Thanks to the Maccabees!

Yael Eckstein  |  December 22, 2022

Illustration of Maccabees

You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. —John 4:22

As I’ve mentioned before, the main reason that Hanukkah is such a popular and well-known Jewish festival is that it often coincides with Christmas, as it does this year. And, indeed, there are many similarities between the two observations.

Both Hanukkah and Christmas celebrate miracles, and themes of hope and bringing light into the world run through both observances. Many of the decorations for Hanukkah look similar to Christmas decorations as we both use lights to celebrate the holidays.

Gift-giving is another tradition that is part of both Christmas and Hanukkah. Many Jewish parents give gifts to their children during Hanukkah, although in Israel, it is more customary to give children “Hanukkah money” as a treat. In my family, my husband and I emphasize having our children give charity on several of the nights, so that they know holidays are not only for getting but for giving!

Thanks to the Maccabees!

But there is a much deeper — and more important — connection between the two holidays. Here is what my abba, Fellowship Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, of blessed memory, wrote about Hanukkah:

“Were it not for the successful Maccabean revolt, paganism and Hellenism would likely have been imposed upon the Jews. Had that happened, the very foundations of Judaism might have been destroyed and Christianity might never have come to be. In other words, if not for the miracle of the Jewish military defeat over the Syrian-Greek tyrants, there might be no Judaism and no Christianity in existence today.” (How Firm a Foundation, p. 124)

Think about that. The Hanukkah story happened over a century before Jesus was born. If not for the heroism of the Maccabees, Judaism would have faded and, therefore, Christianity would have faded, too. Every Christian owes a big thanks to the Maccabees!

Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when he said that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). And Paul spoke of Christians being “grafted in” (Romans 11:17) to the covenant of Israel. We at The Fellowship feel strongly about sharing the ancient Jewish roots of the Christian faith with our donors and with people of faith everywhere. Christian or Jew, our faith is grounded in the God of Israel — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!

So this year when you wish someone a “Merry Christmas,” remember it’s because —thanks to the Maccabees — we also celebrate a “Happy Hanukkah!

Your Turn:

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