Chanukah is the 8-day Jewish holiday remembering the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucids in the Second Century BCE. The festival lasts eight days, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. This year, Chanukah begins on the night of 12 December. In past years, Chanukah has come as late as Christmas and as early as Thanksgiving.
The celebration is also known as the Festival of Lights. It is observed by lighting candles on a unique candelabra known as a Chanukiah. While most Jewish holidays find their origin in the Bible, his is not true of Chanukah.
The story of Chanukah is preserved in the books of First and Second Maccabees. These books are not a part of the Hebrew Bible. These books primarily account for Jewish history for about 400 years following Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament.
The Land of Israel had been conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. After his death the Seleucids and Ptolemies battled for control of Palestine and Hellenism took hold throughout the region. Under the rule of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greeks attempted to Hellenize the Jews of Israel. The Jews rebelled and Antiochus answered back with cruelty and force. He outlawed religious observances of the Sabbath and the practice of circumcision. He erected a statue of Zeus in the middle of the Holy Temple court and instructed Greek priests to sacrifice pigs on the altars there.
In 167 BCE the Jews rebelled in what became known as the Maccabean revolt. Judas Maccabaeus oversaw the rededication of the Temple in 164 BCE, an event now celebrated as a part of the festival of Chanukah.
One Chanukah story involves the one-day supply of oil for the lamps miraculously lasting eight days – the basis for the Festival of Lights. The account is described in the Talmud, written about 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees. After driving the Greeks from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual oil that was burned in the Temple Menorah (candelabra) had been profaned and left unusable. They found one single container, sealed long ago by a high priest. It had enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for 1 day. They lit the lamp and, miraculously, it burned for 8 days – the exact time that it took to have new oil pressed, dedicated and made ready.
Chanukah is both a time of celebration and a time of remembrance. As part of this celebration and remembrance, Jews consume large quantities of latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot, (jelly donuts) during the holiday. These foods are fried in oil, which serves as a symbol of the story of the oil that lasted for eight days.
Chanukah will be celebrated at Temple Tifereth Israel here in Winthrop on Sunday, 17 December with a Chanukah Party, starting at 11:00 am. There will be food, music, singing and lots of latkes. Everyone is invited to join in the celebration. Call for details and reservations at 617-846-1390.