What is Hanukkah?

Sunday Star - - LIFE -

“Al­though ac­cord­ing to Jewish cus­tom Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is con­sid­ered a “mi­nor” Jewish fes­ti­val, to­day it ranks— along with Passover and Purim—as one of the most beloved Jewish holi­days, full of light and joy and fam­ily cel­e­bra­tion. “Un­like many Jewish holi­days, Hanukkah (also known as the Fes­ti­val of Lights) is not men­tioned in the Bi­ble. The his­tor­i­cal events upon which the cel­e­bra­tion is based are recorded in Mac­cabees I and II, two books con­tained within a later col­lec­tion of writ­ings known as the Apocrypha. “In the year 168 B.C.E., the Syr­ian king An­ti­ochus Epiphanes sent his sol­diers to Jerusalem. The Syr­i­ans des­e­crated the Tem­ple, the holi­est place for Jews at that time, (and) An­ti­ochus ... abol­ished Ju­daism (and) of­fered Jews two op­tions: con­ver­sion or death.

“The Tem­ple was re­named for the Greek god Zeus. A Jewish re­sis­tance move­ment — led by a priestly fam­ily known as the Has­moneans, or Mac­cabees — de­vel­oped ... Though out­num­bered, Ju­dah Mac­cabee and his fight­ers mirac­u­lously won two ma­jor bat­tles, rout­ing the Syr­i­ans de­ci­sively. “Hanukkah, which means “ded­i­ca­tion,” is the fes­ti­val that com­mem­o­rates the pu­rifi­ca­tion and reded­i­ca­tion of the Tem­ple fol­low­ing the Greek oc­cu­pa­tion of that holy place. To­day, the hol­i­day re­minds Jews to reded­i­cate them­selves to keep­ing alive the flame of Jewish re­li­gion, cul­ture, and peo­ple­hood so that it may be passed on to the next gen­er­a­tion. “Orig­i­nally, the eight-day hol­i­day was in­tended to par­al­lel the eight-day fes­ti­val of Sukkot. The Books of the Mac­cabees made no men­tion of the leg­end con­cern­ing a small jar of oil that un­ex­pect­edly lasted for eight days. Only cen­turies af­ter the Mac­cabees’ de­feat of the Syr­i­ans did the story of the jar of oil – which has come to be as­so­ci­ated with Hanukkah – ap­pear in the Tal­mud.

“Ac­cord­ing to the leg­end, when the Mac­cabees en­tered the Tem­ple and be­gan to re­claim it from the Greeks, they im­me­di­ately re­lit the ner tamid (eter­nal light), which burned con­stantly in the Tem­ple and has a par­al­lel in our syn­a­gogues to this day. In the Tem­ple, they found a sin­gle jar of oil, which was suf­fi­cient for only one day. The mes­sen­ger who was sent to se­cure ad­di­tional oil took eight days to com­plete his mis­sion, and mirac­u­lously, the sin­gle jar of oil con­tin­ued to burn un­til his re­turn. The rab­bis of the Tal­mud at­trib­uted the eight days of Hanukkah to the mir­a­cle of this sin­gle jar of oil.

“Al­though the prac­tice of light­ing the meno­rah (also called a hanukkiyah) was com­mon through­out much of the 19th cen­tury, North Amer­i­can Jews tended to ne­glect most of the other tra­di­tions and prac­tices as­so­ci­ated with the hol­i­day. By the 1920s, how­ever, Jews in­creas­ingly added gift-giv­ing to their Hanukkah cel­e­bra­tions, prompt­ing some peo­ple to re­fer to Hanukkah as the “Jewish Christ­mas.”

Source: re­for­mju­daism.org

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