Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Hanukkah

(Sorry I haven't had time to research so again I'm just using Wikipedia and listing additional resources at the end).

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah or Hanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, began at sundown yesterday.

Hanukkah is from the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration". It marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil."

Around 200 BC Jews lived in the Land of Israel (Judea), which was then controlled by Syria. They paid taxes to Syria, accepted its legal authority and were free to follow their own faith, maintain jobs, and engage in trade. By 175 BC, a new king ascended to the throne and under his reign, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted, Jews were massacred, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple.

This provoked a large-scale revolt against Antiochus which was successful by 165 BC. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. Judah (the new Jewish leader) 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. But there was only enough consecrated oil (that had not been profaned by the occupiers) to burn for one day. However, miraculously, 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.

Hanukkah is celebrated by a series of rituals that are performed every day throughout the 8-day holiday. Some are family-based and others are 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.

The primary ritual, according to Jewish law and custom, is to light a single light each night for eight nights. The number of lights lit is increased by one each night. The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the "lighting of the house within", but rather for the "illumination of the house without," so that passers-by should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle. Accordingly lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street.

In North America it is common to exchange presents or give children presents at this time.



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