When the rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 21b) recounted the miracle of the oil’s lasting for eight days as the etiology of the festival of Hanukkah, they were basing themselves on biblical antecedents, in which the dedication of the Temple/tabernacle was accompanied by the descent of heavenly fire. Although there is no trace of the legend of the oil in any source before the Talmud, an analogous story is found in 2 Maccabees 1 in relation to Nehemiah, whose dedication of the Second Temple was accomplished through the fire of the First Temple, which had in the meanwhile liquefied into naphtha and was kept in an empty cistern. Another story that adumbrates the same themes is the discovery of the lost scroll under Josiah, which leads to the purification and renewal of the Temple. In each case an object from the past survives catastrophe or the reign of bad kings to provide continuity. A final case is the narrative of the building of the Temple in Ezra 6, in which the discovery of a lost scroll in the Achaemenid summer palace authorizes the construction. The Talmudic Hanukkah story is thus seen as a midrash based on biblical precedents.
On Mondays and Thursdays many supplications are added to the standard Tachanun prayer. These additions are not noted in the Talmud, and first appear in Geonic literature. This article traces the development of the Monday/Thursday Tachanun, from its beginnings as a short prayer with multiple options, to its later form as a long prayer with no room for personal choices. The current traditional Monday/Thursday Tachanun is seen to be a collection of many smaller earlier Tachanun prayers.
In many synagogues it is customary for people with living parents to walk out of the sanctuary for the Yizkor memorial service. This has been explained in many ways, with most explanations involving the evil eye or liturgical concerns. This article examines the origin of the Yizkor service and its connection to the collection of monetary donations in honor of the deceased. This practice, connecting Yizkor with donations, is proposed as a significant factor that those with living parents would not participate in this service.
Ancient literature preserves two accounts of the death of Honi the Circle Maker. One is in Josephus, where Honi is murdered by Jews after failing to participate in the Hasmonean civil war; the other is found in B. Ta. 23a, where Honi prays for death when nobody recognizes him after he awakes from sleeping for seventy years. While these two accounts seem to have no relation to each other, upon comparing the Bavli story to other tales of saintly long sleepers it appears that the Bavli story is a negative twist on the classic plot. The Bavli story is now understood as an aggadic version of the Josephus story, in the same category as the Bar Kamtza story and other similar explanatory narratives meant to highlight the reasons for tragedies in Jewish history.