minutia press.
Creative accounting in days of yore

I may have posted on this befoe so please forgive me if so. THe story of Chanukah involves among other things a miracle in which oil that should have lasted for only a single day burned for 7 days more. There are 8 days of Chanukah, and it's not a bad question to ask why not just 7? After all, the oil should have burned for one day, so no miracle took place on that day.

The rabbis pondered this a long time ago and came up with an explanation that I believe is the earliest case of creative accounting on record (unless you think it took longer than 7 days to create the world (6 days of work + 1 day of rest)). The rabbis explained that 1/8 of the oil burned 8 times longer on each of the 8 days, so there were 8 days of miracles.

I thought about this again this year, and felt that it actually makes sense. After all, suppose all the oil burned in one day but there was flame coming out of the lamp for another 7 days. That would have been "over the top" from what was needed to accomplish the task at hand (make the oil last while new oil was prepared).

I taught Sunday School some years ago and had the kids try to make oil from olives for burning. It takes a lot of olives and a lot of grinding to squeeze out the oil from these things. And then you have to get the oil and water in the olive juice to separate. We sped things up using a centrifuge, but I think part of the 8 day waiting period in days of yore involved waiting for the oil to separate out sufficiently so it would burn.

On a side note, I also did a Science of the Dead Sea experiment. I had the kids try to float a toy soldier in 3 different tubs of water. One had water+sand, one had water+dirt, one had water+salt. The soldier floated only in the water and sand tub.

Maybe there's an idea for a new Christmas/Chanukah gift: a bible science kit?