Around the turn of this century, the director of communications at my agency was a devout Jewish woman, who invited all the staff to her house in the country for a holiday celebration. A highlight of the affair was her presentation with her grandchildren, as she told them of the story of Chanukkah. As the rest of us Gentiles watched, she would lead the children in the Hebrew chant for the occasion: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukkah ...” While others stood around watching in varying degrees of perplexity, I found myself singing with the children ... well, maybe sort of following along.
I turned to my son: "Does this sound familiar, like what you hear in the Divine Liturgy?" He nodded, as I continued. "This is where we get the Byzantine chant, and the Gregorian chant. It came to us from the Jews." His eyes lit up, as he said "Ahhhh ..." as if to indicate how he totally got it.
A comedian named Adam Sandler first introduced this holiday classic on NBC's Saturday Night Live. The song gives a list of famous celebrities from various walks of life who are Jewish: “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah / It's so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah / Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights / Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”
There's more where that came from.
This is an original work by Matisyahu. “Miracle” is produced by Dr Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha), and is drenched in a joyful spirit, with chiming synths, bouncing beats, and an irresistible chorus. And ice skating. (A totally awesome a cappella rendition can be found here.)
There are so many Christmas songs out there. I wanted to give the Jewish kids something to be proud of. We've got Adam Sandler's song, which is hilarious, but I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song. My boy Kojak was in town so at the last minute we went into the studio in the spirit of miracles and underdogs and this is what we came up with. Happy Hannukah!
Matisyahu can be found on Facebook, and followed on Twitter. The song can also be downloaded from iTunes.
On a more serious note, Charlie Harare explains the origins of Chanukkah, and its meaning in daily life from a Jewish point of view, which is only reasonable as this is a Jewish holiday. This begs the question ...
What is there for a Catholic in this message, and why does yours truly share it every year at this time?
As a Catholic, one believes that while the Jewish people were chosen by God under the Old Covenant, that from among their number would come as the Messiah, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” (John 1:11) From this, a subset of traditionalist Catholics claim that Judaism is a "false religion." They will cite the distinction between the Hebraic Judaism of the Old Testament, and the Talmudic Judaism introduced after the destruction of the Temple, accompanied by the loss of their priesthood and the practice of offering sacrifice. Some will even maintain that those who claim to be Jewish are not descendants of the original Jews up to the time of Christ.
If that were not enough, one such individual claims that Chanukkah is a hoax, a fabricated story, when in fact the account of the Maccabean Revolt is found in the First and Second Books of Maccabees. The Jews do not include these books in the Tanakh, or Jewish bible, nor are they found among the books of the Protestant Old Testament, but they are considered to be of divine inspiration by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians. One might even say, by extension, that it was the Catholic Church that saved Chanukkah for the Jews.
In fact, someone actually did.
Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.
It gets better.
As John tells us (John 10:22-23), “It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” As we’ve seen, before Hanukkah became known as the Festival of Lights, it was known as the Feast of Dedication (1 Macc. 4:59). So there would be no question that this is the holiday being celebrated, even if John hadn’t added the clue that it was winter. And indeed, the NIV and other Protestant Bible translations acknowledge as much.
So not only is there is a case for the authenticity of the story, but more important, for the manner in which it is commemorated.
As Judaism is a sign of the Old Covenant, and Christ brought it to fulfillment in the New Covenant, to be a Catholic is to be, in effect, a fulfilled Jew. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility of something to be learned here, for that which we believe as Catholics, is built upon no less than the Maccabean account. Judaism is not a false religion; it is an unfulfilled religion. It was -- indeed, it IS -- fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. As for the distinction between Hebraic and Talmudic Judaism, this only reinforces that point, as by rejecting the True Messiah, the proverbial vacuum that nature would abhor was filled by something else.
If you as a Catholic don't get that after watching this video, I can't explain it to you.