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What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah or Chaunkah is a Jewish festival which celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights.
In 168 B.C.E., Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian king, sent his soldiers to Jerusalem. The Syrian soldiers desecrated the Temple, which was the holiest place for Jews at the time. Furthermore, Antiochus outlawed Judaism, including the observance of Shabbat (The Sabbath in Judaism, which occurs every week from sundown on Friday to Saturday evening) and festivals. Jews were forced to choose between converting to worshipping Greek gods, or death.
Hanukkah or Chaunkah is a Jewish festival which celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Hanukkah lasts eight days and nights starting on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the civil year on the Hebrew calendar. This occurs between November and December in the Gregorian calendar.
The name “Hanukkah” comes from a Hebrew verb which means “to dedicate” because on Hanukkah, the Maccabean Jews recovered Jerusalem and rededicated the Second Temple.
On the 25th day of Kislev in 168 B.C.E., the Syrians renamed the Temple after the Greek god Zeus. A priestly Jewish family called the Maccabees led a Jewish resistance movement against the cruelty of Antiochus. Judah - the son of Mattathias, the elderly head of the Maccabee family - became the leader of the resistance. Despite being outnumbered, Judah and his soldiers won two battles and defeated the Syrians.
Model of the Second Temple in the Israel Museum
Although there is debate over the causes of the war and the details of the story, Hanukkah represents Jewish bravery against difficult odds, the refusal to abandon their religion, the struggle to keep their Jewish religion and identity, and the battle for Jewish autonomy. The holiday reminds Jews today to keep their religion and culture alive so it may be passed down to the next generation.
Latkes, or potato pancakes, which are traditionally eaten on Hanukkah
Hanukkah was originally meant to be eight days long to parallel Sukkot, a Jewish holiday about giving thanks for the autumn harvest and commemorating the 40 years spent wandering the desert after leaving slavery in Egypt. The miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days is not mentioned in the Books of the Maccabees. However, the story of the oil appeared later. The legend says that when the Maccabees entered the Temple in Jerusalem to reclaim it from the Syrian soldiers, they lit the ner tamid, a light which hangs in every synagogue. However, in the Temple they had found one jar of oil - only enough for one day. A messenger was sent to get more oil, but it took him eight days to retrieve it. However, the single jar of oil miraculously continued to burn for the eight days until the messenger’s return. The eight days of Hanukkah were thought by the rabbis of the Talmud to be because of the eight days the jar of oil burned for.
During the festival, a candelabra with nine branches called a menorah is lit. One branch of the menorah is usually raised above the other eight, and its candle is used to light the other eight. The center candle is referred to as the shamash. One candle is lit by the shamash each night until all eight candles are lit on the last night. Other activities include playing dreidel and eating foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) as well as dairy products. Hanukkah is a minor holiday for Judaism, but it is significant in North America and around the world for Jews because it can be celebrated as a Jewish alternative to Christmas.
“History: The Hanukkah Story.” Reform Judaism, Reform Judaism, reformjudaism.org/jewish-holidays/hanukkah/history-hanukkah-story.