Showbread, in this illustration from an 1871 Bible.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Celebrating Hanukka in modern times has become an eclectic mix of lighting candles, eating sufganiot, making latkes and spinning dreidels with psychedelic LEDs that play a tinny, Chinese-sounding rendition of “Sevivon, sov sov sov.” It is all too easy to forget the real reason we celebrate Hanukka in the first place.
Everyone knows the story about Judah the Maccabee who liberated the Temple from the ancient Greeks and among the ruins discovered one solitary jar of oil that miraculously continued burning on the Menorah for eight days. This is the raison d’etre for lighting candles during Hanukka and eating foods rich in oil.
As with many symbolic rituals, however, which often acquire a momentum of their own, the original basis for their very existence becomes subdued and even secondary. It is pertinent therefore to rekindle and remind ourselves of the true essence of Hanukka – the Temple connection! The Temple is essentially a conduit through which God radiates His blessing throughout our physical world, a special place where spirituality and physicality are inexorably intertwined. The embodiment of this principle is observed in the Inner Sanctum where, on one end (South), we find the Menorah and on the other end (North) we find the Showbread Table.
The purpose of the Menorah is to provide light. The light is facilitated by the physical oxidation of pure olive oil, but it is symbolic of a higher light, a spiritual light. On the opposite end is the Showbread Table containing 12 loaves. Bread, man’s physical staple food in this world is symbolic of a higher blessing of Divine bounty and the acknowledgment that God is ultimately responsible for our daily sustenance.
The festival of Hanukka combines these two interwoven principles in its rituals. We light candles to remind ourselves of the spiritual light that banishes darkness, the light of the Menorah in the Temple, God’s spiritual light. We eat oil-rich foods like sufganiot, which are in effect breads fried in oil. Many of the bread rituals in the Temple combined flour with oil, but none more so than the special bread called murbechet which was a round loaf, deep-fried in oil. Could this ritual bread have been the precursor to our modern sufgania? In essence, Hanukka is more than just a bunch of enjoyable, family-friendly rituals. It is the embodiment of the Temple itself, a multitude of individual replicas of the Temple utensils and rituals in each of our homes and even more than that, the reiteration of our inextricable connection with God through the elevation of our physical world to a higher spiritual level.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health, nutrition and authentic Jewish bread.
Tunisian olive rolls
Combines the distinctive taste of olives with a fried fricassee bread.
Makes 10 rolls 1¾ cups flour ²⁄3 cup water 1 tsp. instant dry yeast 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. sugar 1 egg ½ cup pitted olives finely diced Mix all ingredients (except olives) and knead for eight to 10 minutes. Incorporate olives into dough. Leave to rise for one hour. Punch down, portion and shape into 10 elongated rolls. Leave to rise on baking sheet for another 45 minutes. Preheat a deep frying pan with cooking olive oil to 160ºC. Deep-fry the rolls on both sides until golden brown and cooked through (1 to 3 minutes on each side).
Drain on paper towel.
Serving suggestion: Split the rolls while warm and spread with harissa. Layer slices of boiled egg, tuna, sliced vegetables, capers and pitted black olives.