The Beit Yosef’s Question on Chanukah – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Last week, we introduced our presentation of a classic Talmudic discussion.  The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) states that Chanukah is celebrated because of the miracle of Menorah oil that should have lasted for only one day instead lasting eight.  The Beit Yosef, in turn, asks why we celebrate Chanukah for eight days if only seven days were miraculous, since the oil would have lasted for one day without a miracle.

We noted that there are two basic strategies for resolving this difficulty.  One approach is to try to discover how there was a miracle on all eight days.  Others admit that only seven days were miraculous, but search for other reasons why Chazal instituted an eighth day.  Last week, we presented four answers based on the first strategy.  This week, we shall present three more approaches based on the second strategy.

Our discussion has been enriched by the insights of my Talmidim in the 5766 Y9 Gemara Shiur at TABC.  Our spirited discussion of this issue greatly enhanced my analysis of this fascinating topic. 

Solution #5 – Military Miracle and Oil Miracle 

The Pri Chadash asserts that the first day of Chanukah would have been instituted even had the miracle of the oil not occurred.  He argues that the first day of Chanukah celebrates the miraculous military defeat of the Syrian-Greeks.  This is similar to the one day of Purim on which we celebrate our salvation from the decree of Haman.  The Pri Chadash explains that other seven days were added due to the extra seven miraculous days of the oil burning. 

The Meiri (Shabbat 21b) presented this approach centuries before the Pri Chadash.  He adds that the first day of Chanukah is dedicated to celebrating not only the military miracle but also the miracle that we discovered the one flask of oil that the Syrian-Greeks did not render Tamei.  The Shiltei Gibborim (to the Mordechai, Shabbat number 455) adopts the approach that the first day celebrates the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash to the Avodah (service) that had been disrupted by the Syrian-Greeks. 

The Maharatz Chiyut (Shabbat 21b s.v. Mai Chanukah) criticizes these approaches, noting that when the Gemara (Shabbat 21b) discusses the reason why we observe Chanukah (see, especially Rashi ad. loc. s.v. Mai Chanukah), it mentions only the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.  This seems to imply that we celebrate only the miracle of the oil and not the military victory or discovery of the Tahor oil (see, however, Rashi to Shabbat 23a s.v. Hayu which seems to suggest otherwise).  The Maharatz Chiyut explains that the fundamental difference between these events is that the oil miracle constitutes an obvious and blatant miracle (Neis Nigleh), while the military victory was a hidden miracle (Neis Nistar).  The Maharatz Chiyut asserts that the Gemara believes that we do not recite Hallel on a Nes Nistar (a subtle miracle, such the military victory and discovery of the Tahor oil). 

The Maharatz Chiyut does note that the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:1) includes the military miracle in his presentation of the reasons for celebrating Chanukah.  We may add that the military victory is highlighted in the Al HaNissim prayer as well.  Thus, the Meiri and Pri Chadash’s approach seems to fit with the Rambam and the composers of Al HaNissim as opposed to Shabbat 21b.  The Meiri and Pri Chadash might claim that the Gemara explains why we celebrate Chanukah for eight days instead of merely one day.  The Gemara presents only the oil miracle because it is the reason for the seven additional days of celebration.

This discussion has serious implications regarding the propriety of reciting Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut, on which we celebrate the Nes Nistar of the establishment of Medinat Yisrael in the 1948 War of Independence.  According to the Meiri and Pri Chadash it is entirely appropriate, and the Maharatz Chiyut might disagree.  For a thorough discussion of this issue, see Teshuvot Yabia Omer (6: O.C. 41) and my essays on Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut and Rabi Akiva as the Inspiration for Religious Zionism available at   

Solution #6 - The Eighth Day Added Due to Doubt 

A number of Rishonim (such as Baal HaIttur and the Avudraham, cited in the Ateret Zekeinim to Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 670) and Acharonim (such as the Pri Chadash, ad. loc. and the Minchat Chinuch, to Mitzvah 301) ask why we do not observe nine days of Chanukah in the exile, just as we celebrate Sukkot-Shmini Atzeret for nine days.  The primary answer that is offered is that we do not observe an extra day for a holiday that was instituted by Chazal and does not appear in the Chumash.  This answer is based on the Gemara Menachot 68b regarding the observance of the prohibition of Chadash outside of Eretz Yisrael.

