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20 November 2017 - 3 Kislev 5778 - ג' כסלו ה' אלפים תשע"ח
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The story of Chanukah Print E-mail

Chanukah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on 25 Kislev.

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 and the dress of the Greeks.

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs on the altar.

Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, they joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation and oppression by the Greeks and the revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

At the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defi led by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah 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.

The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah (or a chanukiah) that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height.

 

Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right, (because you pay honour to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Chanukah candles and the shammus) are lit.

It is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukah because of the signifi cance of oil to the holiday, this usually includes latkes. Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added the gift of “gelt,” small amounts of money to children.

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus’ oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an offi cial or inspector was within sight.

A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham”, a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil.

Supplied by Judaism 101 website: www.jewfaq.org

(Issue Dec 09/Jan 10)

 

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