Chanukah - The Festival of Lights
Chanukah is celebrated for eight days, beginning on the 25th of the Hebrew month, Kislev.
Chanukah recalls the struggle for religious freedom and expression, and commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Hellenistic Syrians in the year, 165 B.C.E.
King Antiochus issued decrees against the practice of Judaism in Judea (now known as Israel, but then considered part of Syria). Specifically, Shabbat observance, the study of Torah, and brit milah (male circumcision) were forbidden on pain of death. Hellenistic rituals and sacrifices were instituted in the Bet HaMikdash (the holy Temple in Jerusalem), thus desecrating the sacred center of Jewish ritual life.
Many Jews were impressed by the culture and power of their Greek conquerers and adopted their customs and practices. These Jews came to be known as "Hellenists". Other Jews were enfuriated by the oppressive decrees aimed at destroying their religion, and vowed revenge. They were led by Mattityahu, a Chashmona'i (Hasmonean) who lived in Modiin with his five sons, who came to be known as the Maccabim. This name is derived from the first letter of each word in the phrase "Mi kamocha ba'elim Hashem?" ("Who is like You, O L-rd, among the mighty?").
After three years of guerrilla warfare in the hills and forests against the strong and powerful armies of Antiochus, the relatively small and poorly armed Maccabim won, and recaptured Jerusalem.
When the Maccabim came to rededicate the Bet HaMikdash by lighting the Menorah (holy candelabra), they could only find enough oil to last one night. By a miracle, this meager amount of oil lasted eight days.
The Significance of Chanukah to us today
There is a difference of opinion as to the true message of Chanukah. Some consider it to be a celebration of Jewish courage and strength - the amazing victory of the Maccabim over the mighty army of Antiochus.
Others emphasize the miracle of the oil, which lasted for eight days and celebrate G-d's help in the Maccabim's military victory.
Perhaps these two perspectives can be somewhat integrated. Chanukah can be percieved as a time when light is born from darkness, hope from despair, and freedom from oppression.
Also on the WUJS site:
Chanukah Sources: Historical, traditional, and contemporary.
Chanukah Recipes: Yum!
How to light the Chanukah Menorah
This year's dates for Chanukah can be found in our WUJS Year Mapper.