When Adam saw the day gradually diminishing, he said, "Woe is me! Perhaps
because I acted offensively, the world around me is growing darker and darker,
and is about to return to chaos and confusion, and this is the death Heaven
has decreed for me." He then sat eight days in fast and prayer. But when
the winter solstice arrived, and he saw the days getting gradually longer,
he said, "Such is the way of the world" and proceeded to observe
eight days of festivity.
and the winter solstice
There is a great deal
of evidence that in much of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East,
the winter solstice was a time for imploring the sunlight to return and for
celebrating its readiness to do so. The Romans celebrated the 25th of December
as the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun, while the Persians lit great bonfires
and sent out birds bearing torches of dried grass, at the time of the winter
It has been surmised that Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks may have consciously
chosen the 25th of Kislev (in 169 BCE) the time
of the winter solstice to commence their idolatrous
worship in the Temple, as it coincided with a pagan solstice festival. According
to this line of thinking, the Maccabees, by adopting the 25th of Kislev as
the day of rededication (in 166 BCE), were claiming victory over a pagan solstice
festival that had won wide support among partially Hellenized Jews. They were
rededicating not only the Temple, but the day itself, to Jewish holiness.
The lighting of candles, then, was perhaps a readaption of pagan custom in
a Jewish context.
Arthur Waskow, Seasons of our Joy: A Celebration of Modern Jewish
Renewal (Bantam Books, 1982). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zorah 8a; English translation: The Book of
Legends (Schocken Books, 1992). Reprinted by permission of the publisher.