I keep seeing Chanukah being referred to as "the festival of lights". However I don't recall encountering this term in any of the classic religious texts (Talmud, Midrash, Maimonides, Shulchan Aruch, etc.), nor have I ever heard a religious Jew refer to the holiday as anything other than Chanukah. Is there any traditional source for this term or is it just a borrowed term from other religions?

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    is Josephus a traditional source?
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 21:08
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    קובץ תשובות הרב אלישיב חלק ה סימן יב בנותן טעם לומר שלכן כינו את חג החנוכה בשם "חג האורים" (ספרי יוסף בן מתתיהו), על פי מה שאמרו חז"ל במדרש (בר"ר ב, ד) "וחושך זה מלכות יון", וכאשר נצחו את יון גירשו את החושך - ויהי אור
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 22:18
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    I wondered if it was designed to echo Chag Purim (urim and Purim, the Mupim and Chupim of the holiday cycle)
    – rosends
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 12:30

1 Answer 1


It seems to have been referred to this way at least as early as the time of Flavius Josephus.

See his Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, Chapter 7:

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.

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    Interesting. Apparently by the time of the Mishnah the name had already been changed to Chanukah. Are you suggesting that the original name remained as an alternative name (and changed at some point to 'Festival of lights'), or that more recently the name was taken and adapted directly from Josephus?
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 21:56
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    @Jay I’m not sure. I suppose either is possible. Or even that the name was reintroduced independently of Josephus. I do know that in Israel today it’s not uncommon to wish someone חג אורים שמח
    – Joel K
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 4:06
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    hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=27&daf=8&format=text the original holiday may have specifically been about light
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 19:55

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