Voices from the field

What (or Which) Stories Do We Tell?

By Shalom Orzach

Chanukkah exemplifies the precept of diverse narratives in a compelling manner. The iconic question brought in Tractate Shabbat introducing the Laws of the Festival asks מאי חנוכה — “What is Chanukkah?” What is the story, or perhaps more poignantly, which is the story. The Rabbis struggle to assess what is the essence, the message, the events that will enter the collective memory and ritual practice of the people. The varying accounts, some emphasizing the miracle of the discovery of the oil that lasted eight days instead of one, the stories that place the focus on the victory of the Maccabees, point out the lack of consensus regarding what might be the key components of the events that become worthy of immortalizing through celebration.  The dispute between Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel regarding the descending or ascending way of lighting the Menorah each night unequivocally depicts this and as such the capacity to move the timely into the timeless.


These are often the dilemmas of Israel education:

  1. What or which stories do we tell?
  2. How do we create and cultivate meaning to events in a way that extends their significance beyond the immediate?


Chanukkah offers a remarkable approach. Whilst creating the space for the varying positions, almost simultaneously rituals are developed that encapsulate and celebrate those differences. Ultimately the diverse narratives find expression in the concurrence and endorsement of marking these events in a celebratory manner.