Chanukah Over View
Here is an overview of the Chanukah story with directions for lighting your chanukiot. Skip to the bottom if you only want directions for proper lighting.
Wishing you all a light and bright Chanukah –
Rabbi Sandy Rosenstein
The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BCE. Our tradition tells us that the Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in what we call the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev, Tuesday night this year, and we celebrate it by lighting the chanukiah – or Chanukah menorah for 8 consecutive nights.
The story of Chanukah begins around 200 BCE in Judea—also known as the Land of Israel. The country was under the control of the Syrian Greeks and we were living together companionably enough until the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, began his reign. He outlawed the practice of Judaism, even worse, he ordered our ancestors to worship Greek gods. In 168 BCE his soldiers over Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the Holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
That was the last straw! A huge rebellion broke out between the Armies of the Seleucid King Antiochus and his Syrian Greek Army and the Jews. The Jewish rebels were lead by a priest named Mattathias and his five sons. This was a large-scale rebellion. When Mattathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took the helm; within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying largely on guerilla warfare tactics. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first documented guerilla war in history. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.
According to the Talmud, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find and/or purify a fresh supply suitable for ritual purposes. This wondrous event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival. (The first Book of the Maccabees tells another version of the story, describing an eight-day celebration that followed the rededication but making no reference to the miracle of the oil.)
OTHER INTERPRETATIONS OF THE HANUKKAH STORY
Some modern historians offer a radically different interpretation of the Hanukkah tale. In their view, Jerusalem under Antiochus IV had erupted into civil war between two camps of Jews: those who had assimilated into the dominant culture that surrounded them, adopting Greek and Syrian customs; and those who were determined to impose Jewish laws and traditions, even if by force. The traditionalists won out in the end, with the Hasmonean dynasty—led by Judah Maccabee’s brother and his descendants—wresting control of the Land of Israel from the Seleucids and maintaining an independent Jewish kingdom for more than a century.
Jewish scholars have also suggested that the first Hanukkah may have been a belated celebration of Sukkot, which the Jews had not had the chance to observe during the Maccabean Revolt. Sukkot, as you know, is one of our three pilgrimage festivals and is an extremely important holiday which in essence, completes the annual High Holy Day cycle.
How to light the chanukiah (Chanukah menorah)
Load the candles from right to left. Each day you add one more candle. Tonight we put the first candle in the holder all the way to the right. Tomorrow night you put a candle in that spot and the spot to its left. Continue in that fashion. We use the Shamash (the helper candle) to light each of the candles mentioned above.
When we light those candles each night, light from LEFT to RIGHT.
Be mindful of where you set your chanukiah. In a window for all to see is the tradition, but where ever you place it, be careful that it will not burn or singe anything in your home. Use a piece of foil or cookie sheet or something non-flammable under your chanukiah, as it gets very hot!
See you all at the various candle lighting ceremonies this week and at services this Shabbat.