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What is the Talmudic source for Ḥanukah?

In discussing candles for Shabbath, the Talmud (Shab. 21b) goes into a discussion about candles generally, touching upon Ḥanukah candles, and ultimately asks, "Mai Ḥanukah?" - "What is Ḥanukah?" - and from there goes into a brief discussion of the origins of the holiday. In Hebrew schools and Yeshivoth it is frequently taught, simplistically, that this is the "source" in the Gemara for Ḥanukah and that the Mishnah makes no mention of it (for reasons outside the scope of this question). But that's actually not true. This discussion in Shabbath draws from other places in the Talmud that discuss the holiday and its ritual lighting, most significantly pointing to the law in the last Mishnah in B"K, ch. 6, discussed in Bava Kama 62b, that one is not financially culpable if a damaging fire is ignited (G-d forbid) from one's Ḥanukah candles that were placed outside. If one were to look at the volumes of the Talmud and try to determine which came first - or, more precisely, which draws upon which, one would have to conclude that the B"K mention is the source, as the Mishnah predates the Gemara in Shab. But is the Mishnah the source for the Gemara, or is there another source that is not mentioned? I know that Megillath Ta'anith mentions Ḥanukah. Could that be considered the source?

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I don't understand the question. Don't all masechtos in the Talmud draw upon the entirety of the mishna? The mishna in Bava Kamma mentions chanuka lights in passing. But only the gemara in Shabbos fleshes out exactly what Chanuka is. –  jake Dec 15 '11 at 19:26
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I also don't understand the question. Chanukah is mentioned in several places but those couple pages in Shabbat are where it's explained as opposed to mentioned tangentially, no? –  Monica Cellio Dec 15 '11 at 19:30
    
I also don't understand the question, maybe edit it and explain what it is you are asking and why. It seems you are basing the question on the Talmud but it is not clear how or why. –  morah hochman Dec 15 '11 at 20:11
    
I didn't think this would be so confusing. I'm trying to draw the distinction between "Mai (or even Mei-ei) Ḥanukah" - which is generally, I think, understood as the starting point of the discussion of the history and requirements of the holiday - and, in my best interpretation of late Babylonian Aramaic, "MiNayin Ḥanukah" - by which I mean, what is the Mishnaic/Talmudic source? I guess the answer would probably be the Mishnah, because it came earlier, but I was hoping someone could flesh it out a bit better with maybe other sources (Rishonim, Geonim, etc.) who comment on it, if they exist. –  Seth J Dec 15 '11 at 20:12
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On the last point of the revised question: the baraisa quoted in the Gemara (in response to "mai Chanukah" is indeed from Megillas Taanis. So yes, that probably would be considered the primary source (and indeed, Megillas Taanis predates the final arrangement of the Mishnah by R. Yehudah Hanassi). –  Alex Dec 16 '11 at 16:36

2 Answers 2

Standard thing you'll hear in yeshivas eventually: the vowelization here isn't "mai chanukah?" ("what's chanukah"); it's "me-ei chanukah" -- from where is Chanukah? (or for you English majors, whence Chanukah?). And the Gemara answers with the story of the Hasmoneans.

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Nice vort, but I'm not so certain it's correct on a peshat level. The Gemara will sometimes mention a term, later ask "mai X," and reply with a baraisa or something that defines it. (Another example is in Kesubos 28b.) So here too: having mentioned a couple of laws about Chanukah, the Gemara seeks a definition of it. –  Alex Dec 15 '11 at 20:10

There is no "source" for Hanukkah any more than there is a source for Tisha B'Av. You can point to the earliest known reference to the day in print (for Hanukkah, that would be Maccabees I), but that text won't serve as the "source" for all later treatments of the concept any more than you could say that discourse today concerning the Vietnam War is all somehow "sourced" in the first printed publication to have dealt with it. Hanukkah was a cultural celebration that evolved organically, like all cultural celebrations, and that subsequently came to be commemorated in the literature. Major treatments of Hanukkah, in chronological order, include Maccabees I, Maccabees II, Josephus and Megillat Taanit. (Megillat Taanit, by the way, is historically the first text to mention the miracle of the oil). The Mishna, as you point out, has nothing to say about what Hanukkah is, but testifies to a familiarity with it as a Jewish festival. This reticence on their part to explain the nature of the day (there being no Masekhet Hanukkah) is the reason as to why the gemara asks the question: מאי חנוכה? What actually is it?

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