One of the more popular festivals on our Calendar is Chanukah!
The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication.” The roots of this name, and the Chanukah holiday, come from the second century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). Chafing under foreign domination of the Syrian-Greeks, a band of Jews led by Mattathias took to the hills of Judea in open revolt against the Seleucid regime of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
Mattathias’ son Judah took charge of the rebellion after his father’s death. He was given the nickname “the Maccabee” (“the hammer”). Antiochus sent thousands of well-trained and well-armed troops to the land of Israel to crush the rebellion. The Maccabees responded with a brilliant campaign of guerilla warfare, and succeeded in driving the foreigners from their land.
Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem in December, 164 B.C.E. They found the sacred Temple in shambles, defiled and desecrated by foreign soldiers. They cleansed the Temple and re-dedicated it on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. They observed a feast of dedication for eight days in honor of their historic victory.
The contemporary observance of Chanukah features the lighting of a Chanukiyah, a special Chanukah menorah with eight branches and a ninth holder for the shamash, or helper candle. The ritual of eight candles is connected with the cruse of pure oil that miraculously burned for eight days rather than one.
On the first night of Chanukah, two candles are placed in the menorah. One serves as the shamash to be used for lighting the other candle. On each successive night, another candle is added to the menorah from right to left. The candles are lit from left to right (Lighting the newest candle each night). By the time we reach the last night of Chanukah, eight candles (plus the Shamash) are glowing brightly in celebration of this beautiful festival.
Other familiar Chanukah customs include spinning the dreidle (a special top with Hebrew letters on the sides), eating foods prepared in oil such as, potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), and giving gifts of gelt (coins) to children.
In the broad sweep of Jewish tradition, Chanukah is considered a minor holiday. It is not a yom tov, a holy day, akin to Rosh Hashanah or Passover. Chanukah, like Purim, is a post-Biblical holiday, a happy, fun-filled celebration for the young and the young-at-heart.
This year, Chanukah begins on Sunday evening, December 6, 2015 and continues through Monday, December 14, 2015. The traditional greeting Jews extend to one another during this holiday is “Chag Orim Same’ach.” Happy Feast of Lights!
I wish everyone a Happy Chanukah!