Hanukah / Talmud

“It is the Babylonian Talmud that collects the traditions on Hanukkah and creates a lengthy, detailed and coherent discourse on the holiday…”

The rabbinic sources on Hanukkah, which are not numerous, are unevenly dispersed among the classical legal compendia. The earliest rabbinic legal works, the Mishna and Tosefta, that contain tractates on many of the festivals lack any concerted discussion on Hanukkah. Furthermore, the few curt appearances relate almost exclusively to calendrical or liturgical matters and only in one place, and there peripherally, does the Mishna (and its precise Tosefta parallel) refer to kindling a light for Hanukkah. This pattern is also the rule for the Palestinian Talmud where we find only six isolated traditions that refer to kindling lights for Hanukkah.

It is the Babylonian Talmud that collects the traditions on Hanukkah and creates a lengthy, detailed and coherent discourse on the holiday, elaborating on the laws and rituals, and particularly on the lighting of candles. Laws there discuss, for instance, the materials best for lighting, where and when to light, the benedictions to recite upon lighting, and the sanctity of the candles. It also alludes to repressive measures taken by Zoroastrian priests against the observance of the festival. It tells of Zoroastrian priests stealing the lit candles. The principle locus is in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat, folios 21a–24a….

Geoffrey Herman, “Religious Transformation Between East and West: Hanukkah in the Babylonian Talmud and Zoroastrianism”, in Religions and Trade: Religious Formation, Transformation and Cross-Cultural Exchange between East and West, ed. Peter Wick and Volker Rabens (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2014), 265.