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Once again we are celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah. This is the celebration of the military victory the Israelites had over the last of the Seleucid kings, Antiochus Epiphanes who was instigating Hellenism- the obliteration of any religion, language and culture that is not Greek. It also celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had suffered what Daniel prophesied as the abomination of desecration caused by the Greeks sacrificing pigs to their gods using the altar in the Temple. The miracle of the one day supply of holy oil lasting for 8 days is why we call this the Festival of Lights.
Here’s something to consider: if it wasn’t for God’s intervention and the Maccabees leadership, it is possible that the Enemy of God, that old lion HaSatan, could have wiped out not just the Jewish people, but Judaism, altogether! And, because the Messiah comes from the Jewish people, if Antiochus had been successful, there would be no salvation for the world.
This event occurred roughly 165 years before Yeshua’s ministry, and Yeshua, himself, celebrated it in Jerusalem (John 10:22), yet it is not a festival that God commanded us to observe (the celebration of Hanukkah at that time is also confirmed by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews 12.7.323-326.)
The story of Hanukkah, found in the books of the Maccabees (1 and 2) are not in the Tanakh, but in the collection of extra-biblical books called the Apocrypha. These are not considered to be scripture by any of the Judeo-Christian religions, except Roman Catholicism. The celebration and rituals for Hanukkah are Talmudic, meaning Hanukkah is a man-made tradition created by the Rabbis of old and found in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Shabbat 21b.
For this reason, there is some contention whether or not we should celebrate it at all. The main reasons for ignoring it are that it is not a commanded Holy Day and that it is a tradition, and Yeshua said that we should not follow the traditions of men.
So…let’s take a look at these objections, and let’s start with the latter objection: Yeshua said all traditions of men are bad. The only thing wrong with this argument is that it is, well… wrong!
One of the most quoted New Covenant verses to justify that all traditions of men are wrong is Mark 7:6-13. That chapter starts with the Pharisees complaining to Yeshua that his Talmudim (Disciples) do not wash their hands before eating, which is a violation of the tradition of N’tlat Yadayin. Here is Yeshua’s answer to them:
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother, and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
The complaint Yeshua had was not against our traditions, but that the Pharisees were using these traditions to nullify God’s commandments. In other words, Yeshua is not against our traditions but when they are used to nullify God’s commandment.
And you might be surprised to know that the Talmud agrees with Yeshua!! Here is an excerpt from a report on the website yashanet.com regarding this topic:
The Talmud states that the ritual of hand washing (Netilat Yadayim) is invalid if the mind and heart is not also “cleansing.” In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, stated: “In life it is not the dead who make you unclean; nor is it the water you wash your hands with, but rather the ordinances of the King of Kings that purifies.” Much later, Rabbi Maimonides (Rambam) made a similar comment, “For to confine oneself to cleaning the outward appearance through washing and cleaning the garment, while having at the same time a lust for various pleasures and unbridled license … merits the utmost blame.”
Sounds like whitewashed sepulchers full of dirty bones, doesn’t it?
This report goes on to cover many other issues of Yeshua and the Talmud, and the general conclusion is that Yeshua was a Torah observant man who also followed the traditions of the Rabbis (I am adding-when they did not nullify God’s commands!)
Here are other conclusions from that report:
Rabbi John Fischer, Ph.D. Th.D wrote: “The Gospels provide sufficient evidence to the effect that Jesus did not oppose any prescription of the written or oral Mosaic Law.”
Finkel; G. Friedlander wrote: “In effect, Yeshua built a “fence around the Law” – as indicated by the Aramaic and Hebrew underlying “fulfill” – much as the earlier sages cited by the Talmud did (Pirke Avot 1.2). And, his fence is remarkably similar to that of the sages.”
Tim Hegg wrote: “Yeshua certainly follows the halachah of the Sages in spite of the fact that such traditions are not explicitly stated in the Written Torah.”
Shemayah Yardin wrote: “There is no evidence that suggests the Netzarim abandoned their Orthodox Judaism, and there is no evidence that proves the Netzarim rejected the Oral Torah. There is however, ample evidence in scripture and history, as shown extensively, that Rebbe Yeshua, his Shlichim (Apostles) and all his followers (the Netzarim) all supported, endorsed, taught and lived according to Written and Oral Torah, and the halachot, customs and traditions of the Sages.”
David Stern wrote: “Based on all of my research, myself and my colleagues, have found without any doubt, that Yeshua’s teachings and life style was closer to Hasidic Judaism than any other form of Judaism.”
So it is clear when we look at the Talmud and the research of biblical scholars (Jewish ones, to boot!) that Yeshua was NOT against traditions. He was against those people who used traditions to overrule what God commanded from us.
Now that we know traditions are not bad and that Yeshua did not reject all man-made traditions, we can look at the first objection to celebrating Hanukkah: it is not a festival created by God.
Since we know that tradition is not unacceptable when practiced correctly, the real question regarding celebrating anything that is not specifically defined and commanded in the Torah is this- is the absence of a commandment a commandment?
In other words, if we are not told to do something, does doing it automatically make it a sin?
Well, we know the converse is true- if we are told not to do something and we do, that is a sin. No problem there, right? We all agree? Good.
But…if we are NOT told, for instance, to celebrate a particular event, is celebrating it a sin?
Sin is a violation of God’s commandment, but if God doesn’t give us a commandment about something, then what?
There are many verses in the Torah about which animals are allowed for the different sacrifices but there is nothing telling us how to kill them. Based on other laws about treatment of our animals we can infer that the Torah would require that we kill them humanely, but (again) God does not give us a specified procedure. However, we do have one- it is called the Shechita, and it is found in the Talmud. It is a man-made tradition. However, it is obvious that God allowed it since that is how the sacrifice was performed by Aaron and his descendants up to the time Yeshua taught at the Temple in Jerusalem and even past that time until the Temple was destroyed.
And all that time these sacrifices had been accepted by God.
There is no specified or commanded procedure for performing the B’rit Milah (circumcision) but God has accepted it from Abraham’s day onward. The procedure is outlined in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 133a and b.
Here we have looked at two of the most important elements in the Jewish worship of God, and how we are to perform them is not commanded in the Torah. The Talmud defined how we are to perform them and this has been accepted by God- even though they are man-made traditions.
It is clear that Jewish traditions are not unacceptable to God and that Yeshua did not deny the validity of man-made traditions. These wrongful teachings were designed and propagated by the Enemy to separate us from God, and it is my passionate opinion that anyone who universally denies the validity of the Talmud or Jewish traditions that do not specifically nullify God’s commandments are doing the work of the Enemy of God.
Those celebrations and traditions which are man-made and designed to give thanks to God and demonstrate a heartfelt worship and love for him are acceptable to God. It is not the tradition that is the issue, but the manner in which it is practiced.
Washing of hands before the meal is not a sin, but telling someone who doesn’t wash their hands before eating that they are sinning is a sin. Celebrating Hanukkah as a way to give thanks to God for his intervention which caused the miraculous salvation of his people is certainly acceptable to God. Celebrating Hanukkah as nothing more than a day to exchange gifts and eat latkes (I believe) is not acceptable to God as a form of true worship.
I certainly hope this settles the matter for people, once and for all. As Isaiah said (which Yeshua quoted), it isn’t what we do that is the issue, it is what is in our hearts when we do it. Following the Torah exactly with a heart bent on simply following the rules is nothing more than legalism, and celebrating or practicing man-made traditions with heartfelt thanksgiving and to show our love for and worship of God is righteous and acceptable to God.