December 06, 2015

Hanukkah: first victory for freedom of worship

Hanukkiot at Judith and Jeff Green's home
in Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood
Placing Hanukkiot by a window or door fulfills
the commandment to "publicize the miracle."

I first published this post on Hanukkah 2007. Here, I changed only the Hanukkah dates in 2015.

Hanukkah, the eight-day "festival of lights" begins with the lighting of the first candle at sundown on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, also called the Jewish calendar. Each year, the corresponding day on the Gregorian [civil] calendar changes; in 2015, Hanukkah begins at sundown on Sunday, December 6, and at sundown on Monday, December 14.

No matter how the Hebrew word חֲנֻכָּה is transliterated into English (Hanukkah, Hanukka, Chanukka, Chanukkah, [fill in your own]), no matter the era or place people celebrate it —
What is most inspiring about Hanukkah is that it memorializes the first clear victory in history for freedom of worship, a celebration that, as contemporary rabbis point out, belongs to all religious people.
— From the Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

Hanukkah Q&A

What is the difference between a traditional Menorah and a Hanukkah Menorah (Hebrew: Hanukkiah)?
The seven-branched Menorah is a candelabrum of Jewish historical and ritual meaning that appears on ancient coins, gravestones, and synagogue decorations, and is today the seal and emblem of the State of Israel.

The nine-branched Hanukkah Menorah (Hebrew: Hanukkiah) is a candelabrum with eight branches of equal size and height (one for each night of the Hanukkah festival) and a separate (ninth) candleholder for the "Shamash" (Hebrew: attendant). We use the Shamash to light the other eight candles, in observance of the ruling to view the Hanukkah lights, not to use them.

What's the story?
The Hanukkah festival commemorates the (second century BCE) Jewish Maccabees' military victory over the Greek-Syrian army and the rededication of the Second Temple to the worship of God.

Why the lights?
The Temple purification began on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in the year 165 BCE. According to the Talmud, the single-days-worth of pure oil found in the Temple miraculously burned eight days, until more pure oil could be brought.

Victory's message?
"Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit." לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי (Zachariah 4:6, whom we read this Shabbat following the Torah portion).

Where is the history recorded?
The First Book of Maccabees tells how, in response to religious persecution and oppression, Judah Maccabee and his four brothers organized a group of resistance fighters who succeeded to drive the far larger Greek-Syrian army out of Judea.

How do we celebrate this fun festival?
Lighting the Hanukkiah is the central observance. Whereas once all lights were oil lamps, using candles is a lot simpler. The first night, a single candle (or oil-dipped wick) is lit, with an additional one lit each successive night.

While lighting the candles, we recite blessings, chant the ancient Hanerot Hallalu, and play dreidel games. We (over)eat oil-rich foods featuring potato pancakes and Hanukkah donuts called sufganiyot (shown on the right), commemorating the miracle of the oil that burned eight days.

What about gifts?
The custom of giving Hanukkah gelt (money) in the form of gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins to children once brought pure bliss to me and my older sister and to previous generations. (Shiny pennies, won playing dreidel games, were acceptable, too.) I recall the year we got pink gloves! Mine were angora, marking not only graduation from mittens but equally from practical plain wool! My sister's, on the minus side, were wool, while on the plus side, featured black velvet ribbon threaded through each wristband. Whose was the prettier gift? I still wonder.

Who am I remembering this year as I kindle the Hanukkah lights?
My childhood family: my mother and my father, my maternal grandparents, and my sister. My Israeli family.

And I am remembering children everywhere who desperately need light to shine on them. Children whose spirits are darkened by ignorant adults, unemployed or underemployed parents, poor diets, insufficient shelters, shabby clothing, inadequate health care, disinterested leaders, and misguided politicians. Children whose birthright is light daily, and who require comprehensive support and services steadily.

And I ask myself: What am I doing to help shine the light?

10 comments:

Madeline said...

Thankyou for this post! I hope your week is blessed with goof family, friends, food and answered prayers. I listened to a special about this holiday on NPR this past weekend and especially loved the music. I love having this post to refer to with mine or others' questions.

Now, TAG! I am taggin you for a meme. The rules are on my blog. I hope you play, when you have time.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Happy Hanukkah!
I didn't want the first day of this celebration to past without my telling you this. :-)

Anonymous said...

And the neverending question: If the single-days-worth of pure oil found in the Temple miraculously burnt for eight days until more pure oil could be brought, the first day wasn't miraculous, hence Hanuka should be 7 days long!

JeSais said...

thank you so much for sharing... and shining your light.

I too will be "remembering all those children everywhere who desperately need light to shine on them" what a beautiful sentiment, and worthy of passing forward....

May your light continue to shine.

Anonymous said...

La fête des lumières !

Happy Hanukkah, if a little late...
Claude from Blogging in Paris

Ronni Bennett said...

What I terrific Hannukah class. I particularly like learning the difference between the seven and nine branched candelabra. I never knew that before.

Happy Hannukah...

Peter @ Enviroman said...

Hi Tamar,

Thanks for leaving a comment in my blog post Updated post editor - remove image border. I have responded to your comment. Hopefully, it is still relevant for you.

Beachdiary said...

Happy Hanukah, Tamar :-)

Abby said...

Tamar, I love reading your Torah and especially your remeniscence of childhood hannukah celebrations. The pink angora gloves - how divine! And how classy and un-commercial, compared with the Hello Kitty backpack and Barbie toothbrush my daughter was too delighted to receive (she's still at an age where a new toothbrush counts as a gift!)

I'm glad you're doing well and delighted that you're back in Jerusalem!

Abby

Vagabonde said...

I am behind answering comment as we were traveling then I had a bad cold that kept me in bed for over two weeks. I enjoyed reading your post – it was very informative too. I hope you had a nice end of year time and that 2012 will be a happy one for you. We will need to meet around Emory when you are in town – hopefully we will in 2012.