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|Holiday of:||Judaism and Jews|
|Name:||Hebrew: חנכה or חנוכה|
|Translation:||"Renewal/Rededication" (of the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem)|
|Begins:||25th day of Kislev|
|Ends:||2nd/3rd day of Tevet|
|Occasion:||One of two Rabbinical Festivals (the other is Purim.) The Maccabees and Judas Maccabeus' successful rebellion against the ancient Greeks. The purification of the Temple. The miracle of the Menorah's lights burning for eight days with only enough (olive) oil for one day. The victory of the "few" over the "many", the "pure" over the "impure".|
|Symbols:||(See Hanukkah rituals): Lighting a candle each night of Hanukkah in a small Menorah (Chanukiah) near a window for eight nights. Spinning a dreidel (sevivon), eating some foods fried in oil like a latke or doughnuts (sufganiyot).|
|Related to:||Purim (as a rabbinically decreed holiday.)|
Hanukkah (חנכה ḥănukkāh, or חנוכה ḥănūkkāh) is a Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of lights. "Hanukkah" is a Hebrew word meaning "dedication". It also has other spellings in English, such as Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanukah, Chanuka, Chanukkah, Hanuka, Channukah, Hanukka, Hanaka, Haneka, Hanika, and Khanukkah. The first evening of Hanukkah starts after the sunset of the 24th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Since in Jewish tradition the calendar date starts at sunset, Hanukkah begins on the 25th.
The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. These books are not part of the Hebrew Bible, but are part of the deuterocanonical historical and religious material from the Septuagint; this material was not later codified by Jews as part of the Bible, but was so codified by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Another, probably later, source is the Megillat Antiokhos — a text ascribed to the Maccabees themselves by Saadia Gaon, but more likely written around the first or second century CE.
Around 200 BCE Jews lived as an autonomous people in the land of Israel, which at this time was controlled by the Seleucid King of Syria. The Jewish people paid taxes to Syria and accepted its legal authority, and by and large were free to follow their own faith, maintain their own jobs, and engage in trade.
By 180 BCE Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended to the Seleucid throne. At first little changed, but under his reign Jews were gradually forced to violate the precepts of their faith. Jews rebelled at having to do this. Under the reign of Antiochus IV, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed.
In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Judah Maccabee (Judah The Hammer). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated.
The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Judah Maccabee and his brothers to celebrate this event. (1 Macc. iv. 59). After having recovered Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one, and new holy vessels to be made. When the fire had been kindled anew upon the altar and the lamps of the candlestick lit, the dedication of the altar was celebrated for eight days amid sacrifices and songs (1 Macc. iv. 36).
A number of historians believe that the reason for the eight day celebration was that the first Hanukkah was in effect a belated celebration of the festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (Macc. x. 6 and i. 9). During the war the Jews were not able to celebrate Sukkot properly. Sukkot also lasts for eight days, and was a holiday in which the lighting of lamps played a prominent part during the Second Temple period (Suk.v. 2-4). Lights were also kindled in the household, and the popular name of the festival was, therefore, according to Josephus ( Jewish Antiquities xii. 7, § 7, #323) the "Festival of Lights" ("And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights"). It has been noted that Jewish festivals are connected to the harvesting of the Biblical seven fruits which Israel was famed for. Pesach is a celebration of the barley harvest, Shavuoth of the wheat, Sukkoth of the figs, dates, pomegranates and grapes, and Hanukkah of the olives. The olive harvest is in November and olive oil would be ready in time for Hanukkah in December.
In the Talmud
The miracle of Hanukkah is referred to in the Talmud, but not in the books of the Maccabees. This holiday marks the defeat of Seleucid forces who had tried to prevent Israel from practising Judaism. Judah Maccabee and his brothers destroyed overwhelming forces, and rededicated the Temple. The eight-day festival is marked by the kindling of lights with a special menorah, traditionally known amongst most Sephardim as a hanukkah, and amongst many Balkan Sephardim and in Modern Hebrew as a hanukiah.
The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) says that after the occupiers had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees went in to take down the pagan statues and restore the Temple. They discovered that most of the ritual items had been profaned. They sought ritually purified olive oil to light a Menorah to rededicate the Temple. However, they found only enough oil for a single day. They lit this, and went about purifying new oil. Miraculously, that tiny amount of oil burned for the eight days it took to have new oil pressed and made ready. It is for this reason that Jews light a candle each night of the festival.
In the Talmud two customs are presented. It was usual either to display eight lamps on the first night of the festival, and to reduce the number on each successive night; or to begin with one lamp the first night, increasing the number till the eighth night. The followers of Shammai favored the former custom; the followers of Hillel advocated the latter (Talmud, tractate Shabbat 21b). Josephus believed that the lights were symbolic of the liberty obtained by the Jews on the day that Hanukkah commemorates.
