Last night marked the 8th and final night of candle lighting for this years feast of Hanukkah. Last year was the first year we engaged in the event, our previous years ranging from considering the event ‘as pagan as christman’ (thanks to our messianic tutors) and ‘unbiblical’ to ‘very Jewish’ and to be honest, a little confusing. We were gifted a beautiful Hanukkiah last year and I decided I wanted to light the candles in order on the appropriate days. Really we were just going through the motions, something of a dry run, but it was interesting to note the response from the internet (the only ‘real’ gauge to our actions). Most people really didn’t care, they enjoyed the images of candles but we did get a few, ‘you aren’t Jewish and you shouldn’t be doing this’ messages. I was curious to see how this years internet response went and I reached out to a few friends and Rabbi’s to ask their opinions on my partaking in the Feast of Lights.
Usually I would start with a ‘why’ regarding my choice to even ‘do’ Hanukkah but that is something of a conclusion so instead I’ll give a brief summation of the input that was ‘offered’ or asked for. I find in general that most people are either happy to see people happy or content to let people do that they want, something I appreciate believe it or not. There are always the voices that want to be heard and give the door a knock so the message is definitely given. These pm’s consisted mostly of people expressing their disdain for any non-Jew lighting a menorah although there were a couple of people who wanted to say they liked our photos.
I asked around in November, I sought out input. The interesting thing about Hanukkah is, as any Jew would agree, it is not a biblical holiday, meaning it is not commanded by the Creator. What does this mean? Well it means that in the same breath that says the Jews aren’t commanded to remember Hannukah, the nations aren’t commanded NOT to observe it either. So, this said, what is the problem with the non-Jew lighting candles on a Hanukkiah? From the feed back I curated and from previous experience in similar matters I think I can refine the issues into 2 points, both related to the theme of replacement theology.
1) Being observed observing.
The religious wardrobe is one of my major pet peeves when it comes to the messianic movement. Dressing to look like a Jew when you are not a Jew isn’t, in my opinion, cricket. The world is watching. The most common example is the non-Jew in talit and Tzitzit siting down to a cheese burger in a crowded fast food restaurant. This is something a religious Jew would never do. Playing dress up to ‘look’ Jewish and engaging in action that are clearly not Jewish is confusing for those who do not understand Judaism as well as ultimately causing trouble for religious Jews when they are questioned by their non-Jewish friends because they swear blind they saw a Jew chomping on a Big Mac. In the same sense, some people are worried that lighting the Menorah in a window and then turning on the nativity scene or LED angels is going to confuse and taint the nations view of what and who a Jew is as well as what they believe.
2) Self Adoption.
‘Self Adoption’ is a phrase I seem to be falling back on a lot lately. The idea is that a person ‘feels’ like they want to belong and therefor decides that their ‘belonging’ is some how divinely appointed, regardless of their heritage, blood line and family history. The lighting of the Hanukkah candles is accompanied by a series of blessings, an example of which follows.
1. Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
2. Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
3. Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
The recanting of these blessings places the speaker firmly within the camp of the sons of Jacob by it’s inclusion of the word ‘us’. ‘Our forefathers’, (at least my own) did not have the miracle of Hanukkah performed for them and by reciting these blessings I would be choosing to self adopt into this group. This final point, the use of the blessings, was universally the central issue with a person like me lighting the Hanukiah. So, why did I choose to?
The Miracle of Hanukkah relates to the prolonged burning of the temple lamps and by attachment the victory and survival of the Jews and Judaism. It represents an example of the Creators promise to prolong the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It reminds the world of the secular Jews defeat at the hand of traditional Judaism.
But. For me, each night I light a candle I am reminded that all over the world people are lighting candles, that last year this happened.. and the year before.. in fact for hundreds of years, regardless of persecution, hate, death, famine, political genocide, exile and homelessness these lights shone brightly. Each of my candles is my endorsement of Judaism. It’s my sign that I stand with the Jewish people. I want my light, however small, to shine a positive light into the night sky and say, ‘The Jews are still here, Judaism is still here and I for one am thankful for this, that after 2000 years of hate, these lights are still burning.. that for me is a miracle’.
I don’t need to say a blessing, nor would I. My Hanukkah light may have been the only one some people saw this year, maybe it sparked a thought about what Jews believe, maybe it gave a ray of hope to a lonely soul on these cold, dark nights.. maybe it acted as a reminded that the Jewish nation are a light to the world. I hope so.