Major and Minor Jewish Holidays
You might have heard that Chanukah is a “minor” Jewish holiday. As sometimes happens with people, Chanukah acquired the stigma of being ‘lesser than’ on the extraneous technicality.
Technically, Purim and Chanukah fall into the category of “minor” holidays, because they are rabbinic holidays, rather than Torah holidays. Truth be told, neither one of them are minor in real life.
Purim is based on events from the Book of Esther. Chanukah is based on events from the Book of Maccabees and the Talmud.
We hallow each day of Chanukah with special blessings and prayers in the Amidah (central Jewish prayer) and Birkat Hamazon (Grace after Meals).
Other rabbinic holidays are Tisha B’Av and Tu Bishvat (developed by 17th century Kabbalists).
Shavuot is a harvest festival in the Torah, that was completely reinvented from its original form by 16th century Kabbalists in Tzfat. Passover draws on a Torah narrative, but the Passover Seder as we know it is a rabbinical development.
More modern Jewish holidays are Yom Hashoah (1959) and Yom Hazikaron (1963).
The transformative age of rabbinical Judaism ensued after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples.
In Judaism we have Torah holidays, rabbinic holidays and post-rabbinic holidays. All aspects of Judaism have evolved over the millennia, including our holidays. Judaism has never been static.
Other religions have non-biblical holidays that are key and central to their faith.
I vote for disposing of the major/minor labels. Chanukah, which rivals Passover in popularity, holds major status in the hearts of the people.
The Jewish people found ways to celebrate Chanukah in the death camps and amid the horrors of the Holocaust. For them it was never minor. For them we kept it and increased it.
“Outside of the technical framework of Jewish law, Hanukkah is a major Jewish holiday. We have really done ourselves a disservice by using the term minor.”Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York City
I agree with Rabbi Olitzky. Chanukah is always singled out as “minor,” with the added poke that we pumped it up to compete wtih Christmas. To quote Rabbi Tzi Freeman on the subject, “it’s unclear what makes this lamentable.” I concur, why is this old, tired trope still a topic? Why does it matter? Every Jewish holiday is a testament to our survival. Live it out loud.
Chanukah in Israel is not in competition with Christmas and yet it is an extravaganza of week long festivities. Schools close for the week and the streets are alive with striking Chanukah light displays, vendors, food, scrumptious sufganiyot (jelly donuts), plays, theatrical productions, live music, singing, and public candle-lightings.
My dear people, can we just accept that we love the festive freedom of Chanukah? Unlike Torah holidays, commerce and all worldly activities are permitted on Chanukah, inviting us to make our winter holiday as big and bright as we want it to be. It’s our Winter Festival of Lights; it’s our holiday without restrictions.
Chanukah was always a public holiday until it was forced underground for centuries, due to ethno-religious persecution.
Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson started a campaign in the 1970’s to light highly visible and prominent Chanukah menorahs in public places.
In December 2015, Turkish Jews wept with awe and joy when the first Chanukah menorah lit up the stage in Istanbul’s historical Ortaköy Square. For generations present, Chanukah 2015 was the first time they saw Judaism practiced in public. The same thing happened in Budapest, Hungary.
Minor VS Major Labels
Non-biblical religious holidays are not unique to Judaism. Some of the biggest religious holidays outside of Judaism (i.e. Christmas, Advent and Easter), are not biblical, but it doesn’t make them ‘minor’ or one bit less significant.
I thought of Chanukah as a metaphor for the labels people put on us. Like some people, it got arbitrarily singled out as lesser than the rest and subtlety judged for living out loud. Living out loud is living a genuine life that is joyful and purposeful to you, without being diminished by other people’s opinions.
You were never meant to be ‘minor’ (lesser than), no matter what criteria someone else says you need to be great.
You were never meant to be made small or shamed for your joie de vivre.
Chanukah is big in fanfare, heart and spirit because we uphold it and raise it up to shine brightly.
It’s the same way with people. We have the power to raise up those of us feeling “minor” in visibility, worth and status and help them to shine brightly. Sometimes we need validation and interpersonal fanfare to be as big and bright as we can be.
In all ways, it’s a mitzvah (Divine deed) when it comes to people and holidays to shelve all minor/major labels.
Chanukah and Hanukkah are interchangeable, transliterated spellings. “Hanukkah” is now the more widely used spelling, while “Chanukah” is more traditional and old school.
Hanukkah In Israel by Cantor Evan Kent
Hanukkah In Israel: Bein Harim Tours