April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Daf Yomi Relevance to This Particular Chanukah

It might seem counterintuitive to suggest that the Daf Yomi the Shabbat before Chanukah this year was particularly relevant since it is well known that, unlike Purim, Chanukah does not have its own tractate in the Talmud. Not as equally obvious, Chanukah is not mentioned even once in the Mishna, and is only referred to incidentally eight times in the Talmud. (One for each day of the holiday?) But the daf read on the Shabbat before Chanukah this year was one of those eight times.

The incidental reference to Chanukah on page 30 of Baba Kama discusses the issue of liability when an animal in the public domain catches fire when brushing against a Chanukah menorah placed outside of a building. The owner of the menorah is exempt since the menorah was put there with the implicit permission of the court. But the Talmud proceeds to specify that the menorah was placed with the permission of the court only because it was placed there to perform a mitzvah.

Most Jews place their Chanukah menorah in a window—and in some cases in more than one window—to publicize the miracle, but the ideal way to perform the mitzvah, as presumed in the time of the Talmud, is to place the menorah outside of the house, as is still done (in special glass cases to shield them from the winds) by many people today.

The main justification, and maybe the only official one, for not placing the menorah outside the house nowadays is in order not to antagonize non-Jews—even before October 7—though there happen to be some compelling practical considerations as well; so that the flames will not be blown out by the wind or transmitted because of the wind in conjunction with passing people or animals or vehicles (self-driving or otherwise) as described above.

Returning to the main justification identified above, we can segue back to the present Chanukah and why the placement of the menorah is more of a hot issue this year than on most other celebrations of Chanukah in modern times.

Although blood on the doorpost was enough to cause the Angel of Death to pass over Jewish households at the time of the Exodus, at most other times of upheavals affecting the Jews, the mezuzah on the doorpost, without even getting to the menorah, has all too often been seen by some as an invitation to violent antisemites rather than the protector of Jewish households it has generally been considered to be.

Thank God we haven’t come close to the atmosphere of the Inquisition, so far (bli ayin hara) when mezuzot were concealed by some Marranos inside of statues or amulets of the Virgin Mary, though we may have surpassed the conditions on Irish campuses in 2021 when a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in Ireland invented the camozuzah (the mezuzah camouflaged in an apparent security alarm system). Ingenious Jews have continued to find ways to enable the contents of the mezuzah to provide protection from above and from within.

On the flip side (of the dreidel?), we can at least share some of the positive examples of goodness that have begun to shine through the darkness of the pro-terrorist supporters who have blackened the reputations of some of our Ivy League colleges and many, mostly young people, whose level of sophistication is limited to the sound bites of the tik tok of a clock run amok.

A few weeks ago, when a mezuzah was deemed the likely cause of serious vandalism in Studio City, California, some non-Jewish neighbors proposed putting up their own mezuzah. Shades of “I am Spartacus” when good-hearted Romans sought to protect the identity of a heroic figure; and then the period of the Holocaust when the King of Denmark is said to have remarked that “if the Germans would introduce the yellow star of David to Denmark, “perhaps we should all wear it.”

As a sign of the times, a non-Jew in Toronto wishing to put up a mezuzah as a sign of identification with Jews and an attempt to confound people with unfounded hatred had the added sensitivity to ask a Jew whether this would be considered insensitive. Sure enough, at least one Jew has already responded to this well-intended sign of solidarity by saying it smacked of cultural appropriation!

Similarly, many Jews and non-Jews have vowed to decorate their houses and yards this year in particular with elaborate and well-lit decorations commemorating Chanukah and supporting Israel, in many cases larger, lighter and brighter than ever, though there has also been a concern that they might lead to activities worse than vandalism or theft, God forbid.

In 1993, a brick was thrown through a window in front of a menorah in Billings, Montana. The Billings Gazette published a drawing of a menorah, and it was said that a thousand people (non-Jews as well as Jews) hung makeshift menorahs in their windows, and Billings, Montana is no Borough Park. This year, on the 30th anniversary of that incident, a full-page ad appeared in that paper suggesting that history should repeat itself—in a positive way.

I think we can safely assume that Chabad won’t hold back on their menorah displays, and the Shine a Light Coalition will shine many lights to counter the darkness of the Gaza tunnels and the people who built and supported them.

Let us hope and pray that the solidarity in support of the modern-day Maccabees will not wane like the Chanukah lights of Beit Shamai, but will grow with each passing day like the lights of Beit Hillel, and will not stop at the end of Chanukah, or at the end of the war in Israel and Gaza, but will continue to grow and strengthen until the time of the Moshiach.

And finally, returning to the Daf Yomi, antisemitism has been around since well before the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, yet even at the time of the Gemara, placing a menorah not merely in one’s window but outside in front of one’s window or door was considered a standard way to publicize the miracle of the few in the face of the many. Let us hope and pray that the Jews who observe this level of observance today will not be deterred from doing so even in the current climate, and will never have reason to regret it.

Rabbi Reichel, an attorney and author, seeks to share and spread the light of goodwill even without waiting for Chanukah, also known as Chag Ha’oorim, the holiday of lights.

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