holidays commemorate events invested with historical and
religious meaning. Hanukkah means "dedication," and it
commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after
its desecration by foreign forces. The celebration also
reaffirms the continuing struggle to live by God's commandments
and to lead Jewish lives.
celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of
Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the
Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word "Hanukkah"
The story of
Chanukah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander
conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands
under his control to continue observing their own religions and
retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively
benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic
culture, adopting the language, the customs, the dress, etc., in
much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the
secular American society.
More than a
century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in
control of the region. In 168 B.C.E., Antiochus, seized and
dedicated the Jews' holy Temple to the worship of Zeus.
Antiochus tried to take away the Jews' religious freedom by
outlawing Jewish rituals and ordering the Jews to worship Greek
gods. He outlawed circumcision, placed Greek idols in every
Jewish town, sacrificed unclean animals in the temple in
Jerusalem, forced all the Jews to worship him as their god and
those who didn't convert were put to death
against Antiochus was started by an old Jewish priest,
Mattathias in 167 BCE. The fighting began in Modiin, a village
not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled
the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh
of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked
Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony.
He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to
do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword
and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and
the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers.
Mattathias' family went into hiding in the nearby mountains,
where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined
them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.
About a year
after the rebellion started, Mattathias died. Before his death,
he put his brave son Judah Maccabee in charge of the growing
army. Because of his great fighting ability, Judah was nicknamed
Maccabeus, "The Hammer." After three years of
fighting, the Jews defeated the Greek army, despite having fewer
men and weapons.
and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that
many things were missing or broken, including the golden
menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they
were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony.
For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah
the candelabrum symbolizing the eternal covenant between God and
the Jewish people and the continuity of tradition through the
generations. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small
flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for
one day, and it would have taken eight days to make more oil.
The legend of the miracle at Hanukkah says that the one day
supply of oil burned for eight days and nights until more oil
could be made.
celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a
menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.