Hanukkah in the Community
While Hanukkah itself is a rather minor festival within the frame of Jewish law, the community has embraced it in a significant way and established it as a major event.
Jewish communities around the world view Hanukkah as a celebration of the spiritual survival of Judaism and the victory of Judaic values over a complete, and in many cases enforced, assimilation. Celebrating Hanukkah enhances self-awareness of Jewish adults and emphasizes their responsibility for the Jewish education of their children.
Although Jewish law does not mandate the celebration of Hanukkah anywhere outside the home, Jewish communities have chosen to broaden the scope of Hanukkah and recognized a public aspect of the holiday. Since it is a minor holiday and not a major object of traditional rabbinic concern, there exists tremendous latitude surrounding its observance. As a matter of fact, it is only in the Western world that Hanukkah--under the influence of roughly coterminous Christmas celebrations--has achieved for many people the dubious--and erroneous--distinction as the “Jewish Christmas.” The comparison may be based on one common element: each holiday is designated as a “holiday of light.”
Be that as it may, the open gathering of the community on Hanukkah has become a defiant and public statement of the community's attachment to Judaism and its ideals. Public lighting of Hanukkah candles (hanukkiyot) has become widespread in some sectors of the Jewish community, especially but not at all uniquely among Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim, who organize public celebrations around the world.
Lighting candles together around the time of the winter solstice becomes a strong bonding event for all those involved. Falling between the Jewish New Year in the fall and the holiday of Passover (Pesach) in the spring, Hanukkah serves to break up a long stretch without any major communal religious celebrations. Hanukkah interrupts that lengthy time span and pulls us into our larger Jewish frame, connecting us again to our community.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.