From Moadim B'Halacha by Rav Shlomo Yoseif Zevin

What is the meaning of the word "Chanukah"? The poskim discuss this question at some length, and with good reason. It does not inherently seem to relate to either miracle - the battle or the oil - and as such we have to understand why this is the name of our "festival of lights."

One of the more common answers to this question is that the word "Chanukah" stands for "Chanu kaf-hey," namely that the Jews rested on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev after completing their victory over the Syrian-Greeks. While one would not expect such a symbolic explanation to have any halachic significance, this is actually cited by numerous Rishonim and poskim, among them Abudraham, Ran, Kol-Bo, Tur, Pri Megadim, Chayei Adam, and Mishne Berura. Nevertheless, we still have to understand if this resting was a resting from labor (similar to Shabbat and holidays) or if it was a rest from the war that had occurred. Maharsha views it as a resting from labor, and thus questions why the Ran cites this as a reason, since we know that labor is permitted on Chanukah. Bach also adopts the "resting from labor" view, and justifies by noting the fact that there is a custom to not work while the candles are lit. He claims that this must be the practice, for if not then it would be comprehensible what resting from labor there is on Chanukah. Contrarily, the Levush feels that the resting is from the battle, as does the Pri Chadash. The Birchei Yoseif lashes out at the explanation of the Bach, noting that it is forced, and that the only custom not to do work is by women, and it would be unusual for the holiday to be named after a custom held by only half of the population. Thus, the rest involved must be the rest from their enemies.

A second explanation for Chanukah is that it stands for "Chet Neirot V'Halacha K'Beit Hillel" (this works much better in Hebrew) - the law that we need eight candles and we follow the view of Beit Hillel that we begin with one candle on the first night and continue to add one each night. This view is cited by Abudraham as well, in addition to the Ateret Zekeinim and Pri Megadim. While it is difficult to suggest that this was the reason for the name, those who invoke it are likely using it as some form of sign or hint towards an actual halachic ruling. Nevertheless, this idea is actually used to answer halachic questions. The Mor V'Ohalot states that Chanukah could not be eight days, since if that were to be the case then there would be one night when it would be impossible to determine if the halacha followed Beit Hillel or Beit Shammai (who claim that we begin with eight candles and decrease one each day). How is this so? If there were only seven days, then according to either opinion we would light four candles on the fourth night. However, based on this explanation of the name Chanukah, we have to have it obvious every night that the law is like Beit Hillel, and thus Chanukah had to be eight nights (editor's note: or at least an even number - I presume that seven was a starting point due to it being the length of other holidays, and thus we go up from there; this is not random - there are intrinsic connections between Succot and Chanukah that space unfortunately prevents me from including here). Similarly, this is why there is no ninth day of Chanukah due to the s'feika d'yoma that we have by other holidays when we add a day outside of Israel. Again, if that were to be the case, then there would be no way of telling whose opinion we were following on the fifth night.

The third reason for the name, given by Maharsha, seems to be the simplest. He claims that "Chanukah" refers to the "Chanukat HaMizbe'ach," the (re)dedication of the altar in the Temple after the Chashmonaim had defeated their enemies. This view is also brought down by the Or Zarua, and is found in the Second Book of Maccabees (an apocryphal text). However, we should note that the Knaf Renana notes that since the original sanctification of the altar was eternal, the dedication by Chanukah was somewhat unnecessary and halachically irrelevant.

Rav Yitzchak Eizik of Slonim expands this latter view somewhat, claiming that the celebration was not only of the dedication of the altar, but of all of the holy vessels in the Temple. He bases this view on a gemara in Avodah Zara 52b, which states that when non-Jews entered the Temple they defiled the vessels to the point that they became profane (in the sense of non-holy) and ownerless. At that point, the non-Jews acquired them and made them forbidden by using them for idolatry. The Ba'al HaMaor says that this applied only to the stones of the altar, while Ramban applies this to all of the vessels. Thus, a new dedication was required for everything.

Rav Yaakov Emden offers a fifth option. He states that the rededication referred to is that which occurred during the days of the prophet Chaggai, whose book specifically gives us the date of the twenty-fifth day of Kislev (see Chaggai 2:18; Rav Yoel Bin-Nun has a fascinating article on this issue in Megadim 12, p. 49. It is way beyond the scope of this Chabura, but I encourage those who are able to check it out to do so).

Finally, there is the connection to the Mishkan in the desert. What connection is there? The first level of connection is that the Mishkan was completed on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev, but its actual erection was delayed until the first of Nissan for various possible reasons. Beyond that, Ramban in B'ha'alotcha notes that the recounting of the dedication ("chanuka") done by the leaders of the tribes (which we read from in the Torah on Chanukah) is followed by the commandment to Aharon to light the menorah in the Mishkan. He claims that Aharon felt bad when he saw that his tribe, Levi, did not participate in the dedication ceremonies with the other tribes. Thus, Hashem reassured him that there would in the future be a dedication that would be done solely by the tribe of Levi, namely that represented by the Menorah - the dedication done by Chanukah. The Knaf Renana tightens this connection, claiming that this is why the holiday is called Chanukah - even though the altar did not need to be dedicated by the Chashmonaim, nevertheless it served as a completion of the original "Chanukah," that done in the desert.

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