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What historical event (if any) actually took place on the 25th of Kislev to cause that date to be the commencement of Chanukah?

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See also Mishnah Brurah 670:7 –  b a Dec 12 '12 at 1:38
    
@ba That midrash fits in perfectly with my answer. –  Double AA Dec 12 '12 at 3:39

3 Answers 3

It seems construction of the Second Temple commenced on 25 Kislev as evidenced in Chaggai 2 (particularly verses 10, 15, and 18). See these articles by Rav Yoel Bin-Nun (link, long and very thorough) and Menachem Leibtag (link, more succinct; recommended) for more discussion on the significance of this date and the connection of the prophecies there and in Zechariah to Chanukkah.

Edit: Some highlights of the articles (and I do hope you read them inside) that directly address the question:

  • On the day before the building of the Second Temple was to begin (24 Kislev), Chaggai prophecies to the people, encouraging them to go ahead and rebuild the Temple and promising prosperity and victory over its enemies in its days.

  • Many years later, on 15 Kislev various idols were erected in the Temple by the Greeks, but sacrifices were not offered on them until 25 Kislev (I Maccabees 1:54-59) which is the day the Temple began to be built. Presumably this date was chosen (by delaying the sacrifices) on purpose by the Hellenist Jews who remembered Chaggai and his prophecies.

  • 3 years later the Jews reconquer the Temple clean the whole thing out (including removing pagan idols on 23 Cheshvan and 3 Kislev according to Megillat Taanit) and rebuild many of the vessels (see 1 Maccabees 4:41-59). Finally on 25 Kislev, the same day it was originally defiled and the anniversary of Chaggai's prophecy that the Jews would succeed and triumph over their enemies (Chaggai 2:22), the Maccabees finally rededicate the Temple in a festive 8 day party. (Note Rashi to Chaggai 2:6 already connects his prophecies to the Maccabees.)

There is also what to discuss about the prophecies of Zacharia from the same time period as Chaggai (which is the Haftarah for Chanukkah) which center more around his visions of the Menorah, but I'll leave that for the interested reader to find himself.

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so you are saying the reason that the holiday of chanukah was set up on the 25th of kislev is because that is when the construction of the second temple began? –  not-allowed to change my name Dec 11 '12 at 19:16
    
@ichangedmyid Yes. Don't you see a strong connection between the two Channukot of the same Mizbeach? Unlike most people nowadays, I bet the Chashmonaim were quite familiar with the prophecies of Chaggai, and would have seen this choice of dates as particularly fitting. See the articles for more about the contents of the prophecies (and the parallel ones in Zecharia). –  Double AA Dec 11 '12 at 19:17
    
sure, but you didn't indicate that the chashmonayim rededicated the mizbeach on that date. - thanks for the mekoros, they're great. –  not-allowed to change my name Dec 11 '12 at 19:22
    
@ichangedmyid Where did you say I was supposed to indicate that? –  Double AA Dec 11 '12 at 19:23
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@ichangedmyid I think the point DoubleAA is trying to make is this: "The Hasmoneans rededicated the Temple and wanted a date to celebrate. Chaggai says the Temple was built starting 25 Kislev. The Hasmoneans chose 25 Kislev to celebrate the rededication as a reference to Chaggai." Is that correct? –  Charles Koppelman Dec 11 '12 at 21:49

Every historical (e.g. I and II Maccabees and Josephus) and traditional (e.g. the Talmud and Megillas Taanis) source that discusses the matter agrees that the 25th of Kislev was the day that the Hasmoneans, having succeeded in driving the Greek forces out of Jerusalem, reinauguarated the Temple service.

As II Maccabees states (10:1-5):

Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they burned incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. And when they had done this, they fell prostrate and besought the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by Him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Kislev. And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.

Rabbinic sources add that the miracle of the oil took place at the same time.

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how did they consecrate the alter before using it if they had no oil? –  not-allowed to change my name Dec 12 '12 at 2:08
    
I assume you are referring to the שמן המשחה - "anointing oil" - described in Exodus 30:25-30. However, asides from the fact that the anointing oil would not have been usable for the menorah anyways (as it contained many additional ingredients), the anointing oil was only required for Moses when consecrating the Mishkan, and not in later generations. (See Rambam, Hil. Klei HaMikdash 1:12) In fact, the Jewish people did not possess the anointing oil throughout the entire Second Temple period. –  LazerA Dec 12 '12 at 2:41

This might be basic but it is quoted in almost all halachic texts.

Rambam Hilchos Channuka 3:2 ,Gemara shabbas as well. וכשגברו ישראל על אויביהם ואבדום בכ"ה בחדש כסליו היה ונכנסו להיכל ולא מצאו שמן טהור במקדש אלא פך אחד ולא היה בו להדליק אלא יום אחד בלבד והדליקו ממנו נרות המערכה שמונה ימים עד שכתשו זיתים והוציאו שמן טהור:

When klal Yisroel gained control over their enemies and destroyed them on the 25th of kislev and then found the jar of oil. The Misna Brurah writes that the word channuka itself means Chanu= they finished and rested Chuf hei=on the 25th.

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