Hanukkah: The Holiday of Education

The problem of parents and teachers eroding authority in educating children * In the past, parents and elders were the informed; today, knowledge is accessible to both young and old * When morals and values are central ambitions, experience and maturity remain important * The clash of values ​​between Judaism and Greek Hellenism * In post-modernity, educators do not believe in their right or authority to instill values ​​* Faith in the word of God, who commanded the ordering of good and evil, bases the authority of parents and teachers * The educational significance of Hanukkah * Candle lighting for guests on Shabbat Chanukah

The Loss of Educational Authority

One of the main problems in education today is the severe erosion of authority of parents and teachers. It is impossible to talk about raising the flag of education without contending with the problem of discipline and violence in schools.

The Roots of the Problem

During times when very few people could read and write, the status of parents and the elderly was most notable. They were indispensable. They were the knowledgeable, having learned from their parents, teachers, and life experience. As a result, they were respected, listened to, and obeyed. Those who did not learn from elders and their experience did not know how to grow food, what materials to use to build a house or prepare a garment, and how to cope with diseases and natural disasters.

Several hundred years ago a process of change began. Increasing numbers of Gentiles learned to read and write, the printing press was invented, books were made more available, and as a result the percentage of readers increased. In the last century book prices declined and became affordable for all, working hours were shortened, leisure time increased, and the number of readers rose dramatically. The more people learned from books, the less they needed parents and teachers for knowledge, and consequently, their status diminished. Fewer people listened to them, but there was still meaning to their experience in life and the amount of information they already managed to acquire.

With the advent of computer databases, a reverse situation was created: young people are now able to attain wider information than adults, and as a result, the status of teachers and parents has been severely impaired.

Of course, an extremely gifted teacher with in-depth and analytical intellect can still benefit his students and provide them with methods of study and analytical tools – and this is exactly what teachers are being taught today. However, even particularly talented parents and teachers have lost their authority to a large extent. Let alone the majority of ordinarily talented teachers and parents – and the gap between them and the children and students is constantly shrinking. At first, their status worsened in relation to teenagers, and today, even with respect to young children.

A Greek Problem, and Not Jewish

However, this is a Greek problem. In general, Greek thought ascribes importance to wisdom, beauty and strength, but morality and the vision of ‘tikun olam‘ does not play a central role. For the Greeks, the meaning of ‘good’ is – successful, smart, beautiful, strong – but not necessarily moral.

In other words, the desire to do good is not the grand vision of the Greeks.

In contrast, Jewish belief places morality at the center of our ambitions. Namely, the desire to benefit others and make the world a better place is the foundation of Judaism. And this is a domain which requires a lot more depth and experience than learning any other technical matters. Even if all the encyclopedias in the world were open before children and teenagers, they would still need the mature understanding of adults. No matter how smart or knowledgeable a child may be, he still cannot thoroughly understand the trait of humility, and how to distinguish between people who seem humble, but in fact, are haughty. He lacks the experience in life which teaches that sometimes an act of kindness may cause more harm than good.

In other words, when values ​​are placed at the top of the ladder, then parents and teachers have something to teach children, and children learn to appreciate and respect them, and their authority is well-founded. All this, of course, aside from the Torah commandment to honor parents and teachers.

The Status of Values ​​in Western Culture

During the era of the Second Temple a great clash between Judaism and Greek culture occurred. After centuries of gradual development in the fields of scientific research, governmental administration, the arts, and military strategy, Greek civilization reached its peak. Within a number of years Greece conquered all of the known world, and within a few decades Greek culture devoured all ancient civilizations, until they all became Hellenistic. There remained only one small island in this great ocean that did not accept the Hellenistic culture in its entirety. This was Judea, which numbered approximately half a million people at the time. Even within Judea Hellenism spread – there were High Priests with Greek names who preferred to participate in sports competitions rather than serve in the Holy Temple. It seemed as if the decrees of Antiochus would bring to an end the historical episode of the nation of Israel.

However, a miracle occurred – the Jewish nation awoke and stood-up for their lives. In the end, after a long process lasting hundreds of years, Judaism defeated Hellenism. Biblical moral values spread ​​throughout the Hellenistic world, crumbling it. Overt idolatry disappeared, and people began to search for morality and justice. Family members of the Roman Emperor even converted to Judaism.

Unfortunately, we were unable to bring the revised Jewish message to the world, and thus, the majority of Jewish values were spread ​​ incompletely and in a distorted fashion by Christianity. Nevertheless, the desire for morality became the cornerstone prompting Western nations to cultural heights (regarding these matters, a review of the book ‘Bina L’Itim’ by Rabbi Ze’ev Sultunovich, published by Machon Har Bracha, is recommended).

