Columns - 1998

    Debunking the Chanukah Mythos

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    Yes, Virginia, there is a bowl game.

    After extensive research spanning the four corners of the globe on my desk, I present to you the following exclusive information that refutes, debunks, and in all other ways calls into question many popularly held beliefs and myths associated with the upcoming Judaically-inclined holiday that some people have taken to calling "Hanukkah".

    Surgeon General's Warning: Reading the following debunkings could lead to disillusionment, discomfiture, discombobulation, discomfredulation, and disthecolumnisting. At the time of publication, no pregnant woman has failed to spontaneously give birth while reading this column.

    The spelling

    There is no correct way to spell Hannukah. In any language. Not just English. Even in Hebrew, no doubt thanks to Rabbinical consensus, there are at least two possibilities. I'm sure that a resolution could be reached on an official spelling but I imagine, as you would if you dreamed about such things at night, that any rabbi brought in to settle the matter would come up with a third spelling, replete with added vowels and a silent "q".

    Because of this confusion, when sending cards, wrapping presents, or suffering through the gratuitous inclusionism perpetrated by people at your workplace who are, for all intents and purposes really throwing a Christmas party, watch out for the following common misspellings: "Hannukah", "Chanuka", "Channukkah", any series of non-breaking characters with any singular or multiple combinations of "n"s and "k"s, "Harmonica", "Festival of Lights", "The Jewish Christmas", "Hanukkah Harry Day", or "Helen Shapiro".

    The Dreidel Song

    This one's a no-brainer. Nevertheless, we teach it to our youth generation after generation. Join in with your fellow reader and sing the opening lines. You'll see. Both of you, together "I had a little Dreidel, I made it out of clay..."

    Stop there. See? Yea. "I made it out of clay." What are the odds? Sure, they probably didn't have too much plastic lying around two thousand years ago, but when you consider that nobody in the world ever smoked tobacco until we needed something to do with all the ashtrays being produced by pottery classes around the world, what are the odds your average kid two thousand years ago could sculpt a dreidel evenly-shaped and balanced enough to be able to spin at all, let alone with even an illusion of objectivity and fair play that we come to expect from all sports, such as professional boxing?

    The kids who were potentially bright enough to master this craft were having their noses surgically attached to the Talmud. The rest were being taught the words to "If I Were a Rich Man" (which, by the way, you have not heard until you hear it in the original Aramaic).

    A major holiday

    Okay, commercially speaking it falls at about the right time for shopping season. That was a smart move by the rabbis. But, religiously speaking, Harmonica is one of the least significant holidays of the year. Next to the other most commonly observed Jewish holidays (specifically, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Dim Sum night at The Mandarin Gourmet), Hannukah just doesn't hold a candle.

    Besides, Channnnukahh isn't even the Jewish holiday when gifts are traditionally given. That's Purim, the holiday on which we're supposed to get drunk until we can't tell the difference between the good guy, the bad guy, the simple guy, and the guy who doesn't know how to ask a question.

    "So?", I hear you reply as you search for some gefilte fish to wrap. "It falls in a time of year," you continue, "that is about peace and hope and renewal... all that good stuff. We should support that. Or don't you believe in loving your fellow man, you miserable snit?"

    My reply is we should be doing that all year round. But I see your point. We shouldn't turn up our collective noses at the notion, either. And if you think I have a problem with peace and brotherhood, we better take this outside.

    Menorah mythos

    How many of you light a menorah on Chanucka? Put your hands down. How many of you get in trouble with the synagogue board every night for breaking in to the sanctuary to do it?

    If you're lighting a menorah on Hannuka, you're not doing it right. A menorah has seven candles, and only a couple of possible spellings. But this is the season of more, more, more! To observe Chanuka properly, you need more candles (nine), more presents (than you can afford), and more possible spellings for associated religious objects (infinite).

    To solve this problem, the rabbis invented the chanukiah. The hannukia has room for nine candles. One for each of the eight days of hannukah...

    Does the math seem wrong to you, too? Next myth:

    The shamash

    That ninth candle on your channuckiah is the shamash. It's supposed to be there to light the others, right? That's what they say, but it shouldn't surprise you to learn that this is really a burning issue.

    A common rival hypothesis is that the candle industry petitioned for the extra candle to increase profit margins during a wax recession in the middle ages.

    However, there is a rival hypothesis to this rival hypothesis. It's true, the candle industry took advantage, but they didn't create the situation. When the first Hannuka was approaching, the orders for the harmonickias was delayed.

    They were supposed to have eight candles, one for each day. But when they arrived, they had nine. Since there was not enough time to return them to the factory, the rabbis had to make a fast decision: add a day to Hanuka, and have to buy more presents, or say the extra candle is to light the others, and stop burning fingers on matches every night.

    It was a close vote.

    Origin of the dreidel

    By now, most of you know that the story of a dreidel being created as a toy to fool soldiers while we were plotting or studying is not true. Sure, it sounded good, but the truth is a bit more practical. The dreidel was invented to help us clean the wax out of our chanukiahs every night.

    Studies show that 100 percent of the mothers of unsyndicated Judaic columnists have used dreidels for this more practical, less devious, reason for years. This conclusive evidence inspired a well-funded multi-year research mission into the farthest-reaching hiding places for hannukah presents to discover the true origin of the dreidel. When no corroborating evidence was found, it was decided the story sounded good enough on its own merit.

    Hannukah and wax build-up

    Pull the Q-tip out of your harmonikia. You no longer need to wrestle with a nightly build-up of wax in the candle holders. Dripless candles exist. In a multitude of amazing technicolors. Matching dreamcoats are available via special order.

    As for dealing with any nightly wax build-up in your ears this Hannukah, you're on your own. The dripless candles won't help you. I don't suggest trying it.

    Good hiding places for Channuka presents

    There are none. We'll always find them.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley who singlehandedly persuaded the White House staff to not light a menorah under their Christmas tree this year. But I said a chanukiah would be fine.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.