WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PURIM AND CHANUKAH?

From an article by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot in Yeshivat Har Etzion's Alon Shvut volume 150. 

We are used to thinking about Purim and Chanukah as being similar in a halachic sense. They are both Rabbinic holidays, and both have a stress on the publicizing of the miracle that occurred (the salvations of the Jews from the Syrian-Greeks and from the Persians/Haman). This relationship between the two can be seen in Rambam's Code, as he places the laws of these two holidays into one unit "The Laws of Megilla and Chanukah." Even further, in discussing some of the laws of Chanukah, Rambam uses Purim as an analogy, writing that "[the days of Chanukah] are prohibited from having a eulogy made on them or from being made it a fast day, like the days of Purim, and the lighting of the candles is a mitzva from the soferim, just like the reading of the Megilla."

Nevertheless, there exist several differences between these two holidays. The most notable is the issue of a Biblical text Purim has one while Chanukah does not. As such, Purim has its foundations in an ordinance of the prophets, a feature that Chanukah lacks. This difference plays itself out in a number of areas.

The first issue is that of "bal tosif" the prohibition of adding on to the commandments. The major question regarding this law is whether it applies merely to an object-oriented mitzva, such as adding a fifth parsha to tefillin, or whether it encompasses the creation of a new mitzva ex nihilo as well. The Minchat Chinuch claims that bal tosif does not apply to the creation of a new mitzva, since the Sages themselves added on many mitzvot to those found in the Torah. Ramban, on the other hand, argues that it is forbidden to create a new mitzva. He bases himself on the gemara in Megilla 14a, which states that all of the prophets that the Jews had never added on a single mitzva except for the reading of the Megilla on Purim. Citing the Yerushalmi in Megilla 1:5, he notes that the reading of the Megilla was allowed to be added as a mitzva since it was a fulfillment of having the destruction of Amalek (Haman) mentioned in all three parts of Tanach. However, without this dispensation, not even Megilla would have been added on.

What about Chanukah? Is there a potential problem of bal tosif with regard to the mitzva of lighting the candles? The question is never raised, and it seems that this is so do to the differing nature of these two holidays. A regular Rabbinic mitzva does not pose any threat to the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, and thus it is not considered to be an issue of bal tosif. However, a mitzva that is rooted in the prophets and has potential to rise to the level of at least seeming to be Torah-ordained requires that we either dispose of it as being in violation of bal tosif, or find some way to state that it may continue to exist and does not run afoul of this law. Thus, Purim, which was set up by the prophets and has a text, needed to receive clearance, while Chanukah, whose historical background is of a lesser stature, was not subject to this scrutiny.

The second issue is that of whether or not we may have a fast day on the day (or days) preceding the holiday. Chanukah and Purim are both remnants of "Megillat Ta'anit," a tradition from the Second Temple period of all of the national holidays and fast days that had been established to commemorate various events that had taken place. When the Temple was destroyed, all of the days listed in Megillat Ta'anit were voided, save for these two. The general rule by holidays found in Megillat Ta'anit was that it was forbidden to fast on the days that immediately preceded and followed them. This being the case, how is it possible that we have a fast on the day before Purim (Ta'anit Esther)?!

Several Rishonim note that there is a difference in the law between the days found in Megillat Ta'anit and holidays on the calendar that are found in the Torah. There is no prohibition of fasting right before or right after a Torah-ordained holiday, since this prohibition came about as a way of providing a "buffer zone" to the holiday. While Rabbinically-ordained holidays may need this protection to strengthen their validity, Torah-ordained holidays need no such help. Their status as d'oraita laws is more than sufficient to establish their holiness, and thus one may fast even on the day that immediately precedes Succot or Pesach (and we do, in fact, have a fast day on erev Pesach).

As such, there are several Rishonim who claim that Purim does not need this buffer zone, since it is "divrei kabbala" it is part of received tradition and it is comparable to a Torah-ordained holiday. Thus, while Chanukah still requires this buffer zone on the calendar, Purim does not and we can have a fast day on the thirteenth day of Adar. (We should note, however, that we rule that one can fast right before Chanukah as well, as the only prohibitions that we have regarding these days are those on eulogizing and fasting on the days themselves but not on any other days that surround them. However, we should also note that the Bach does rule that one may not fast before Chanukah.)

A third difference that flows from this issue is the law of an onein, one who has lost a relative who has not yet been buried. Our general rule is that an onein may not drink wine or eat meat. However, the Orchot Chaim (cited in the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 696) rules that an onein may have meat and wine on Purim, since the prohibition of the individual cannot override that Torah-mandated obligation of the community to have a feast on Purim. Again, the status of Purim is stated as being that of a d'oraita, or at least quasi-d'oraita, a status that at no time is given to Chanukah.

Finally, we come to the issue of the obligation of women in each of these mitzvot. The gemara in Megilla 4a rules that women are obligated in the mitzva of Megilla, since they also took part in (or were beneficiaries of) the miracles. The Behag rules that they may not read on behalf of men, since their obligation is to hear the Megilla but not to read it. The Turei Even rejects this reasoning, but says that women still may not read on behalf of men, since the obligation of men comes from "divrei kabbala," which that of women stems from the fact that they were also involved. As such, it seems that the obligations of the two genders are on different levels, a factor which may obstruct women's ability to fulfill the mitzva on behalf of men.

By contrast, there is virtually no debate that by the lighting of Chanukah candles, women may light on behalf of men. The Be'eir Heitev writes that women may light for men "unlike by the reading of the Megilla." Since Chanukah is "merely" a mitzva d'rabbanan, both men and women are on the same level in terms of their obligations. As such, unlike by Megilla, there is no problem for a woman to light the candles on behalf of a man.


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