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A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF HANUKKAH
Victor M. Eskew
Today the 8-day, Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah begins. Many Christians have heard of this holiday, but they do not know much about it. Below are listed some of the facts about this holiday season of the Jews.
Name: Hanukkah means “dedication.” The holiday is also called “The Festival of Lights.”
Date: It is an eight-day holiday which begins on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Jewish calendar. On our calendars, it can fall any time from late November to late December.
Founder: Judah Maccabee and his brothers
Commemoration: The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt of the second century B.C.
Background: “When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and the services stopped, Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple.
“Antiochus’ (sic) actions proved to be a major miscalculation as they were massively disobeyed and provoked large-scale revolt. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Yehuda Ha Makabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated (www.wikipedia.com, “Hanukkah”).
Another part of the story involves what the Jews refer to as “the miracle of the olive oil.” “According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil” (Ibid.). This miracle accounts for the name of the festival (Festival of Lights); the length of the festival (8 days); and the main act of the Festival, the lighting of candles.
1. The kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum.
a. Nine (9) lights, the center light is lit each night, and the other lights are lit corresponding to the number of the day of the feast
b. The lights are lit a half-hour after dark.
c. Three blessings are said during the ceremony.
2. Song: Ma’oz Tzur
3. Additions are made to regular prayers
4. Reciting of Psalms (esp. 30, 67, 91)
5. Hanukkah music: “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and “Chanukah, O Chanukah”
6. Hanukkah food: food fried and baked in olive oil, cheeses
7. Hanukkah game: Dreidel (a top game)
8. Gifts: especially Hanukkah “gelt,” that is, money given to children
9. The last day of the festival is called “Zot Hanukkah.” This is a day to repent out of love for God.
Sources: Talmud, I and II Maccabees, and Josephus (Jewish Antiquities xii., 7, 7, #323)