Open Temple

Shammai Hanukkiah

A Shammai Hanukkiah.
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro

The story of Hanukkah is a literary tel, formed over several millennia, its origins spinning through the Book of Maccabees I and II though Josephus, the Talmud, Maimonides and beyond; it’s a literal literary time machine.  And if each evolving civilization imprints its own addition to this tale, might we look around at our times and ask “what is our contemporary contribution to the telling?” Perhaps, this year, no matter is more important to illuminate than the Spirit of Machloket (disagreement).  Most famously preserved in the mental sparring of rabbis Hillel vs. Shammai, the rabbis of the Talmud respectfully preserved the minority opinion in matters of dissent.

When lighting the Hanukkah Menorah, aka the Hanukkiah, according to the House of Hillel, we begin with one light and increase the light each day until we have all eight illuminated. What if, this year, all of us reclaim the Shammai Hanukkiah; Hillel’s sparring partner and primary adversary. Perhaps this year, in addition to our beloved Hillel Hanukkiah (Shabbat Bavli, 21b), we follow Shammai’s teaching and begin with a blaze of all eight candles, symbolic of the great fires in our city, state and nation, and practice a Shammai reduction of the flame for eights nights as a meditation of our human condition – humbled in the face of nature’s power, our hunger for unity and the work it takes to become one?

This Hanukkah, Open Temple shares this tradition at our annual “Hanukkah on the Canal Parade” as we gather and dedicate ourselves to the search for light in times of darkness.  We hearken to the sounds of strangers and invite the Other into our hearts and homes as an eight night meditation of reduced light to guide our return; until a singular candle, representing all of us, together and alone, becomes our sole companion; a singular light, reminiscent of the mystery and promise of creation; all of us – One.


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