Imagine Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shamai visiting your home on the last night of Hanukkah. Hillel will be pleased to see that we are celebrating this non-biblical holiday the way the Talmud tells us the story, the mode he proposed it. What about Rabbi Shamai? We increase the light during the holiday according to the school of Hillel (Talmud Babli Shabbat 21b). Shamai’s approach to this holiday is to start with eight candles and diminish the amount as the holiday progresses. The Talmud is clear about the concept of “elu v’elu divrei Elohim hayim, this and this are the teachings of a living God” in which we respect the different opinions of many rabbis in order to embrace the opportunities to learn from and with each other. Nevertheless, the hallakha mostly follows Hillel’s opinion.
In the spirit of promoting constructive discourse, we might review the way we bring light into our personal lives, our communities and the world. Maybe Hanukkah is the celebration in which we build community by allowing everyone to feel integrated and embraced. If both opinions matter, Hillel and Shamai should both be welcomed into our homes, into our holiday. I propose a challenge: How about starting a new tradition of lighting two hanukkiot? One according to Hillel, by increasing the light and another one according to Shamai, according to the days left in this eight-day holiday. Let’s invite both rabbis and let them feel that there is always room for constructive discourse as we gain a lot when we can agree to disagree.
Dr. Analia Bortz is a rabbi at Congregation Or Hadash and senior rabbinic fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and Global Justice Fellow at American Jewish World Service.