The Talmudic sources (Meg. eodem; Meg. Ta'an. 23; compare the different version Pes. R. 2) ascribe the origin of the eight days' festival, with its custom of illuminating the houses, to the miracle said to have occurred at the dedication of the purified Temple. This was that the one small cruse of consecrated oil that the Hasmonean priests found to be unpolluted when they entered the Temple, it having been sealed and hidden away. This small amount lasted for eight days until new oil could be prepared for the lamps of the holy candlelabrum. A legend similar in character, and obviously older in date, is the one alluded to in 2 Macc. 1:18 et seq., according to which the relighting of the altar-fire by Nehemiah was due to a miracle which occurred on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, and which appears to be given as the reason for the selection of the same date for the rededication of the altar by Judah Maccabeus.
New interpretations of Hanukkah
Before the 20th century, Hanukkah was a relatively minor holiday. However, with the rise of Christmas as the biggest holiday in the Western world and the establishment of the modern state of Israel, Hanukkah began increasingly to serve both as a celebration of the restoration of Jewish sovereignity in Israel and, more importantly, as a December family-oriented gift-giving holiday which could be a Jewish substitute for the Christian one. It is important to note that the view of Hanukkah as a replacement for Christmas is not universally held, and many Jews do not place this extra significance on what they consider a relatively unimportant holiday. Jewish children, primarily amongst Ashkenazim, also play a game where they spin a four-sided top with Hebrew lettering called a dreidel.
Influence on Christianity
During the last few decades, many evangelical Christians have re-examined the Jewish roots of their faith and have increasingly become aware of and adopted many feasts and celebrations of the Jewish faith. This tendency is especially evident among messianic disciples, but is by no means restricted to these groups. Many of them light the Hanukkah menorah and observe other Hanukkah rituals. In addition to this, some allege a connection between the miracle of the light being given in the Temple and the birth of Jesus (whom they call "the Light of the world"). Some hold that Hanukkah (the 25th of Kislev), not December 25, is actually the proper date for celebrating the birth of Jesus. Thus they combine or conflate the two celebrations (Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus), while others continue to keep them separate and celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas.
In recent years an amalgam of Christmas and Hanukkah, dubbed Chrismukkah has emerged. The new holiday started amongst mixed Christian and Jewish families as a way to celebrate both holidays simultaniously.
- 198 BCE: Armies of the Seleucid King Antiochus III (Antiochus the Great) oust Ptolemy V from Judea and Samaria.
- 180 BCE: Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) ascends the Seleucid throne.
- 168 BCE: Under the reign of Antiochus IV, the Temple is looted, Jews are massacred, and Judaism is outlawed.
- 167 BCE: Antiochus orders an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. Mattathias, and his five sons John, Simon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah lead a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah becomes known as Judah Maccabe (Judah The Hammer).
- 166 BCE: Mattathias dies, and Judah takes his place as leader. The Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom begins; It lasts until 63 BCE
- 165 BCE: The Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy is successful. The Temple is liberated and rededicated (Hanukkah).
- 142 BCE: Establishment of the Second Jewish Commonwealth. The Seleucids recognize Jewish autonomy. The Seleucid kings have a formal overlordship, which the Hasmoneans acknowledged. This inaugurates a period of great geographical expansion, population growth, and religious, cultural and social development.
- 139 BCE: The Roman Senate recognizes Jewish autonomy.
- 130 BCE: Antiochus VII besieges Jerusalem, but withdraws.
- 131 BCE: Antiochus VII dies. Israel throws off Syrian rule completely
- 96 BCE: An eight year civil war begins.
- 83 BCE: Consolidation of the Kingdom in territory east of the Jordan River.
- 63 BCE: The Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom comes to an end due to rivalry between the brothers Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II, both of whom appeal to the Roman Republic to intervene and settle the power struggle on their behalf. The Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) is dispatched to the area. Twelve thousand Jews are massacred as Romans enter Jerusalem. The Priests of the Temple are struck down at the Altar. Rome annexes Judea.
Dates that Hanukkah falls on in the Gregorian calendar
Hanukkah begins on the evening prior to these dates.
- December 12, 1990
- December 2, 1991
- December 20, 1992
- December 9, 1993
- November 28, 1994
- December 18, 1995
- December 6, 1996
- December 24, 1997
- December 14, 1998
- December 4, 1999
- December 22, 2000
- December 10, 2001
- November 30, 2002
- December 20, 2003
- December 8, 2004
- December 26, 2005
- December 16, 2006
- December 5, 2007
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