Chanukah

By Neha Shah and Anna McCracken

When and How Does It All Connect?


Chanukah, also spelled Chanukah, Chanukah, or Hanukkah is the eight day festival that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month called Kislev. Chanukah is called the Feast of Dedication, Feast of Lights or the Feast of the Maccabees. It is a Jewish festival which is celebrated for eight consecutive days; December 17th through December 24th, (These are the dates through which the next Chanukah will be celebrated in). Chanukah is celebrated because of an important event that occurred in the past. Chanukah commemorates the dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day of the festival. According to Maccabees, the celebration of Chanukah had been started by Judas Maccabeus in 165 BCE in order to celebrate his victory over the Seleucid king; Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This king had invaded Judaea, tried to Hellenize the Jews, and desecrated the Second Temple in Jerusalem.


After Judas Maccabeus’s victory in a three-year struggle against Antiochus (the Greek king), Judas ordered the cleansing and restoration of the Second Temple. After the temple was purified, a new altar was installed and dedicated on Kislev 25th, (Kislev is a Jewish month). The only problem was that the eternal flame, (a sacred fire which must be burning forever), had only enough oil to last it one more day until the fire burned out. Just as the people were panicking because they had no more shipments of oil, the miracle happened. The eternal fire’s oil flame had run for eight days until the new shipments of oil came in! Judas then proclaimed that the dedication of the restored Temple should be celebrated every year for eight days in remembrance of this miracle. One Rabbinic tradition says that the Temple may have needed eight days to become purified. The process of purification consisted of having the temple be sprinkled with clean water that had been mixed with the ashes of a sacrificial red heifer, (a heifer is a type of cow). The sprinkling would have occurred on days number three and seven, and only the next day could the Hasmoneans who were now ritually cleansed, produce a new batch of purified oil. Another explanation, the one heard more often, claims that it took eight days to obtain olives and crush them into oil. The oil burned extraordinarily slowly, diminishing only a bit for each of the eight days. Beyond any symbolic explanations for the number eight there are some more practical, concrete, and commemorative explanations. The Apocrypha, (writings or reports not considered genuine), provides a basic narrative about Hanukkah. The First Book of the Maccabees (c. 100 BCE), is believed to have been written in Israel. This book refers to Hanukkah as a holiday of thanksgiving and joy. The Second Book of the Maccabees ("second," but slightly earlier, c. 124 BCE), written in Egypt, gives a reasonable historical reason why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, yet it lacks any reference to a miracle.

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The Second Temple (The picture above), was an important Jewish Holy Temple located on the Temple Mountain in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Upcoming Chanukah

Wednesday, Dec. 17th, 4:15pm

Acton, MA, United States

Acton, MA

Chanukah begins at sundown at about 4:15 pm (4:13 pm to be precise) in Acton, MA. It goes on from December 17th, 2014 to December 24th, 2014 and it also ends at sundown (4:13 pm).

Did You Know?

The Jewish Law requires every Jewish person to light his or her own chanukiah.

This is why families will often own multiple chanukiot (plural of chanukiah), with simple, wooden ones being used for younger children. Once all the chanukiot are lit, families sing songs about the great Maccabees.

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The picture above is of a person lighting the chanukiah (from left to right with the center candle) while a young baby with a chanukah book watches intently.

The Rituals Of Chanukah

A custom that occurs throughout Chanukah is that during it, Jewish people use an object called a menorah. A menorah is a Hebrew word that means, “candelabrum”. It is a vase like sculpture with nine “branches”. It has nine branches for the eight days of Chanukah and the branch in the middle (The ninth branch) is known as the shamash. The shamash is the candle used to light all the other candles that you place in each branch of the menorah. A long time ago people decided to use candles instead of oil as a part of this ritual. Another name for the menorah is hanukkiyah. Today, the menorah is a major symbol of Israel. A common custom of Chanukah is to play a game with an object called a dreidel. The word dreidel in German means spinning top and it is part of a traditional Chanukah game, influenced from a German gambling game. A dreidel has four square sides in the middle and of the four sides are have the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. The game is begun by putting a certain number of coins, chocolate money (known as gelt), buttons, or nuts as the stakes. Then each person gets a chance to spin the dreidel and whenever it lands on something, you read it that side of the dreidel and do as it says. Translation for the words:


