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Hanukkah & the Environment: An Introduction

We call Hanukkah the “Festival of Lights” because light - and the energy that goes into making it - is at the very core of our celebration and the history behind Hanukkah. We sing, play dreidle and enjoy gelt in the glow of the Hanukkah lights. The rabbis teach:

On the 25th day of Kislev the days of Hanukkah commence…for when the Syrian-Greeks entered the sanctuary, they contaminated all the flasks of oil that were in the sanctuary, and when the royal Hasmonean house gained the upper hand and vanquished them, the Hasmoneans searched and found only one flask of oil…with the kohen gadol’s (high priest’s) seal still intact. And it contained only enough oil to kindle the lamp for one day. However, a miracle was performed with [this oil] and they kindled the lights of the lamp with it for eight days. In the following year [these days] were established and rendered a festival (BT Shabbat 21b).

Rabbi Arthur Waskow says the rabbis taught that this "conservation of oil" was a Divine miracle. We might translate this to mean that it is a sacred act, carrying out God’s will and following God’s lead, for US to conserve oil, trees, water, air – all the strands of the earth." As we face unprecedented energy and environmental challenges, Hanukkah - with its theme of light in the midst of winter - lends itself to thoughts of energy conservation and environmental stewardship.