In practice, this morality was incomplete, unbalanced, and as a result, unable to properly improve the Western nations. Today, many people have abandoned hope in the great ideologies, and are disillusioned by dogmatic moral demands. There remains only the basic Jewish values of human dignity, and compassion for the suffering – and even this, only in a distorted and unbalanced way. There is almost no talk about truth and falsehood, good and evil, rather, the most important thing is to “live and let live” and not hurt anyone else. To a certain extent, this is a repetition of Greek pluralistic idolatry, with the addition of some moral foundations. This is the dominant discourse of Western culture and academia today, and is also the root of the loss of authority.

And What about Israel?

We, too, are influenced by this way of thought. In academia today, teachers are taught that they must learn how to provide students with methods of study and analytical tools so they can cope with the knowledge at hand, and choose their own path. But a teacher has no right to determine for a student which values ​​are true, and which are false, because each position has some truth to it, everyone has his own truth, and a teacher must not be judgmental. In extreme positions, this leads to a serious loss of values, with statements such as ‘the Jews have their own faith and truth, the Arabs have their own faith and truth, and our right to the Land of Israel is no greater than theirs’. There are various middle-ground positions vary, but in any event, authority based on absolute values is ​​waning.

The Authority to Punish

Someone who believes that there are no absolute values, finds it extremely difficult to punish his child or student because his heart is fret with doubt – who says his truth is better than the truth of his child or student?

The situation is different when parents and teachers come from a principled position that there is both good and evil, God commands us in his Torah to choose truth and righteousness, and parents and teachers were given the right and duty to educate their children and students to choose the good. For people with such a view, it is a given that it is their duty to punish children and students for their wrongdoings, and praise them for their good deeds. In this way they learn concretely that if they choose evil, they will be punished in this world and the next, and if they choose the good, they will merit all goodness and blessings promised by God to Israel.

As it is written: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). And our Sages said: “Anyone who refrains from disciplining his son in the end causes him to fall into evil ways and will hate him” (Shemot Rabbah 1).


During the days of Hanukkah it became profoundly clear that God stands by Israel when they choose faith, truth and goodness, and in the end, light will defeat the darkness.

Hanukkah, the holiday on which the Temple was inaugurated, is a very educational holiday for both adults and children. We publicize the miracle by lighting the candles, remember the devoted stand of the few against the many, the pure against the defiled, and connect to the great vision of tikun olam (rectifying the world) by means of law and justice, kindness and compassion. Children are given gifts, fed latkes and sufganiyot, so that they know how good it is to be a Jew, how good it is to be part of the sacred heritage of our nation, and how good it is to be a partner in the revelation of the Divine Presence in Israel, and from within it, to the entire world.

As in the past, today’s tikun will come from a cruse of pure oil, from the source of the Torah, uncontaminated of foreign contact. From it, the light guiding the nations in truth will be lit, and through it, all nations and all ideas will find their appropriate and respected place.

Candle Lighting for Guests on Shabbat Hanukkah

A family that goes away for Shabbat, seeing as they also sleep there, their host’s house for that Shabbat is considered their home. According to Sephardic custom where only one hanukkiah is lit in the house, the guests should give their hosts a pruta (a token amount of money) to buy a share in the candles, and thus fulfill their obligation. B’deiavad (after the fact), even if they did not give a pruta, they have fulfilled their obligation since they rely on the hospitality of their hosts, and the head of the household’s lighting is beneficial for all guests. According to the Ashkenazic custom, where each person lights a hannukiah, guests should light their own candles with the blessings.

If the family is staying in a separate apartment, all customs would agree that it is proper for them to light there with the blessings.

Where to Light After Shabbat

What to do after Shabbat, depends how soon they plan to go home. If they are planning to return home quickly, it is best that they wait to light candles at home. If they are planning on getting home late enough that people will no longer be on the streets, it is preferable that they fulfill the mitzvah the same way they did on Friday, either with their hosts or in the guest apartment.

If they are not going home immediately but will get there before it is too late, they may decide where to light. From the perspective of the previous day, their place is in the home of their hosts; but from the perspective of the upcoming day, their place is in their own home. Therefore, they may choose where they wish to light (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 13:10).

This article appears in the “Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles and a number of Rabbi Melamed’s books can be found at:

One Reply to “Hanukkah: The Holiday of Education”

  1. Thankyou for this sound and blessed insight in the midst of clanging, noise that has no value and less substance in this culture…praying to Yahovah for mercy upon us…

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