Why did people start to light oil lamps on chanukah?

How did the holiday come to be represented by lights? If in fact it was that the menorah was lit for eight days with oil, and that was considered the essence of the holiday, then why is there even a discussion about what is chanuka?

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    Doubtless I'm dense, but this question is very unclear to me. Are you asking about oil (first paragraph) versus candles (third)? What's a mezbach (second paragraph)? What is "the" oil you refer to (second paragraph)? Etc. Anyway, I strongly suspect the answer to the second part of "When did people start to light oil, and what was it for?" is "light".
    – msh210
    Dec 18, 2011 at 22:22
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    Yes! Minimally. I still think the answer to second part of "When did people start to light oil, and what was it for?" is "light", but I have no reference for that, so won't post it as an answer. I'm very surprised to hear that the Or Zarua holds oil was not used for the m'nora, considering that the Tora strongly implies that it was (Sh'mos 39:37 and 40:25).
    – msh210
    Dec 18, 2011 at 22:59
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    @msh210, the relevant Or Zarua seems to be here. If so, then soandos, I think there might be a misunderstanding here: Or Zarua indeed says that the oil was used for the menorah (he's not going to argue with the Gemara, after all), he just adds that the holiday is called "Chanukah" because they rebuilt and rededicated the altar.
    – Alex
    Dec 18, 2011 at 23:20
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    Possible duplicate: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/8/…
    – Shmuel
    Dec 19, 2011 at 4:15
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    Closed pending (something resembling) the following improvements: Citation of the gemara in question and the Or Zarua in question (preferably with relevant quotations); clarification of what "the oil" refers to in the second paragraph; clarification of the gemara machloket referenced; explanation of precisely what "at that time" means; clarification of the difficulty that the third paragraph seems to be presenting.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 19, 2011 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


(Building on my comment, at Isaac's suggestion:)

The Or Zarua isn't saying that the oil with which the miracle occurred wasn't used for lighting the menorah. Indeed, he quotes the narrative in Menachos about how the Chashmonaim created a temporary menorah out of iron spits and used it for the lighting. (Bear in mind that iron is not to be allowed to touch the Altar - Ex. 20:21 and Deut. 27:5; Rambam, Hil. Beis Habechirah 1:15-16.)

He simply says that the miracle had to last for eight days, because for seven of those days they were busy rebuilding and rededicating the altar, and therefore had no time to prepare new other oil; and he goes on to say that the holiday is called "Chanukah" in honor of this rededication.

This use of oil for lighting was, of course, the continuation of the mitzvah recorded in the Torah (Ex. 27:20-21, Lev. 24:1-4) to light the menorah daily in the Mishkan, and later in the Beis Hamikdash.

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    Note to interested readers: This was posted to answer a very different earlier version of the question.
    – msh210
    Dec 20, 2011 at 1:33

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