Hanukkah & The Origin of the Chanukkiah

Hanukkah MenorahThe eight day festival of Hanukkah, which commemorates the Jewish Maccabean triumph over their Seleucid-Greek occupiers in the 2nd Century BCE, brings to light one of Judaism's most joyful holidays. Recalling the struggle of Jews living in the Land of Israel, or Palestine as it came to be known, Jews all over the world celebrate their miracle victory as well as the even greater miracle of the Hanukkah lights.

The Hanukkah festival, which begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, reminds the Jewish people of the victory of Jewish rebellion over their Greek occupiers in Palestine and of the re-dedication of the Second Temple, after it had been defiled by the Seleucids, who have conducted worship to their pagan gods in the Temple edifice. The legendary miracle of the oil burning in the Temple Menorah for eight days is a part of the festival, in which Jewish households light candles in Chanukkiah or eight candle Menorah's.

History recalls that upon the death of ancient Greece's greatest military leader, Alexander Magnus (known as The Great) on June 10, 323 BCE, the vast empire he had forged during more than ten years of conquests was divided amongst four of his most trusted generals. The part of the empire that included Palestine was given to one named Seleucius, who established his headquarters in the great Syrian city of Damascus. During the years that the 'Seleucids' had control over the inhabitants of Palestine, including it's Jewish inhabitants, life may not have been as harsh as Jewish history has often portrayed it; as long as one was willing to live according to the Hellenistic or Grecian way of life, that is.

Jewish Menorah in PewterJewish inhabitants of Palestine had the choice of either accepting Greek culture, called Hellenism, or suffer persecution and even death. Had it not been for a number of religious Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, who rebelled against the pagan practices of Hellenism, which also included eating pork and other foods forbidden in Judaism, the Greek Way might have resulted in a quite different course for Jewish history and for the inhabitants of Palestine.

Following the Maccabees led victory over the Seleucids, the Temple had to be cleaned and rededicated to the worship of God. This rededication resulted in the story of the miracle of the oil for lighting the Temple ritual lamps; which despite being a small amount, burned for eight days.

More than two millennia have passed since the rebellion by the Maccabees and their followers against the Seleucids and Hellenism; and the "glory that was Greece" as well as the "grandeur that was Rome" is no more. Modern Jews today celebrate the Hanukkah festival by lighting candles of oil lamps, adding an additional light each day until eight lights are finally lit on the evening of the eighth day. Special holiday foods and prepared including potato pancakes called latkes, as well as a special jam filled donut known as Sufganiyot. In addition to singing holiday songs, Hanukkah games are played using a four sided spinning top known as a Sevivon or Dreidel.

In modern Israel, that same place where Judah the Maccabee led his guerilla army against overwhelming odds, the Hanukkah festival takes on an even greater significance, and children are given a vacation from their studies during the festival's entirety. Hanukkah activities include entertainment for all ages, and nightly Hanukkah candle lighting ceremonies in town centers or shopping malls. Parents often give their children a Jewish gift for every night of the festival, making the holiday even more special for children.

Much time has passed since the time of the Maccabees. By relying on the religious traditions of their ancient heritage, Jews can help keep the meaning of festivals like Hanukkah, and preserve their way of life.