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Re: orion Hanukkah a civil holiday?
Dear David Suter,
I quite agree that many of the days of celebration in the Megillat
Ta'anit had a religious dimension, much as for instance Passover, celebrating
the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, has an obvious civil or national
dimension. The problem is that the blurring of the distinction between
religious and civil holidays allows imprecise thinking to creep in, e.g. the
idea that Hanukkah, having a religious dimension, should appear in Qumran
lists alongside the Biblical festivals. I would be delighted if someone could
suggest a more technically precise terminology that would convey a real sense
of the distinctions involved.
The Biblical terminology for the Jewish holydays include "great sabbaths,"
"sacred assemblies," "solemn assemblies." This language is reflected also in
the Temple Scroll. Perhaps, then, a better term than "religious" holidays
would be "sacred" days. Sacred holidays include the following cluster of
(1) They are holy days revealed by God -- that is, revealed to Moses and
found in the Torah. (The extra-Biblical holy days documented at Qumran also
made this claim, since the Temple Scroll purported to be a revelation to Moses
(2) These days were celebrated at Jerusalem. Pilgrim festivals required
attendance of Jews in Judea to Jerusalem. Others (e.g. the Day of Atonement)
were also celebrated at Jerusalem, but by certain priestly rites in the
(3) These days all had specially regulated sacrifices at the temple. That
is, they were fully integrated with the temple cult.
(4) As holy days, work was forbidden on these special holidays: hence the
terminology, "great sabbaths." (In the spring and autumn Pilgrim Festivals,
the first and last days were sabbaths, the other days celebratory.)
By contrast, the days of celebration in the Megillat Ta'anit, such as
Hanukkah, were not found in the Torah (or 11QT). This includes Purim, which,
though Biblical, is not in the Torah, and hence of less-than-sacred status.
The origin of these holidays was by national decree (even if fictitiously so,
as at Esther 9:21-28). These days also lacked special sacrifices; work on
these days was permissible; and they could be celebrated anywhere, not just
Jerusalem. Of all these holidays, only the observance of Purim and Hanukkah
have survived till modern times, which points to their non-sacred character.
Esther 9:22 contains the phrase, "days of feasting and joy," which the rabbis
took to describe this category of holiday. Perhaps someone could suggest a
more appropriate terminology that clearly contrasts with the sacred holidays
of the Torah. Till then perhaps "sacred" and "civil" will do.
> The issue that Marty appears to be raising is methodological in nature
> and requires definition of "civil" and "religious" in order to resolve.
> Your approach may well explain why one should not expect Hanukkah in the
> Scrolls, but the question is whether one can so easily distinguish
> between civil and religious. I doubt that it is that much easier to
> make such a distinction in a modern society that prides itself on a
> separation of church and state (note modern discussion in the 70's and
> 80's over civil religion). You may well have a meaningful distinction
> in search of a different terminology to adequately explain it.
> David Suter
> Saint Martin's College