This program is a rebroadcast from December 14, 2019.
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same week this year—and this week we are talking about all things Hanukkah! We welcome Steve Herzig, vice president of North American Ministries here at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, to the program. In part 1 of our 2-part series, he and Chris enjoy a fun and informative discussion on Hanukkah—how to pronounce it, why it means so much to Jewish people, why it’s not mentioned in the Old Testament, why Jesus celebrated it in the New Testament, and why Christians can benefit from celebrating it too!
It’s always fun having Steve in the studio! His warmth, wit, and wisdom in Scripture and Jewish culture make for a wonderful conversation that will leave you smiling. We know you’ll be encouraged and learn something new—we did!
Steve Conover: We’re dipping into the archives this month, and over the next two weeks we welcome Steve Herzig, director of North American ministries here at The Friends of Israel to our studio. Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I’m Steve Conover, with me is our host and teacher Christ Katulka. We’re so glad you chose to be with us. Everything related to today’s program, every previous episode, can all be found at foiradio.org. It’s there you’ll find trustworthy and accurate news on Israel and the Middle East. And while you’re there, support our ministry by clicking on the donate button and help us continue teaching biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah. Once again, that’s foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Steve, it’s going to be a great time. We actually have Steve Herzig in the studio and it’s going to be great to hear from him as he enlightens me and enlightens us and our listeners about the meaning of Hanukkah.
Steve Conover: In the news, Two Israeli nonprofits, IsraAID and Save a Child’s Heart plan to bring four children from South Sudan to Israel to receive life-saving heart surgery at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. The South Sudanese hospitals and healthcare system remains in shambles since their civil war ended three years ago. The four Sudanese children will be airlifted to Tel Aviv where they will receive the necessary treatment to care for their congenital heart conditions.
Chris Katulka: Well, here’s my take, Israelis are volunteering in many countries that are underprivileged. Serving those who don’t speak the same language, don’t have the same skin color, or maybe they don’t even believe in the same God. Oftentimes they are the first to arrive to lend a helping hand. As many try to paint Israel as a racist, bigoted, apartheid country – Israeli non-profits like IsraAID and Save a Child’s Heart are showing the critics they are wrong.
Chris Katulka: It's always great to have Steve Herzig who is the director of North American Ministries here at the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry in the studio. Steve, great to have you.
Steve Herzig: Great to be here, Chris.
Chris Katulka: We are talking all things Hanukkah for the next two weeks, which I'm very excited about and I'm glad to have you in studio to number one, enlighten our audience, enlighten me about the history of Hanukkah. That's what we're going to talk about this week. We're going to look at the history of Hanukkah, where Hanukkah comes from, the backstory of Hanukkah.
But then next week, we're going to look at what Hanukkah means to you. Because you are a Jewish believer in Jesus the Messiah. You grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, so you naturally celebrated Hanukkah. I'm excited to hear what that meant to you growing up, your traditions, things of that nature.
But before we get into the history of Hanukkah, is it Hanukkah with an H or is it Hanukkah with a C-H? I see spellings that are different all the time.
Steve Herzig: Yes, Chris. It is. I know that sounds funny. It's not meant to be funny. Actually, because Hebrew is translated into English, it's transliterated. And when you transliterate from one language to another, the language or the letters that you use are up to the person who's doing it. At Friends of Israel, when we write about Hanukkah, for instance in Israel My Glory, Lorna Simcox makes sure that there's consistency. Whatever we decide, C-H or H, they continue that and I think we do that in all our publications. But it would not be incorrect to use either one.
Chris Katulka: Okay. That's important to understand. But there's one essential Hebrew letter because it comes down to two letters. There's the hay and then the het and the het is the spitting one. Is this the spitting one?
Steve Herzig: The way I grew up is the huh, and a lot of Gentiles have difficulties with huh. Even though it could be spelled with a huh, people say Hanukkah, Hanukkah all the time. I say Hanukkah.
Chris Katulka: There's a little guttural there in the back.
Steve Herzig: There is a guttural. And you're very good at this. As a Gentile, you do very well with the huh and hah.
Chris Katulka: I spend some time with Israelis. They rub off on you. Hey listen, so now that we know what the proper way of saying Hanukkah is, Hanukkah, what's the backstory to Hanukkah? How did this become such a significant Jewish festival for the Jewish people?
Steve Herzig: Well, that's an interesting question and I would say it has a layered answer. And the reason I'd say that is because Hanukkah is the feast of dedication. The actual word means “dedication” and it falls, it comes around the winter months. And it happened that the temple was desecrated and it's a story of rededicating the temple. And in order to do that, there had to be a revolution. Fighting. And the reason I say this is a layered answer is because Jewish people have had two different views concerning themselves. Are they fighters? Or are they non fighters?
