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Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hanukkah


found pic @ Google Images
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. This year, it starts today, December 8th by sunset.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of eight branches with an additional raised branch. The extra light is called a shamash and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves is forbidden.

Background
The name "Hanukkah" derives from the Hebrew verb "חנך", meaning to dedicate. On Hanukkah, the Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple.
When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BC, Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple. Antiochus's actions provoked a large-scale revolt.
Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons (Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah) led a rebellion against Antiochus. By 166 BC Mattityahu had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BC the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful.
The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event. 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. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

Rituals
Sufganiyot (kind of fried jelly doughnuts)photo credits: Inhabitots
Hanukkah is celebrated by a series of rituals that are performed every day throughout the 8-day holiday, some are family-based and others communal. There are special additions to the daily prayer service, and a section is added to the blessing after meals. Hanukkah is not a "Sabbath-like" holiday, and there is no obligation to refrain from activities that are forbidden on the Sabbath.
Adherents go to work as usual, but may leave early in order to be home to kindle the lights at nightfall. There is no religious reason for schools to be closed, although, in Israel, schools close from the second day for the whole week of Hanukkah. Many families exchange small gifts each night, such as books or games. Fried foods are eaten to commemorate the importance of oil during the celebration of Hanukkah.

image credits: lovefromtheoven
Source:  Johnston, S. (2004). Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide. Harvard University Press & Greenberg, I. (1993). The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. Simon & Schuster (slightly abridged and adapted)

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