In 1974 in Philadelphia, a small menorah was lit in front of Independence Hall, home to the iconic Liberty Bell. The menorah was crude and made of wood. Five people attended what is now considered to be the first Chabad-Lubavitch public-menorah lighting. Regardless of the constitutional implications of this action, the idea of religious freedom embodied by the Hanukkah holiday deeply resonates with the core principles of American democracy. The attention currently...Read More
Christmas tree or Hanukkah menorah? December portends heated Christmas/Hanukkah-dilemma conversations for the increasing number of interfaith families. In my many years as a congregational rabbi, I convened numerous meetings about Hanukkah pride and counseled many interfaith families on settling their differences. The glinty, chocolaty geld for St. Nick's and the similar gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins) for Hanukkah may help dissolve some...Read More
There probably is no holiday on the Jewish calendar that has been redefined more than Hanukkah. In each age, this holiday has been transformed to suit the issues and concerns of its time. Originally, Hanukkah was a nationalistic celebration of the Maccabees' military victory over the armies of King Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire. It celebrated Israel's return to sovereignty under the rule of the Hasmonean Dynasty. The rabbis of Talmud were the first to redefine Hanukkah. They downplayed the story of military victory...Read More
There is a well-known Talmudic debate (Shabbat 21b) between rabbis Shamai and Hillel about the correct way to light the Hanukkah candles. According to Shamai, the candles should be lit in a descending order, i.e., light all eight candles on the first day and light one less candle on each of the following seven. Hillel advocated the opposite - to ascend in the number, i.e., light one candle on the first night and ascend to eight burning candles on the last.
One explanation for Shamai's descending approach is that we...Read More
I remember little of my elementary school years in Cleveland, except for one incident in the second grade. We were doing an art project in class, and I couldn’t find my scissors. When I noticed that the student next to me, an African-American boy, had an identical pair, I was quick to accuse him of stealing mine. Our teacher, who was white, led the two of us into the cloakroom, which served as her courtroom. Based solely on my word against his, she believed me. The next day, while rummaging through my messy desk, I found my missing scissors – but I was too embarrassed or afraid to confess...Read More
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