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Hanukkah (Hebrew: חנוכה‎, also spelled Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, which may fall anytime from late November to late December. It celebrates the re-kindling of the Temple menorah at the time of the Maccabee rebellion.

The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each night of the holiday - one on the first night, two on the second, and so on.
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Commemoration

Hanukkah, from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration", marks the re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil." According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days - which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate new oil.

 

 

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Hanukkah is also mentioned in the deuterocanonical books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. 1 Maccabees states: "For eight days they celebrated the rededication of the altar. Then Judah and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the rededication...should be observed...every year...for eight days. (1 Mac.4:56-59)" According to 2 Maccabees, "the Jews celebrated joyfully for eight days as on the feast of Booths."

The martyrdom of Hannah and her seven sons has also been linked to Hanukkah. According to the Talmudic story[1] and Book of Maccabees, a Jewish woman named Hannah and her seven sons were tortured and executed by Antiochus' for refusing to bow down to a statue and eat pork, in violation of Jewish law.

Historically, Hanukkah commemorates two events:

* The triumph of Judaism's spiritual values as embodied in the Torah (symbolized by the Menorah, since the Torah is compared to light) over Hellenistic civilization (considered darkness). Under Antiochus IV, Jewish religious practices were outlawed, and Greek religious symbols were forcibly installed in the Second Temple.
* The victory of the Jews over the armies of Antiochus IV. The rebellion, begun by Mattathias Maccabee and continued by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, ended in a resounding victory of the "few against the many" and the rededication of the Second Temple.

Because Judaism as a religion shies away from glorifying military victories, the Hasmoneans later became corrupt, and civil war between Jews is viewed as deplorable, Hanukkah does not formally commemorate these historical events. Instead, it focuses on the Miracle of the Oil and the positive spiritual aspects of the Temple's rededication; The oil becomes a metaphor for the miraculous survival of the Jewish people through millennia of trials and tribulations.

Name

The name "Hanukkah" is interpreted in many ways.[2]

* Some scholars say the word was derived from the Hebrew verb "חנך" meaning "to dedicate." When a new house is built, it is customary to hold a "חנוכת בית" or dedication ceremony, before moving in. On Hanukkah, the Jews mark the rededication of the House of the Lord.[3]

* Others argue that the name can be broken down into "חנו", from the Hebrew word for encampment, and the Hebrew letters כ"ה, which stand for the 25th day of Kislev, the day on which the holiday begins: Hence, the Jews sat in their camp, i.e., rested from fighting, on the 25th day of Kislev.[4]

* Hanukkah is also the Hebrew acronym for "ח' נרות והלכה כבית הלל" meaning "eight candles as determined by House of Hillel". This is a reference to the disagreement between two rabbinical schools of thought - Hillel and the House of Shammai - on the proper way to light Hanukkah candles. Shammai said that eight candles should be lit from the start, and reduced by one candle every night, whereas Hillel argued in favor of starting with one candle and lighting an additional one every night. The custom today is based on Hillel's opinion.