Chanukah and Energy Conservation

By guest blogger, Zachary Sadowski
December 3, 2014

The holiday of Chanukah is intrinsically linked to the idea of energy consumption and conservation. Everyone knows the basic idea of the story: many, many years ago a jug of oil thought to be capable of providing only one day of light miraculously gave eight instead. This is the basic story we grew up hearing, but a more detailed analysis of the events provides several interesting accounts of how and why this happened. Furthermore, these details reveal a very powerful message for us and future generations about our duty to conserve energy.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote that the divine miracle of this conservation of oil can be interpreted to mean that it is a sacred act for one to conserve energy as demonstrated by the actions of Adonai.  Daniel Bloom highlights two ideas regarding how the final jug of oil was used and how this alludes to multiple paths of action on energy use. The first account tells us that the jug was divided into eighths and each of these burnt for a day. Others believe that after the menorah was filled each of the first seven days the oil remained undiminished. The takeaway from these separate accounts is that there are multiple ways to achieve the same outcome. The first account has a clear conservation motif as less was used each night. The second account, however, points to the use of renewable resources that not only do not diminish, but do not add pollutants. 

One final analysis (and the one that spoke the most to me) comes from Josh Boydstun. He emphasizes that it was not a lack of oil that was the issue, but a lack of pure oil (at the time the invading Greeks defiled all but one jug of oil by touching them).  The priests refused to use the spoiled jugs even at the risk of not having enough pure oil for eight days.  Boydstun’s message is about the act of faith the priests took and how we cannot simply sit back and hope for a miracle to end climate change. I believe the more important lesson here is that not all sources of energy are equal. As the worlds traditional oil and coal resources continue to diminish, many corporations and countries are turning to non-traditional fossil fuel sources. In Canada,  this comes in the form of the exploitation of the tar sands and potential offshore mining of deepsea sources. Elsewhere the fracking boom provides an ominous outlook. These sources are like the impure jugs of oil left by the Greeks; they will provide energy, but at what cost? Unfortunately in this case the costs are far more severe than relying on unkosher oil.

While the messages of conservation in the story of Chanukah and from Jewish scholars carry much meaning, what is the modern take on the need to conserve energy?  Two sectors where you can have the most impact are the first and third largest contributors to emissions in Canada- transportation and electricity consumption. Clearly if we are to stop contributing to climate change much progress must be made to reduce our impact in these emission numbers.

           It is also helpful to think of conservation of electricity as an equivalent to adding additional generating capacity. If the system requires 1000kw/h more next year, instead of adding new capacity we can conserve some or all and diminish this need. This is the most cost effective way to reduce emissions. 

           So, what can you do to help conserve energy? Lucky for you there are many options. The government of Ontario offers a variety of programs and rebates you can take advantage of to not only reduce emissions, but save money as well (a list can be found here: For reducing energy use in the home they recommend three general tips:
  • Make a conscious effort to shift as much of your electricity use as possible to off-peak times. (These times can be found here:
  • Unplug your appliances when applicable in order to reduce phantom power. All appliances, when left plugged in, use a baseline of power even when they are off. Unplugging them eliminates this waste.
  • Purchase more efficient products. The best place to start is light bulbs where you can switch to LED or compact fluorescent bulbs. You can also look for Energy Star Appliances for your home.
Last and perhaps most important, be aware and care. In the end our governments and corporations play a huge role in how Canada reduces emissions. Think of these issues when you vote and think of them when you choose which businesses to support. If you show them you care they have no choice but to care as well. Unfortunately, there are no miracle fixes for our climate. But just like our Chanukah story tells us, a small number of people with strong determination can defeat even the mightiest of opponents. So channel your inner Maccabee this holiday season and be aware and care.
© 2018 Shoresh.