Over the last, up until the Holocaust and for a period of probably 50 to a 100 years before that, they were like lambs to the slaughter. There was zero kind of rebellion. They didn't want to fight, but when you think about Hanukkah in an intertestamental time, there was fighting, there was rebellion. The Maccabee family, the Hammer came and rebelled against Antiochus Epiphanes and they stood up against tyranny. They wanted freedom. They wanted to be able to worship the way they wanted to and the modern state of Israel actually today, Israelis regard Hanukkah as a very important time because they identify with the Maccabee family. Where and looking back in their history, they didn't like the image. That's probably a better word. The image of non fighters, of going like sheep to the slaughter.
Chris Katulka: Would you also say this was a fight of worldviews too? Because at this time I believe the Hanukkah story comes from about 167, 165 BC and at this time there is a ruling empire, the Greek empire that is imposing their way of doing life, their worldview. They're very polytheistic. They're worshiping many gods and having a very hellenistic - hellenism is what it's called. They're enforcing that essentially now on the Jewish people, they want them to stop being Jewish and to be a part of their society.
Steve Herzig: No question. Assimilation and the Maccabees said, "We're not going to do this." The famous story is where the soldiers were sent all over Israel and they went to a city called Modiin and they were looking for the leader of each community to kill a pig in front of everybody and eat it. Now that's kind of a joke today because in North America for instance, North American Jews, most of them, we love pork. There's assimilation all over the place so the idea of who will stand up and eat this pig? You'd have a line of people who would do that, but they stood for the truth of the Jewish Scriptures and there was a Hellenistic Jew. They had assimilation then, and he was going to get up and kill the pig and Mattathias stood up and killed him instead.
Chris Katulka: That's right.
Steve Herzig: And a riot broke out and he was, they were not going to compromise. Most of the Jewish people were in agriculture. The family stood up. Guerrilla warfare was invented by Jews. They attacked, fled to the mountains. Other Jewish people saw that this is possible. They came with them, they trained and they fought.
Chris Katulka: They essentially fought against and they had, the Greeks at that time were forcing Jews to stop celebrating Sabbath. To stop celebrating their Jewish festivals like Passover.
Steve Herzig: No circumcision.
Chris Katulka: No circumcision. The temple was even, this is where it all comes from as well. The temple was ultimately desecrated. What happened there?
Steve Herzig: They killed a pig on the altar. They killed a pig on the altar. The blood flowed all over and it was a horrible three year period. But the Jewish people were able to rally, led by the Maccabees. They came to the temple, they rededicated the temple. And that's where Hanukkah comes from. And interestingly enough, that actual word Hanukkah or dedication is found in the Old Testament.
Chris Katulka: Is it really?
Steve Herzig: In numerous places. In fact in Psalm chapter 30 it says, "Praise to God in his Holiness." Oh excuse me, that's Psalm 29. 30, the blessedness of answered prayer. Psalm 30 is the dedication. David is dedicating the temple.
Chris Katulka: Oh, interesting.
Steve Herzig: It's a song at the dedication of the house of David. What's interesting, that doesn't have to do with the intertestamental period, but the word is the same. And if you read Psalm 30 I could in my mind hear the Maccabees recite this very Psalm and it would be applicable during that period of time.
Chris Katulka: And thinking about how the Maccabees ultimately defeated the Greeks, they end up rededicating the temple to the Lord. They cleanse it. And this actually begins a period of Israelite history where they have independence again. It's called the Hasmonean Dynasty, but this is the last time Israel, we have the modern state of Israel today that was founded in 1948, but the last time they had independence goes back to this moment of Hanukkah.
Steve Herzig: Absolutely. In North America I think our listeners would be interested. There's actually a statue of Judah Maccabee at West Point.
Chris Katulka: Oh really?
Steve Herzig: There is at West Point and although there are few of us that attend West Point, that is Jewish people, there are a number of them. They even have a Jewish chapel and I went online and actually saw back in the forties right at Israel's independence, a West Point Jewish cadet standing in front of the statue of Judah Maccabee.
Chris Katulka: What a cool story. Works its way right into Jewish American culture as well. I love that. But when we come back after our break, we're going to be looking at a couple different things. Number one, Hanukkah wasn't mentioned in the Old Testament, it was something that was actually mentioned in the New Testament though, and Steve's going to help us unpack what it meant for Jesus to celebrate Hanukkah. And then I'm excited to hear Steve's answer on this. I'm going to ask him if Christians, even though they don't celebrate Hanukkah, is there anything that's significant for them to take away from this incredibly important Jewish holiday? Be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: Israel's feasts play such an important role in understanding the context of both the Old Testament and the New. That's why we want to introduce to you an important book, The Feasts of Israel: Shadows of the Messiah by Bruce Scott.
