Hanukkah is known as the “Festival of Lights”, “Feast of Dedication” or the “Feast of the Maccabees”. It is a Jewish Holiday that commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in 166 B.C.E.
The origin story of Hanukkah began inn 168 B. C. E.
In 168 B.C.E., the Greek-Syrian King Antiochus, who controlled Jerusalem at the time, outlawed Judaism. He ordered the massacre of Jews, and looted the Second Temple. The following year, the King commissioned a statue of Zeus to be erected in the Jewish temple and that pigs be slaughtered on the alter table. In addition, he also banned circumcision a common Jewish practice. This triggered a major revolt lead by a Jewish Priest, Mattathias, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah. Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E. before they achieved their goals, but in 165 B. C. E., a year later, they had won.
Judah, who had assumed leadership after his father’s death, ordered the temple to be cleansed. He had a new altar and holy vessels created to replace the ones desecrated under the rule of Antiochus. According to Jewish law, pure, unadulterated olive oil under the seal of the kohen gadol (high priest) was needed for the temple’s Menorah. Unfortunately, the Menorah needed to burn every night all night long, but they only had enough oil to burn for one night. Despite not having enough oil, the Menorah burned for 8 nights. This gave enough time to produce more kosher oil to keep the Menorah burning.
Hanukkah celebrations today.
The eight day festival to commemorate this miracle is the holiday we now know as Hanukkah. It starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev somewhere in late November through late December. Each night, a candle is lit, songs are sung, prayers are spoken. No work is done while the family gathers to contemplate the candle and tell stories. Most nights the candles last 30 minutes; the exception is the candles lit on Friday, as Shabbat begins at sundown and no fire can be kindled during the Shabbot. In order to honor Shabbat, candles are lit on that night earlier, with candles that last longer than the typical 30 minutes.
Because oil plays such a prominent role in the reason for Hanukkah, special foods that use a lot of oil are enjoyed during the celebrations. In particular, Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts) are special holiday treats. In addition, it is common to enjoy foods that contain dairy, in honor of Yehudit, who assassinated the Syrian-Greek General Holofernes, and thus ending the siege on the city of Bethulia and therefore saving its residents from starvation.
One of the most well known Hanukkah traditions familiar to those outside of the Judaism, are Dreidels. These are small, four sided tops inscribed with a different word on each side. One of the legends behind them, says that when King Antiochus outlawed Judaism, Jews would disguise their study of the Torah by pretending they were playing with Dreidels whenever the guards appeared. Scholars debate the validity of this often, but it is still a thought that remains popular
In addition, the Jewish people will give something extra to Charity during this time. Typically, they donate something every day of Hanukkah, and sometimes donate double on Friday to account for the Shabbot. It is also a customary tradition to give all the children in the family Hanukkah gelt (money,) after lighting the Menorah. It is often encouraged that the children donate at least part of this toward charity as well.
While it has become a common practice to have gifts for each night of Hanukkah, there is a movement to mediate that. These days, a desire to remind and teach Jewish children some of the basic tenets of Judaism has arisen. There is now a focus on doing activities that explore the ideas of family and community, togetherness and giving.
If you and your family are celebrating Hanukkah this year, we wish you Hanukkah Sameach (Happy Hanukkah) from RoseAnna and Galen and all of us here at The Researcher’s Gateway. We hope that your Hanukkah brings you great reflection, togetherness , and the peace of the holiday season.
Galen & RoseAnna