Tag Archives: Jewish holidays

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.

 

 

 

 

Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year

 

As September begins it brings to remind that the Fall seasonal holidays are not far behind. Presently Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year for 2013 is being celebrated from sundown Sept. 4 to nightfall on Sept.6.  The literal meaning of Rosh Hashanah is “head of the year” and is considered one of four new years in the Jewish new year. It marks the completion of the creation of the world and is considered the new year of people, animals and legal contracts in the Jewish oral tradition.

According to the Huffington Post, “Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, or Yamim Noraim (the “Days of Awe“), and is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement.” The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the “day of judgment,” and it is believed that God opens the Book of Life on this day and begins to decide who shall live and who shall die. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are viewed as an opportunity for Jews to repent (teshuvah, in Hebrew) and ensure a good fate.”

Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday celebrated for two days and also is the only major holiday celebrated on a new moon.  Traditional ways of celebrating the holiday include gathering in synagogues for extended services that follow the liturgy of a special prayerbook, called a mahzor, that is used during the Days of Awe. A shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown at specific times during the service. The Mitsvah or commandment is  a literal and spiritual wake up call to hear the shofar. Traditional foods include apples and honey, raisin challah, honey cake and pomegranate and a favorite greeting is shana tovah u’metukah, Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year.”