Tag Archives: Hanukkah

The History of Hanukkah

Menorah
Menorah

 

The history of Hanukkah dates back the year 164 B.C.E. The history can be found in books 1 and 2 Maccabee but these books are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.

The story of how Hanukkah came to be is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.  According to myjewishlearning.com, “These books tell the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E, Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice. The Maccabees–led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah–waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the temple.”

Star of David
Star of David

It was decided since they were not able to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at its proper time in the early Fall that would instead would celebrate it on the date the Temple was rededicated which was on the 25th of the month of Kislev in the year 164 B.C.E.

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.”

The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus  wrote his historical summary of the holiday some 250 years later but referred to it as the “Festival of Lights” and not as Hanukkah.  This refers to the lighting of the menorah that holds nine candles.  A candle is lit each night  placing it at the far right.  The Shammus candle is lit and three blessings are recited:  l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year.

Latkes
Latkes

One of the other Jewish customs enjoyed for Hanukkah is a special dish called latkes which is like a potato pancake made of shredded potatoes, onions, and matza flour. Playing with a dreidel is also a poplar custom. The dreidel (a square top) is spun and small chocolate coins.pennies, match sticks or M&M’s are given as prizes.

Dreidel

Hanukkah is probably the most well know of the Jewish holidays but is of the least religious significance as compared to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu’ot.