menorah-1079x1920Hanukah commemorates the victory of the Jewish army over Greco-Syrian forces and the subsequent re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C.E. This conflict was triggered by anti-Jewish decrees enacted by the Seleucid ruler of Judea, Antiochus Epiphanes, who wanted to eradicate Judaism in favor of a more dominant and singular Greek culture and religion in the area.

Under the leadership of Mattathias, and later his sons, the Jews staged a revolt and, after more than two years of war, were able to prevail and cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem which had been defiled. Mattathias’ son Judah(Maccabee) became the leader of the revolt which is often referred to as the Maccabean Revolt. Jewish rule was reestablished under the newly formed Hasmonean dynasty which ruled in Judea essentially until the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century B.C.E.

The Maccabean Revolt was not universally supported by the Jewish community of the time. There was a sizable group within the Jewish community that promoted Hellenism and Hellenistic culture and was opposed to the Maccabean Revolt. At the same time the Jews, who wanted to preserve Jewish observance and practice, were fighting foreign forces, were also engaged in a civil war within the Jewish community with the proponents of Hellenization.

The establishment of the Hasmonean Dynasty by one of the brothers of Judah symbolized the “victory” of the Maccabean faction but the internal struggles continued then and indeed continued throughout the history of the Jewish experience up until current day. One of the most persistent challenges and opportunities in Jewish life throughout the generations and in Jewish communities all over the globe has been and remains:

How does the outside culture/society impact Jewish life?

How can we engage with the outside culture and preserve Jewish identity and a meaningful Jewish way of life?

The issues confronted by Jews on both sides of the fence in Judea centuries ago remain very much with us today.

Rituals and Customs

LightThe Hanukiyyah (Hanukah Menorah)FoodSevivon (Dreidel)GiftsBrachot (Blessings)
Light is a central idea of the story of Hanukah and in our observance of the holiday.

From the Talmud we learn that when the Maccabees arrived at the Temple to clean and purify it, they found only one suitable jug of oil with which to light the menorah in the Temple. The oil in that jug would only be expected to last one day. However, the oil miraculously burned for eight days—enough time to make more oil for lighting the Temple menorah. So we observe Hanukah for eight days.

Hanukah is considered a minor holiday and is not mentioned in the Torah. There are no work restrictions on Hanukah.

Contemporary teachers and writers in the Jewish community often use the symbolism of light to reveal some of the most important ideas that inform our celebration of Hanukah today. We see the comparison between light and darkness both actually and in symbol; reflections on the light brought about by the ‘miracle of the oil’ and some modern implications of this belief; and ideas about how Hanukah and its light can bring meaning into our lives in the 21st century.

In his book The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays Rabbi Irving Greenberg writes:

Pessimists and assimilationists have more than once informed Jews that there is no more oil left to burn. As long as Hanukkah is studied and remembered, Jews will not surrender to the night. The proper response, as Hanukkah teaches, is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle.

This passage suggests some very compelling reasons for our celebration of Hanukah today. The lighting of the hanukiyyah is a significant act of affirmation and optimism. The re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees took place in the second century B.C.E, and more than 2000 years later we have managed, at times under very challenging circumstances, to light the flame. May the light we have received continue to burn within us and in every generation to follow.

The hanukiyyah is lit each night of the holiday. The hanukiyyah has 8 spots for candles for each day of Hanukah and a 9th spot for the shamash, the “helper candle.”

On the first night, face the hanukiyyah and place one candle on the far right. Light the shamash candle, recite the brachot/blessings, and then use the shamash to light the candle. On the second night two candles are put in the two far-right positions. Light the candle to the left first, and follow this procedure for each night.

It is customary to place the hanukiyyah in the window to “publicize the miracle of Hanukah.”
For more information on lighting the hanukiyyah, below is a sampling of some websites (there are many more) and there are also many YouTube videos about the lighting ceremony.

Wikihow: Light a Hanukah Menorah

My Jewish Learning: Candlelighting

Hanukah pdf

latkes_1920x1080It is customary to eat foods that contain oil on Hanukah as a reminder of the miracle of the oil. Latkes fried in oil are popular on Hanukah, as are sufganiyot, jelly-filled doughnuts, especially common in Israel.

Dreidel is a Yiddish word that means “to turn around.” Sevivon is the Hebrew word for dreidel, from the Hebrew root “to turn.” Dreidel is a traditional Hanukah game that involves spinning the dreidel/sevivon with various rules attached to the side that appears.

On each of the four sides of the dreidel is a Hebrew letter which is an abbreviation of the sentence: “Nes gadol hayah sham,” “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel the sentence is: “Nes gadol hayah po,” “a great miracle happened here,” and the last letter is different.

Gift giving has historically not been important in the celebration of Hanukah. In generations past, children were often given small gifts of coins referred to as “gelt,” meaning money in Yiddish. The emphasis on giving gifts today in the United States can be understood within the context of the integration of Jews into American society and culture and the often close proximity on the calendar of Hanukah and Christmas.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, she-asah nisim laavoteinu v’imoteinu bayamim hahaeim baz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in days of old at this season.
from reformjudaism.org

Additional Brachah for the first night: Shechayanu
Baruch atah Adonai elohenu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu v’ki-imanu v’higianu lazman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, supported us and enabled us to reach this special time in our lives.

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Have any questions?

Want to chat about Jewish hoidays or Jewish life? Debbie Goodman would love to answer your questions either via email or by phone at 303.316.6317.
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