Trump: 'The Miracle of Hanukkah Is the Miracle of Israel'
The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, begins Tuesday night, and the White House released a short video of President Donald Trump's remarks at a celebration last Thursday. Those remarks set the perfect tone for Hanukkah, and began with a powerful — and perhaps controversial — statement.
"The miracle of Hanukkah is the miracle of Israel," Trump declared. "The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have endured unthinkable persecution and oppression, but no force has ever crushed your spirit and no evil has ever extinguished your faith."
Hanukkah does indeed celebrate a Jewish state of Israel resulting from years of anti-Semitic oppression. Just not exactly the current state of Israel.
"The Festival of Lights" commemorates the miracle of one day's oil lasting for eight days during the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
The temple needed to be rededicated because it was desecrated by a Seleucid king, Antiochus IV "Epiphanes." (The Seleucids ruled Israel after Alexander the Great defeated the Persian Empire, and his empire crumbled upon his death.) Following a revolt, Antiochus looted the Temple and outlawed Judaism.
In 167 B.C., this tyrant ordered that an altar to Zeus be erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered that pigs be sacrificed on the Temple's holy altar.
These actions inspired Mattathias and his son, Judah "Maccabee" (meaning "The Hammer"), to lead a revolution. Judah recaptured Jerusalem, rededicating the Temple in 165 B.C. He established the Hasmonean dynasty, which threw off Seleucid rule completely in 129 B.C. and lasted until the Roman general Pompey the Great (Julius Caesar's rival) conquered the city in 63 B.C.
This was the first time since the Babylonian Captivity (roughly 597 B.C. to 539 B.C.) that Israel governed itself as an independent kingdom. The rededication of the Temple marked this independence and loomed large for the Jewish people until the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948.
The story of Hanukkah is only alluded to in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which tell the story of Judah Maccabee and the revolt. 2 Maccabees does, however, refer to a festival of relighting the holy fire initiated by Nehemiah (the Old Testament prophet who helped rebuild the Temple), and it cites the 25th day of Chislev, the day on which Hanukkah begins.
The miracle of oil is widely regarded as a legend and its authenticity has been questioned. Even so, Orthodox Jews believe it took place, and there is no proof it did not. Indeed, it seems fitting that God would bless the rededication of His Temple with a miracle.
Trump captured this history in his full statement. The president noted that the story began "with a tyrant who made practicing the Jewish faith punishable by death. He desecrated the Jewish temple including the Holy of Holies, but a small band of Jewish patriots rose up, defeated a mighty army, and soon reclaimed their freedom."