What does Hanukkah celebrate?


Chanukah Guide


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Hanukkah Guide

By Nachum Mohl

What does Hanukkah celebrate?

During the period of the Second Temple, the Greeks issued drastic and evil decrees against the Jews forbidding them to study the Torah or to observe its mitzvoth. They violated their daughters and desecrated the holiness of the Temple. The Greeks were determined to destroy our belief in G-d.

The sons of the Hasmonean High priest rebelled against them and eventually defeated the great Greek army, saving the Jews from the oppressive decrees and restoring the purity to the holy Temple. The Jewish kingdom of Israel was re-established under the rule of the Hasmoneans and lasted for more than two hundred years.

After prevailing over their enemies, they entered the defiled Temple to purify it and found only one small jar of oil that had the intact seal of the High Priest. All the other jars of oil were defiled by the Greeks. This was on the twenty-fifth of Kislev. Although the oil in the single jar was sufficient for only one day, yet when they lighted the menorah in the Temple it lasted for eight days until they were able to extract pure olive oil.

The sages of that generation decreed that the eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth of Kislev be set aside as days of rejoicing and thanksgiving. Each night for eight days candles are lit at sundown to proclaim and recall that miracle.

The name Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word 'chanu' meaning 'they rested' and the Hebrew date '25' pronounced in Hebrew 'ka' because on the twenty-fifth of Kislev the Jews rested from their enemies.

Another reason is to remember the dedication and consecration (from the Hebrew word 'chanech') of the Temple which was purified from our enemies. Therefore it is important to celebrate by eating a bit better and to be joyous during this time. It is traditionally a time to get together with our friends and families, eat together, sing together, and re-tell the story of Chanukah, that it not be forgotten, but it be forever engraved in our hearts. Fasting is not permitted during this time. Charity should be given out liberally.

Work is permitted during the eight days but women customarily refrain for working while the Hanukkah lights are burning and we should not permit them to disregard this tradition. The actual practice of women refraining from work lasts only for the first thirty minutes, since that is the minimum time for the candle to be lit. The reason for this custom is two fold. First, the wicked Greeks decreed that a young bride must cohabit with the governor before her marriage and secondly is that women were actively involved in the final deliverance from the oppressor. The daughter of Yochanan, the high priest, was a very attractive young lady. The cruel ruler requested her to be with him. She accepted his request and prepared for him dishes of cheese which caused him to be thirsty. She then gave him wine which intoxicated him. When he fell asleep she cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem. When the Greek armies saw their king was dead, they panicked and fled. From this comes the custom of eating dairy dishes on Hanukah.

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from the December 2007 Chanukah Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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