What does the holiday of Hanukkah celebrate?

Hanukkah celebrates two miracles:

a) The 2nd century BCE victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a Hellenistic G‑dless lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.

b) The kindling of a seven-branched Menorah (candelabra) was an important component of the daily service in the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the hands of the Greek invaders, they found only a small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil fit for fueling the Menorah. The problem was, it was sufficient to light the Menorah only for one day, and it would take eight days to produce new pure oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.

What does the word Hanukkah mean?

Hanukkah means “dedication” or “induction.” Following their victory over the Greeks, the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple and its altar, which had been desecrated and defiled by the pagan invaders.

The wordHanukkah can also be divided into two: Chanu—they rested, and Kah—which has the numerical value of 25. On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev the Maccabees rested from their battle, and triumphantly marched into the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, ready to rededicate it.

How is Hanukkah celebrated?

On each of the eight days of Hanukkah, we light the menorah, a nine-branched candelabra, after nightfall (aside for Friday afternoon, when the candles are lit shortly before sunset). On the first night we kindle one light plus the shamash (attendant candle), on the second night we kindle two lights plus the shamash, and so we continue until the eighth night when we kindle all eight lights plus the shamash. The menorah lights can be either candles, or oil and wicks.

It is traditional to eat foods fried in oil on Hanukkah, to commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah which occurred with oil. It is also customary to eat dairy foods during the holiday.

What are some of the traditional Hanukkah foods?

Because of the central role that oil played in the Hanukkah miracle, it is customary to serve foods fried in oil. The traditional foods vary according to country of origin:

Jews of Eastern European (or Ashkenazi) origin eat latkes, fried potato pancakes.

Sephardic Jews eat different varieties of deep-fried doughnuts. Greek Jews call them loukomades; Persian Jews refer to them as zelebi, while in Israel jelly doughnuts are wildly popular and known as sufganiot.

It is also customary to eat dairy foods on Hanukkah, in commemoration of the bravery of Yehudit, who used cheese to defeat the Greek general Holofernes.

Where does the name “Maccabee” come from?

The name Maccabee may come from the Hebrew word for hammer, or for hitting. It is also an acrostic for Mi Kamocha Ba-Elim Hashem! (Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d!)

What does “Dreidel” mean?

Dreidel is a Yiddish word which comes from the word drei, which means to turn, or spin. The dreidel is a specially-designed spinning top used for Hanukkah games.

What is a Dreidel?

Dreidel is Yiddish for a spinning top. A dreidel is a pointed, four-sided top which can be made to spin on its pointed base. Dreidels are normally made of plastic or wood, though there are silver or glass “designer dreidels” available on the market, usually intended for display purposes. It is customary to play dreidel games on the holiday of Hanukkah.

There is a Hebrew letter embossed or printed on each of the dreidel’s four sides. These four letters form the acronym of the phrase Nes gadol hayah sham, “A great miracle happened there”—a reference to the Hanukkah that transpired in the Land of Israel.

The dreidel, known in Hebrew as a sevivon, dates back to the time of the Syrian-Greek rule over the Holy Land—which set off the Maccabean revolt that culminated in the Hanukkah miracle. Learning Torah was outlawed by the enemy, a “crime” punishable by death. The Jewish children resorted to hiding in caves in order to study. If a Greek patrol would approach, the children would pull out their tops and pretend to be playing a game.

By playing dreidel during Hanukkah we are reminded of the courage of those brave children.

Is there any significance to the blue and white Hanukkah candles?

None whatsoever. Hanukkah candles can be any color, shape or size (provided that they burn for the minimum half-hour, or one and a half hours on Friday night).

The colored candles are apparently born of the desire to add an aesthetic touch to the holiday, and perhaps to make it more appealing to the children.

And certain manufacturers decided to give Hanukkah a unique color theme, too. The blue and white of the Israeli flag appealed to them, and thus the reason for the proliferation of blue and white Hanukkah candles.

In what order do we light the candles?

On the first night of Hanukkah, set one candle to the far right of the menorah. On the following night add a second light to the left of the first one, and then add one light each night of Hanukkah—moving from right to left.

Each night, light the newest (leftmost) candle first, and continue lighting from left to right. In other words, we add lights to the menorah from right to left, and we light from left to right.

What is the ninth candle for?

The ninth candle is called the shamash or “attendant” candle. It is used to light the other ones.

© Copyright Chosen People Ministries (Canada) 2019