkiah! A link to that video is posted below.



Conclusion

Consider the profound symbolism of the Menorah's construction – the weapons once wielded for freedom are now transformed into support for the eternal flame. This symbolism intertwines with the miraculous account of the small cruse of oil, defying natural laws by burning for eight days until new olive oil could be consecrated.


When the Greeks captured the Temple they did not just want to steal the golden menorah and other holy vessels. They wanted to humiliate the Jews. Therefore, they defiled the Temple rendering it unfit for prayer and sacrifices.


The Greeks could have just taken the menorah but they added insult to injury by also defiling the olive oil that was sanctified for Temple use - that is except for the one flask of oil that was overlooked. The desecration was meant to break the Jewish spirit and crush the soul of the people. That plan backfired!


As we annually kindle the lights of the Hanukkah menorah, let us not only commemorate the miraculous oil but also pay homage to the indomitable spirit of the Maccabean warriors. The Menorah, crafted from soldiers' weapons and fueled by miraculous oil, is an enduring testament to the power of faith, the Jewish spirit, and the resilience of the Jewish soul throughout history.



Sources

 

 

   The painting depicts the kohanim assembling the Menorah made from iron weapons.

 

Ido Hebroni, the historian states that before writing his paper he came across an article written by           Prof. Daniel Sperber (Daniel Sperber, “The History of the Menorah,” Journal of Jewish Studies, vol.

16, no. 3-4 (1967): 135-159).


6  Kulp, Joshua, The Miracle of the Oil: Why is Hanukkah Connected with Fire & Why is it   



8 YouTube video of the first Menorah built for the Tabernacle Man in 2005.


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JP
JP
Dec 12, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you Dr.

As I think back on my last 7 years of my journey through the valley of death ( Religion). This article is a reminder of how quickly antisemitism would happen. In the most thoughtful of people who would tell me that Hanukkah was something that I should not have anything to do with and it’s a “Jewish” holiday that “Jews “ celebrate adding to the Torah. Instead of you brought forth of our big brother Judah and their unwillingness to let go until the blessing. It is such a blessing to have such a family that will continue to fight no matter the odds.


I often invite my Messianic and Christian friends to your website and postings,…


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Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
Dec 12, 2023
Replying to

Thanks again JP. I do my best to explain scripture using props with a little history mixed in. I am thankful for you continued reading. You’re the best. Terry

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Guest
Dec 10, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

How tall is the menorah?

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Dr. Terry Harman
Dr. Terry Harman
Dec 12, 2023
Replying to

The Gold Menorah posted is 63” tall. The Hasmonean on I built is about 50”

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