An intriguing alternative solution to this question is presented by the Arvei Nachal (at the conclusion of his commentary to Sefer Bereishit) and the Toldot Yaakov Yosef (to Parshat Vayeishev).  They assert that Chanukah should fundamentally be observed for only seven days because the miracle was only for seven days.  The eighth day, they claim, is added as the additional day for those living in the Diaspora (similar to the extra day added to all other Chagim for Diaspora Jewry).  Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin poses an obvious question on this approach.  Why is Chanukah observed for eight days even in Eretz Yisrael?  We may answer that Chazal wished to institute a uniform practice for both Eretz Yisrael and Chutz LaAretz (outside the land) regarding Chanukah.  Thus, we observe eight days of Chanukah in Eretz Yisrael even though it is only necessary to observe seven days.  It is unclear, according to this approach, why Chazal did not similarly institute observance of the second day of Yom Tov even in Eretz Yisrael for all other Chagim.   

Solution # 7 – Eight Days of Chanukah Commemorating a Variety of Events 

Another solution (with many varieties) is that Chanukah is observed for eight days for reasons other than the oil miracle.  The Baal HaIttim (a Rishon, cited in the Shiltei Gibborim to the Mordechai to Shabbat, number 455) asserts that we observe Chanukah for eight days due to the Syrian-Greeks who banned us from giving a Brit Milah to our male children.  Since Brit Milah is normally conducted on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life, we observe Chanukah for eight days.

A deeper meaning for this answer is based on the Maharal’s mystical approach to the symbolism of certain numbers.  The number seven (and its multiples), explains the Maharal, symbolizes completeness within the natural world.  For example, seven days complete the week.  The number eight, on the other hand, represents the supernatural.  The Brit Milah, according to this approach, is celebrated on the eighth day since it represents how we Jews seek to transcend the natural world (interestingly, Mikveh immersion occurs on the eighth night after the completion of seven clean days).  Sukkot is celebrated for seven days on which we offer seventy bulls corresponding to the seventy nations of the world listed in Parashat Noach.  On Shemini Atzeret, the eighth day, we offer just one bull, corresponding to Am Yisrael, the nation that aspires to transcend nature and devote at least part of our lives to service of Hashem.  Shavuot is celebrated on the fiftieth day after we count seven cycles of seven days, as it is the day on which we received the Torah, our guide to going beyond the natural. 

Accordingly, Chazal established Chanukah for eight days because it celebrates our supernatural cultural survival despite overwhelming challenges.  Our defeat of the Syrian-Greeks certainly was supernatural, which is reflected in the miracle of the oil miraculously lasting for eight days.  The miracle of the oil may be seen as a metaphor for the survival of the Jewish People.  Furthermore, the fundamental conflict with the Syrian-Greeks was a clash of the Greek culture which exalts the natural and Torah which advocates a life which rises above the natural.  Therefore, it is most fitting for Chanukah, which celebrates the survival of Torah, to be celebrated for eight days even though the miracle of the oil lasted only seven days. 

The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 670:5) adds another two reasons for celebrating Chanukah for eight days instead of seven.  He notes a Midrash that states that the Mishkan was completed on the twenty fifth day of Kislev and completed on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.  The Aruch HaShulchan explains that the rededication ceremony of the Beit HaMikdash by the Chashmonaim was conducted for eight days to correspond to the eight days devoted to the dedication of the Mishkan in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu.  The Aruch HaShulchan adds that Divrei HaYamim (2:7) records that Shlomo HaMelech also devoted eight days to the dedication of the first Beit HaMikdash.  Support for this approach may be derived from the Torah reading of Chanukah, where we read about the dedication of the Mishkan (Megillah 31a). 

The Aruch HaShulchan adds that the Sefer HaChashmonaim (2:1 and 10) records that because of the military hostilities with the Syrian-Greeks the Chashmonaim were unable to observe Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret in the year that they rededicated the Beit Hamikdash (165 B.C.E.).  As a correction (Tikkun) of this omission, the Chashmonaim devoted eight days to the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash which corresponded to the eight days of Yom Tov they had missed during the war.  The Aruch HaShulchan explains that Chazal viewed the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days as an expression of divine approval of these eight celebratory days.  According to this approach, we essentially celebrate Chanukah for eight days as a commemoration of the eight days of rededication of the Beit HaMikdash.

We should note, however, that each variation of solution number seven is subject to the Maharatz Chiyut’s aforementioned critique of the Pri Chadash’s approach.  The Gemara (as interpreted by Rashi on Shabbat 21b) might indicate that the sole reason for observing Chanukah is the miracle of the oil lasting eight days and not any other consideration such as those cited by the Baal HaIttim and the Aruch HaShulchan. 


There are many more approaches that have been offered to resolve the Beit Yosef’s question.  Indeed, Rav Michael Taubes informs me that a Sefer was recently published that presents no less than five hundred (!) answers to this question (he also informed me that the Rosh already raised this question).  Many of the answers provide important insights into our observance of Chanukah.  It is no wonder that this intriguing question and the ensuing discussion that it spawned has drawn the attention of Gedolim and lay individuals alike for centuries.

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The Beit Yosef’s Question on Chanukah Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter