Kohen lights menora in priestly garments
Kohen lights menora in priestly garmentsThe Temple Institute

For many years now various American based Catholic and Protestant organizations have responded to what they perceive as the dual threat to the historical meaning of Christmas by its commercialization on the one hand and a diminishing of the religious foundations of the holiday on the other. Traditionally minded Jews should take note of this and examine what we can do to save Hanukkah from the remarkably similar situation it is now drowning in.

The campaigns Christians have undertaken include one with the tagline "The Reason For The Season" that is usually accompanied with a depiction of the nativity / manger. Another, more direct campaign utilizes the slogan "Keep Christ in Christmas."

Hanukkah has also become homogenized in America and is often depicted as being about religious liberty, or as a "festival of lights," "love, peace, and happiness" (as one greeting card I saw put it), and other modern connotations that the Hasmoneans would have scarcely found familiar.

So, what is Hanukkah about, in its essence?

The Jewish holidays---every one of them---is inextricably bound to the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah is no different.

Ancient Jewish wisdom identifies multiple ways that the Rabbis of the times of the Mishnah did just this.

One way was the name of the holiday as the word Hanukkah means dedication / rededication for it was the Maccabees that liberated the Holy Temple, cleaned it so it could again be used for holy service, and restarted the sacrifices that had been halted.

Another was the choice the ancient rabbis made in selecting the Haftarah for Shabbat Hanukkah. It is a reading from the Prophet Zechariah and there the Prophet insists that the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple) will be physically rebuilt in Jerusalem.

Also, when we recite the Amidah / Shemoneh Esrei, the standing, silent devotional that is at the center of every Jewish prayer service during Hanukkah, we add a special prayer known as Al HaNissim, for the miracles.

The text of the prayer concludes: "Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Holy Temple (Beit HaMikdash), purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name."

Keeping the Beit HaMikdash (the ancient Holy Temple constructed in Jerusalem by King Solomon, son of King David) at the center of our consciousness during Hanukkah is not simply a nice thing to do: it is an obligation.

The Beit HaMikdash is unique: G-d has indicated just one place on earth for the construction of His Holy Temple. Put another way, G-d has chosen just one nation [one people], to have a special, unique responsibility to worship Him with ritual sacrifice on His Holy Mountain in the Holy City of Jerusalem in His Holy Land.

Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash is what Hanukkah is all about. And here’s a little secret: it is what Judaism is all about.

That is why the Amidah is concluded thusly every time we recite it: "May it be Your will, L-rd our G‑d and G‑d of our ancestors, that the Beit HaMikdash be speedily rebuilt in our days, and grant us our portion in Your Torah."

One way to bring the authentic spirit of Hanukkah into the year is to concentrate on the above line every time one recites the Amidah.

There’s an additional way to make sure that Hanukkah is rescued from those who would subvert its true background and remake it into some kind of universal holiday that even a secularist can embrace. And that is to push back strongly against any and all attempts to seize any part of Jerusalem from the State of Israel and put it under any else’s control. And that especially includes the Temple Mount.

As Israel’s greatest national poet Uri Zvi Greenberg [1896-1981] wrote: "Whomever controls the Temple Mount controls all of the Land of Israel."

When we recall the stories of the Maccabees in and their re-inauguration of the Beit HaMikdash all of this takes place in what anti-Israel extremists, and their enablers, deliberately call "East Jerusalem."

"East Jerusalem" does not actually exist and what they are really saying is that Jerusalem’s Old City and its surrounding neighborhoods, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount are not part of Israel or part of Israeli Jerusalem.

The original and oldest parts of Jerusalem, where Hanukkah story took place, are what they falsely label "East Jerusalem" and this is the Jerusalem that the Maccabees fought for and not the "New City" which lies outside those walls.

We should remember the above both this Hanukkah and always. Jerusalem belongs to the Jewish People.

Yes, "A great miracle happened there" and that "there" is Judaism’s Holy Temple Mount in the sacred city of Jerusalem.


Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020. His views are his own..