Immediately following the holiday of Sukkot, bakeries in Israel begin churning out the ever popular sufganiyot, jelly filled donuts. Together with the potato latke, these two foods have come to define the Jewish cuisine on the holiday of Hanukkah.
But is it a mitzvah to eat jelly donuts and latkes on Hanukkah? By way of example, we know that to eat matzah at the Pesach Seder is a fulfillment of the Biblical commandment to eat matzah on Pesach. Are we fulfilling any type of religious mandate by eating donuts or latkes on Hanukkah? The answer, of course, is that as tasty as these foods may be, and however much they have come to be associated with Hanukkah, nevertheless there is no mitzvah to eat donuts or latkes on Hanukkah. In fact, somewhat surprisingly, in contrast to Shabbat and Yom Tov- and even Purim- there is no mitzvah to eat a festive holiday meal on Hanukkah whatsoever.
The reason for this omission is that the sages at the time of the miracle instituted Hanukkah not as a holiday of "mishteh v'simchah", feasting and joy, but rather as a holiday of "hallel v'hodaah", praising the Almighty and giving thanks to Him for the awesome miracles and kindness that He performed for His people. Rashi comments that the primary fulfillment of this requirement on Hanukkah is through reciting Hallel and through saying the "Al HaNissim" addition to the Shemoneh Esrei prayer and the Grace after Meals.
While there may not be a mitzvah to eat a special holiday meal on Hanukkah, the later halachic authorities tell us that by saying praises to the Almighty and singing songs of praise at our Hanukkah meals, the meal is in turn transformed into a mitzvah meal.
We are fortunate this year in that we will be having a communal Hanukkah luncheon together on Shabbat, Saturday December 28th. The luncheon will surely be a wonderful social gathering for all the members of our community, in addition to what I'm sure will be an uplifting spiritual experience. Please RSVP to Arnell in the shul office if you are planning on attending.
Hanukkah this year begins on Sunday, December 22nd in the evening, and ends on Monday, December 30th in the evening.
All the Best,
Rabbi Peretz Robinson