Judith Kaplan Eisenstein’s Own Reconstructionism: a brief exegesis on “Hannuka O Hannuka”

This post is inspired by comments from my Dad.

While Judith Kaplan Eisenstein will always be most famous for having the first Bat Mitzvah in 1922, she was an accomplished scholar in her own right as a Jewish musicologist and teacher, publishing many books and articles on Jewish music eventually earning a PhD.

For example, the English translation of the originally Yiddish song, Hannuka O Hannuka that Jewish children everywhere sing was composed by her.

It is in this song we can see how her father’s Reconstructionist teachings influenced her.

Here are the original Yiddish lyrics, their literal translation and Kaplan Eisenstein’s familiar translation.

Chanukah, Oh Chanukah

English version Yiddish version Yiddish literal translation
Hanukah, Oh Hanukah Come light the menorah
Let’s have a party
We’ll all dance the horah
Gather ’round the table, we’ll give you a treat
Dreidels  to play with, and latkes to eat
חנוכה אוי חנוכה
אַ יום-טוב אַ שיינער
אַ לוסטיקער אַ פריילעכער
נישט דאָ נאָך אַזוינער
אַלע נאַכט מיט דריידלעך שפילן מיר,
פרישע הייסע לאַטקעס, עסן אָן אַ שיעור.
Chanukah, Oh Chanukah
A beautiful celebration.
Such a cheerful and happy one,
There is none like it.
Every night with the dreidels we will play,
Fresh, hot latkes we will eat endlessly.
And while we are playing
The candles are burning bright (or low)
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years long ago
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of years long ago.
געשווינדער, צינדט קינדער
די חנוכה ליכטלעך אָן,
זאָגט על-הניסים, לויבט גאָט פאַר די נסים,
און לאָמיר אַלע טאַנצען אין קאָן.
זאָגט על-הניסים, לויבט גאָט פאַר די נסים,
און לאָמיר אַלע טאַנצען אין קאָן.
Come quickly children
Light the Chanukah candles
Say “Al Hanissim”, praise God for the miracles,
And we will all dance together in a circle!
Say “Al Hanissim”, praise God for the miracles,
And we will all dance together in a circle!

What she takes out:

  • The reference to God performing the miracles of Hannuka, faithful to both a rejection of a super-natural God and faithful to historical records and the  Books of the Maccabees’ accounts of the events of Hannuka.
  • The reference to the “Al ha-Nissim” prayer which is one that thanks God for the miracles of Hannuka (see above)  and the wars God fought on our behalf
  • The connection of lighting candles to “Al ha-Nissim” which is traditionally sung immediately  after we light the candles.

What she leaves in:

  • Dancing
  • Latkes
  • Dreidles
  • Candle lighting
  • Remembering “years long ago”

For extra fun you can take a look what is left out of and what is added in to the Hebrew version, written by  Avraham Avronin and released in 1953.

English translation of the Hebrew
Hebrew version
Original Yiddish literal translation
Days of Channuka, Days of our Temple!
With Joy and happiness we will fill our hearts.
Day and night we will spin our sivion (dreidel). We will a lot of sufganiot (doughnuts).
 
Light up! Kindle the many chanuka candles for the miracles and for the wonders* that the Macabees performed.

יְמֵי הַחֲנֻכָּה

חֲנֻכַּת מִקְדָּשֵׁנוּ,
בְּגִיל וּבְשִׂמְחָה מְמַלְּאִים אֶת לִבֵּנוּ,
לַיְלָה וָיוֹם סְבִיבוֹנֵנוּ יִסֹּב,
סֻפְגָּנִיּוֹת נֹאכַל בָּם לָרֹב.

הָאִירוּ, הַדְלִיקוּ נֵרוֹת חֲנֻכָּה רַבִּים!
עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת אֲשֶׁר חוֹלְלוּ הַמַּכַּבִּים.

Chanukah, Oh Chanukah
A beautiful celebration.
Such a cheerful and happy one,
There is none like it.
Every night with the dreidels we will play,
Fresh, hot latkes we will eat endlessly.Come quickly children
Light the Chanukah candles
Say “Al Hanissim”, praise God for the miracles,
And we will all dance together in a circle!

*The Hebrew uses the phrase “for the miracles and for the wonders” which are the opening words of the prayer “Al ha-Nissim“- except the prayer attributes the miracles to God, the Hebrew version attributes them to the Maccabees.

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This entry was posted in Feminism and Jewish Ritual & Practice, Liberal Judaism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Judith Kaplan Eisenstein’s Own Reconstructionism: a brief exegesis on “Hannuka O Hannuka”

  1. Actually there is also a more secular yiddish version. Your grandfather sang the standard version but “Lieb got fur de nissim” was replaced by another phrase when your grandmother sang it. I just don’t remember what it was, but I remember the difference when they sang together. A follow up on the English words v the Hebrew ones for Maoz Tsur wold be interesting too.

  2. The Israeli version was deemed too secular for Israeli Orthodox day schools, who had their own version: “על הניסים ועל נפלאות אשר חולל ה’ למכבים” (for the miracles and the wonders that God performed for the Maccabees).

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