Chris Katulka: Something I always try to stress in our program is that the Bible you read during devotions throughout the week and the Bible that you read on Sunday morning during church is a Jewish book with writers writing from a Jewish worldview. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and I'll tell you the last time I checked, I don't think He celebrated Christmas or Easter. Jesus celebrated Jewish festivals like Hanukkah and Passover. Jesus' ministry, the cross, the resurrection, His second coming and His future reign as King and Lord are not only in the New Testament, they are also hidden within the Jewish holidays and feasts of the Old Testament. The book, The Feasts of Israel: Shadows of the Messiah will help you know the fullness of Jesus through the biblical feasts of Israel.
Steve Conover: We invite you to purchase your copy of The Feasts of Israel: Shadows of the Messiah by our own Bruce Scott. Visit us at foiradio.org that's foiradio.org. We'll have a link on our homepage or you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940 and someone will return your call during our regular business hours. Again, that's (888) 343-6940 for our listener line. You can order in Canada by calling (888) 664-2584. Again in Canada, (888) 664-2584.
Chris Katulka: Steve, this idea of Hanukkah, it's not actually found, Hanukkah as a festival is not a biblically mandated festival. It's not in Leviticus 23 but it's so important to the Jewish people. It's on the Jewish calendar. Number one, how did it end up on the calendar? Why is it so significant? And in the New Testament, do we see it appear there? Can you answer some of those questions?
Steve Herzig: Yes. Especially in modern Israel, they identify with the Maccabees. I don't know Chris, if you're familiar with the Maccabee games. The Maccabee games, which are athletic events and competition came about because the founders of the nation of Israel wanted to identify with a healthy, athletic, a strong Jewish person as the country is reconstituted out of the ashes of the Holocaust where the many people thought they were weak and afraid and cower before before the Nazis. Instead, we're strong and the Maccabees, they stood up strong and stood against tyranny.
And so the idea of the Maccabee games and competition is what Israelis today really gravitate to. They like the idea of winning and conquering in the sense of being attacked and being able to defend yourself, which is so important in Israel.
Chris Katulka: Really the idea is the same. It's maintaining your freedom and your independence. The idea of that in Israeli culture today is as much as it was I think during the time of the Maccabees when they were defending themselves against the Greeks who were asking them to be different or to not exist essentially. Which is almost the same story today.
Steve Herzig: Well, interestingly enough, in John chapter 10, Jesus celebrates Hanukkah.
Chris Katulka: I know, it's amazing. It's not in the Old Testament.
Steve Herzig: Nope.
Chris Katulka: But it's in the New Testament.
Steve Herzig: It's in the intertestamental period and therefore Jesus is celebrating it and He uses Hanukkah, not in the sense that He wants His disciples to be super strong and rebel, but he takes Hanukkah as where the Jewish people stood for the truth. They went against assimilation and He used it in the sense that where He says in verse 22 it says now is the feast of dedication in Jerusalem and it was in winter. This is the Hanukkah season. And then Jesus said, they asked Him, the Jews surrounded Him and said, "How long do you keep us in doubt? If you are the Messiah, what's the Messiah represent?" Power. Glory. A person coming on the scene and conquering. If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly, and He said, "I told you and you don't believe." And then He says, "I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. Neither shall anyone snatch them out of my Father's hand."
That is a strong statement. That is the statement of a conqueror who's going to say, who is saying, "Once you are in me, no one, no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." And Chris, I've used that verse with people who are doubting their faith, people who are being persecuted because whether it's a Gentile persecution and that happens or a Jewish persecution that can happen. Don't doubt your faith. Once you are in Christ, He has the power to hold you in His hand and not even you, not even the person could take them out of His hand. That is eternal security that only the Messiah can give. It's a great passage in the background of the feast of dedication.
Chris Katulka: The Hanukkah story. And I also heard somewhere that during this time of Hanukkah, in the days of Jesus, as Jewish people were changing the liturgy to fit the Hanukkah time that was coming in for their synagogue, they would start to sing Ezekiel chapter 35 which has to do with the good shepherd. And the reason they would sing that is because they were surprised that only one man would stand up against all the entire Greek nation, they were surprised and only the Maccabees would stand up. Everybody else slaughtered the pig. And the whole thing is about the idea that God would be their good shepherd, would lead them. And in that context, Jesus, as He's probably hearing these songs sung in the synagogue, are saying, "I am the good shepherd. I'm that one who's come." I thought that was fascinating as well.
