What is Chanukah? This is how the Talmud begins its short foray into the origins of Chanukah. Remarkably, there is very little material in the Talmud on Chanukah. While Purim has a tractate all its own, Chanukah merits a few scattered lines and a number of minor mentions. Chanukah was apparently not very much appreciated by the rabbis. When the Talmud describes the holiday, it glosses over the great battles and offers the story of a very different miracle: A single cruse of pure oil miraculously lasting for eight days—a story not found in any early sources and whose first appearance is at least four hundred years after the Maccabee victory.
What actually happened? What did the Maccabees and their supporters celebrate and why for eight days? What did it come to mean to the rabbis who clearly re-created the holiday? And finally, what should it mean to us today?