*Disclaimer: In the next weeks, I begin a series covering concepts in Judaism. It is not exhaustive, but it is meant to go over in a general way what are Jewish beliefs and where they are found in the Hebrew Bible (What Christians call the “Old Testament”).
These articles are for educational purposes only. If you have further questions, you should ask your religious leader, or you can email me, for further information. (End of Disclaimer)*
This week we discuss a holiday that is uniquely Jewish – Chanukah.
Chanukah which means “Dedication” in Hebrew is also called the Festival of Lights.
Its origins are found nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures but it is a great historical event. It is documented in a book called the Maccabees found in the Apocrypha. We celebrate it in November – December in the Jewish month of Kislev.
This year it will be occurring from sundown December 2nd – December 10th.
It is a celebration of a Revolt that occurred in 167BCE to 160BCE.
What had led up to this revolt was the first time Western/Hellenistic worldview taking on the Eastern, Jewish monotheism.
A Greek king named Antiochus tried to Hellenize the Jews by making it illegal to circumcise their sons, read the Torah (5 books of Moses) and teach Hebrew.
The whole purpose was to make the Jews assimilate to become Greeks. If they stopped reading their holy books and teaching their language, then they would forget the G-D of Israel and be good Greek citizens.
To prevent being killed for reading the Torah, Jews began to read the Prophets instead. The sages organized the sections of the Prophet’s writings to coincide with the portions of the Torah. So, if a Greek would check and ask “Are you reading the Torah?” Jews would answer, “No, we are reading the Prophets.”
This is a practice still done today in Synagogues. We read the Torah Portion on Shabbat and then the coinciding Prophets’ writings called the “Haftorah”, which means “dismiss” in Hebrew.
To prevent from being killed for teaching Hebrew, the Sages developed a 4 sided top, called a dreidel which had upon it Hebrew letters. When the Greeks came upon a group of children spinning a top, it looked like they were gambling, since for each letter would be given a set amount of coins for whichever side it landed on. Since the Greeks like to gamble, they figured that the Jews were assimilating and moved along.
King Antiochus had realized that they were not getting anywhere with the Jews, so his Son, Antiochus V placed a statue of Zeus, the Greek chief god into the Temple in Jerusalem, and slaughtered a pig in front of the idol, and defiled the Temple of G-D.
The Revolt was at hand. The Temple was defiled and battles ensued.
The entire story is found here at this link: https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102978/jewish/The-Story-of-Chanukah.htm
So, the Greeks were routed and the Temple had to be purified (due to the presence of the idol, and, the pig’s blood), The Maccabees needed a light source to keep at the entrance of the Temple while they cleansed it. They dragged the Menorah to the front of the entrance of the Temple to prevent the Greeks sneaking up on them at night. It takes 8 days to cleanse the Temple. They only found enough oil for one night.
That oil lasted the whole 8 days.
This is the miracle of Hanukah.
We remember this historical miracle by placing a “Chanukiyah” or a Hanukah Menorah which has 8 lights and a 9th in the center called the “Shamash” or Helper candle.
It represents the miracle and the Shekinah or Presence of the Living G-D.
We place our Chanukiyah in the window of the closest to the entrance of our home, to remind us that event.
Throughout history, we as Jews have faced challenges, in places our forefathers could not fathom, and cultures that challenged our beliefs. We have, no matter where we go, and what we encounter along the way, remained faithful to our G-D, our Torah, and our language.
Even in the darkest of nights, G-D’s Presence lights our way and gives us hope.
Next week: What is a Mezuzah?
Dir. Rel. Ed and History