But I wanted to ask you something. As a Jewish man who believes that Jesus is the Messiah, you've grown up celebrating Hanukkah, but for most Christians, we've never celebrated Hanukkah. That's something for the synagogue. What is some application someone can take away as a Christian when it comes to Hanukkah?
Steve Herzig: Well, first of all, a Christian can celebrate Hanukkah.
Chris Katulka: That's true.
Steve Herzig: There's no reason that they can't, and I would even suggest that when a pastor or a Bible study, you're going through John chapter 10, what are you going to do when you get to these verses, the feast of dedication? I'll tell you what mostly happens. Mostly they read it. They say yes, this was Hanukkah and they move on. And so I think we can, we're not obligated to, but it is another way to teach the truth in context.
Chris Katulka: And that's why we're going to have you on next week because we're going to be looking at what it's like to celebrate Hanukkah for a Jewish family today. What it meant for you. And maybe like you said, maybe in some way a Christian family might say, "Hey, let's try this out as a way to worship the Lord and to give Him the glory for how He's been acting in liberating me in my sin." Something of that nature. I want to encourage our listeners to join us again, we're going to have Steve in the studio. Steve, thanks for being with us today.
Steve Herzig: Always a pleasure.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: It is now the time of year when we Christians celebrate the Lord's birth. In Israel, people are also celebrating the feast of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. I recently visited an ultra orthodox school and talked with some of the students about Christmas and Hanukkah. One student said, "Hanukkah is a very holy feast." I responded, "Then why is it not mentioned in the Jewish scriptures? And yet Christmas is mentioned several times. Hanukkah only lasts for a few days and then the light of the festival goes out for another year. But those of us who celebrate Christmas have an everlasting light in our hearts. We celebrate the coming of the Lord in whom there is no more darkness and no more sorrow."
The pupils listened carefully, but when I finished, one of them said, "Show us where this one is written in the Bible." I told them, "I will be glad to show you passages that speak of Him and then you must show me where the Bible speaks of Hanukkah." And they agreed. I then read Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel." They thought they had trapped me since this passage did not mention Bethlehem, but then I read Micah 5:2, "But you Bethlehem Ephratah though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one to be ruler in Israel whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."
This made them uncomfortable. I told them, "Now show me where the Bible speaks of Hanukkah." This put them in an unpleasant position because they knew there was no reference to Hanukkah in the scripture. One said, "You act as if you own this synagogue." I responded, "If you call this a house of prayer, then it should be a place where all people can come to worship their Heavenly Father." Soon a teacher entered and one of the students told him what was happening and the teacher became angry with the students. He then asked, "Who are you? Are you a teacher?" "No," I replied, "but if I were, I would want to be considered an honest teacher. You and your colleagues are not being honest with your students. Many of these students have spent most of their lives here studying under your tutelage, but they do not worship God. Rather, they worship books of tradition and the false teachers who wrote them. As one who believes in the true and living God, I must show them and you the right way to worship God according to the Bible."
The teacher then asked, "How did you come to speak about Christ? Do you know who He is?" I replied, "I say Christ, but you say in Hebrew, Messiah. If you like, we can continue in the Hebrew language only. Then we can speak freely about Yeshua, Jesus, salvation." The teacher was visibly shaken and excused himself saying he had no more time to talk with me. I was sad the students and teacher are still living in deep darkness. I pray I will have further opportunities to speak with him. Then perhaps some year they too will be able to sing “joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
Steve Conover: We're glad you joined us today and a special thanks to Steve Herzig for joining us in the studio. Chris, what can we expect next week?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, Steve's going to be joining us again and we learned about Hanukkah, the history of Hanukkah and what it means for the Jewish people throughout history, but when we have Steve in the studio next week, he's going to share with us about it was like growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family and what Hanukkah meant to him growing up. I think it's going to be really impactful for our listeners.
Steve Conover: Looking forward to it. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1938. If you feel led to support our work or you simply want to reach out to us, visit foiradio.org, that's foiradio.org. In the US you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. Write to us at FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Call our Canada office at (888) 664-2584. Again in Canada, that's 888-664-2584.
Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong, and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah
Many of the Bible’s most incredible prophecies about Christ are intricately hidden within the Jewish holidays and feasts of the Old Testament. Author Bruce Scott breaks down the seemingly mysterious holidays and feasts revealing the rich symbolism that points to our Messiah.
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Apples of Gold: Christmas and Hanukkah
As many Christians around the world are celebrating the Lord’s birth, Jewish people are celebrating Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Zvi visited an ultra-orthodox school and talked to some of the students about Christmas and Hanukkah. One student mentioned that Hanukkah was a “holy feast.” Zvi responds with a series of questions about Hanukkah and Christmas. His approach to these students is something we can all learn as we talk to our unbelieving friends this time of year.
The Friends of Israel Today theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
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