  • nun – take nothing

  • gimmel – take everything

  • hey – take half

  • shin – put one in


A main ritual of Chanukah is the lighting of the candles. The candles represent the eternal flame and there are eight candles because of the eight days that the oil had lasted. The Chanukah candles are held in place by the chanukkiah, a candelabra that holds nine candles. (The chanukkiah is different from a menorah, which is a candelabra that holds seven candles). One candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah, another is lit on the second, and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night. The candles are added from the right, but they are lit starting with the first candle on the left side, (representing the current night). During or after lighting the candles, the following phrases/sentences are spoken aloud:

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Presence, Who sanctifies us with the mitzvot and gives us this path of kindling the light of Hanukkah.

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Presence, Who worked miracles for our ancestors in ancient days at this time.

On the first night of Chanukah, a special blessing is added:

Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Universal Presence, Who keeps us in Life always, Who supports the unfolding of our uniqueness, and Who brings us to this very moment for blessing. Once the candles are lit, they cannot be used again for any other purpose such as lighting other candles or reading. The candles must burn for at least half an hour. Also, the chanukkiah should be placed behind a window to show the miracle which it represents.



Over time, the letters on the dreidel were reinterpreted to stand for the first letter of each word in the Hebrew statement, “Neis gadol hayah sham,” which means “A great miracle happened there.” This refers to the defeat of the Syrian army and the re-dedication of the Temple. In Israel, one letter on the dreidel differs from those used in the rest of the world. The word “shin” has been replaced with the word “pey,” transforming the Hebrew statement into, “Neis gadol hayah po,” which means, “A great miracle happened here.” The principal event of the holiday; the battle between the Maccabees and the Greeks, is post-Biblical. The Chanukah story is not written about in the Torah. It happened several hundred years after the Torah is believed to have been given to the Jewish people, on Mount Sinai. Jewish people all over the world know these stories and honor them most during Chanukah. During the holiday of Chanukah, a traditional Chanukah song called Ma’Oz Tzur (“Rock of Ages”) is sung directly after you light the candles on the menorah. This song was first composed around the 12th or 13th century. Some other songs that are played or sung during the holiday are “Light One Candle,” (written by Peter Yarrow), “The Latke Song,” (by Debbie Friedman), “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” (composer unknown), and “Sivivon sov, sov,sov,” (by Rock of Ages) (translation in English). A common food that Jews eat during Chanukah are latkes (pancakes made from potatoes). Also, people feast upon sufganiyot which are fried jelly donuts. Food cooked in oil are eaten at the time of Chanukah because it shows remembrance of the sacred oil that the eternal flame had used to burn for eight days instead of only one. Another ritual that happens during Chanukah is the people gathered together say the blessings while one person grasps the shamash (the extra candle in the center) and then lights the other candles with the shamash. In the course of Chanukah, two blessings are spoken each night. First, people thank the candles themselves in the first blessing and thank the miracle of deliverance in the second. The third blessing is only said on the first night of Chanukah and it is thanking all the happy and joyful occasions in Jewish life. The third blessing is also known as the Shehecheyanu.

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The picture above shows the traditional/sacred Chanukah objects/food; a jelly donut fried in oil (to commemorate the sacred oil of the eternal flame), a menorah, and two dreidels.
Hanukkah oh Hanukkah - GLEE CAST lyrics
The video above is of a Chanukah song called, "Hanukkah oh Hanukkah," by an unknown composer.

Glossary

candelabrum- a large branched candle holder with either seven or nine candle branches.

shamash- The middle candle that is used to light the other candles.

dreidel- A spinning top with four sides that each have different Hebrew symbols.

menorah- A vase-like sculpture which has nine branches to hold candles.

hanukkiah- Another name for a menorah.

sufganiyot- Round, deep fried jelly doughnuts filled with jelly or custard and topped with powdered sugar. Popular among the people of Israel and Jewish people around the world.

latkes- Traditional Jewish food similar to pancakes made out of potatoes.

shehecheyanu-Third blessing spoken on the first night of Chanukah.

Work Cited

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