The ancient Israelites, led by Judas Maccabeus, did vanquish the oppressor Antiochus - but Greek rule would only be shaken off 20 years later under Judas' younger brother. A must-read before the holiday begins
Elon Gilad is an editor and writer at Haaretz.
Modern tradition assumes Hanukkah candles were born with the holiday but Josephus hadn’t heard of them: It seems we borrowed them from the pagan Saturnalia
Originating in harvest festivals, Sukkot became centered in Jerusalem. That was not to last.
It began as a Canaanite festival, superseded Passover among Bible-era Jews and won a disloyal king a royal pelting with etrogim
The Bible ties building booths on Sukkot to Exodus, but another explanation may lie in ancient Ugaritic tablets about a Canaanite supplication to Baal.
It is the holiest day in Judaism, yet its intent has markedly changed and its practice today is a far cry from the rites of ancient times
The Roman siege of Masada ended in mass suicide by the trapped Jewish rebels. But absent archaeological evidence, it all boils down to the question of whether you think Josephus aspired to accuracy
The canonization of the Hebrew Bible into its final 24 books was a process that lasted centuries, and was only completed well after the time of Josephus
An ancient Hebrew term signifying utter destruction now refers to the greatest modern tragedy to befall the Jewish people
Once May 1 was one of Israel's most popular holidays, often bringing Arabs and Jews together in solidarity. Why is it barely observed by anybody but a handful of teenagers any more?
The original use of eggs on both holidays is obscure, but use eggs they both do. Why?
The holiday we know today began as two distinct ones, one for nomadic herders and one for farmers. Neither involved Egypt.
Different people wrote different portions at different times, for instance - the ancient 'Four Questions' changed when Jews eschewed sacrifice.
How often should a camel-driver have sex? What about a sailor? The bible is rife with confusing references and the rabbis set out to regulate intercourse, not that they agreed on the details
What is its origin? When did it begin? Why did many Jews scorn it – and is the underlying tale of love, murder and betrayal true?
Something borrowed, something Lent? The custom seems to have arisen in 13th century Italy, as festivities and masquerading escalated towards Shrove Tuesday
A lecture in Paris 200 years ago, based on false premises, fueled a bitter war against hashish – whose impact is still felt today
‘I kind of fell into it,’ says Robert Alter of his decades-long project of retranslating the Bible, ensuing from a request to write ‘about Genesis or Kafka’
From dark netherworld populated by ghosts to reincarnation to multiple souls: The Jewish concept of the afterlife has been to hell and back.
In the beginning there was a 4th-century Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, but over the millennia a myriad English translations 'moved vpon the water'
The excuse for not studying Torah on Christian holidays is usually that Jews get attacked on those days, but the original reason has been long forgotten, and is dark indeed
Ultra-orthodox yeshiva study isn't about parsing the bible or even studying Oral Law, but an attempt to peer into God's mind
Satan didn’t arise from Hell fully formed. The concept of an ultimate Evil One was apparently borrowed from the Persians and continued to evolve throughout antiquity
The true pronunciation of YHWH has long been lost, partly because 2,500 years ago, Jews decided it was too sacred to say aloud, and failed to preserve the way it was said
The bible says Jews shouldn't do something to a kid in its mother's milk no less than three times, but the meaning of what we're not supposed to do has been lost
A young rabbi in medieval Spain, scandalized by local laxness, sparks a bitter battle over bird on the plate
The bible is rife with references to deities other than Yahweh: The prophets didn't deny these gods existed, they just didn't think Jews should worship them
Revelations associates Megiddo in northern Israel with the end of days, but as the struggle over Jerusalem threatens to bring the apocalypse closer, we may want to revisit that assumption
Once upon a time this day marked the end of a terrible plague. Then revisionism got involved.
It is often said that this is a simple matter of mistranslation, but Vulgate author Saint Jerome would not have made such a crude mistake