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December 11, 1987 - Image 181

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-12-11

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A Christian Perspective On Chanukah


Each Advent the Church
struggles to preserve the true
meaning and spirit of Christmas in
the face of crass commercialization.
This Advent we Christians might
also do well to reflect on the way in
which our celebration of Christmas,
whether spiritual or over-
commercialized, tends to obscure
the Jewish feast of Chanukah, being
celebrated this year from Dec. 15 to
23 in Jewish homes and
synagogues around the world.
The only similarity between our
feast of Christmas and the Jewish
feast of Chanukah is that they occur
coincidentally around the same time
of the year. The date of the
celebration of Chanukah, however,
is not reckoned according to our
Gregorian calendar. Instead, the
observance is to begin on "the 25th
day of the ninth month, that is, the
month of Kislev," as determined by
the Jewish calendar (November and
December in our calendar). Thus,
the proximity of Chanukah and
Christmas is purely accidental and
the meaning and spirit of the two
feasts are quite different.
In 175 B.C., King Antiochus
Epiphanes seized the throne of
Syria, coming to power over the
territory of Israel as well. Antiochus,
enamored of Greek culture,
immediately launched a campaign
to force the Jewish people to
abandon their way of life and adopt
Greek customs, religion, and
language. The people were
forbidden to follow the prescriptions
of the Mosaic Law. Hallowed
traditions such as circumcision and
ritual sacrifices were prohibited.
Many Jews willingly complied,
embracing Hellenistic culture
enthusiastically. Those who refused
were subjected to harassment and
cruel mistreatment. In the course of
this persecution, the Temple in
Jerusalem was desecrated by pagan
The profanation of the Temple
sanctuary in 167 B.C. was the spark
that lit the fuse of rebellion against
the Syrians and their Jewish
sympathizers. The family of Judas
Maccabeus (for whom the Books of
Maccabees are named) led the ,
fierce and ultimately successful
resistance to the Syrians' attempted
suppression of Judaism.
Two years after the desecration
of the Temple, Judas recaptured it
and solemnly cleansed it of all
traces of the pagan's cult. The
ceremony of the rededication and
consecreation of the Temple was
the institution of the feast of
Chanukah — in Hebrew,
According to legend, the Jews

had found only enough consecrated
oil for the ceremony to keep the
sanctuary's Eternal Light burning for
one day. However, the one-day
supply miraculously lasted for eight
days, after which a fresh supply of
oil was obtained.
This miracle is reflected in the
central ceremony of the traditional
Chanukah celebration: the lighting
of the menorah (an eight-branched
candelabrum), kindling one light on
the first night of the feast, two on
the second, and so forth until all the
candles are lit on the eighth and
last day of the feast. This ceremony
gives Chanukah its alternate name,
"Festival of Lights."

Just as certain traditions have
grown up around the celebration of
Christmas (decorating the tree,
exchanging gifts), so too have a
number of distinctive customs
become part of the Jewish
observance of Chanukah. The most
detailed and elaborate of these
pertain to the evening's kindling of
the proper number of lights on the
The lights of the menorah are
holy and not to be used for
illumination. Although each member
of the family may have a separate
menorah if desired, one per
household is sufficient. The ritual
prescribes specific prayers and

blessings to accompany the lighting
of the menorah. It indicates which
candles are to be lit and in what
order. It also encourages the
household to offer psalms and
songs of praise to God in gratitude
for the victories and miracles that
Chanukah commemorates.
Neither fasting nor abstaining
from work is an integral feature of
Chanukah, as they are of Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While
the predominant mood of Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur is one of
awareness of one's faults, atoning
for sin, and seeking reconciliation
with those we have hurt, the
atmosphere of Chanukah is festive.
The Jewish community may attend
classes and transact business as
usual, and hearty meals expressive
of joy and thanksgiving are
prepared throughout the eight days
of the celebration.

The giving of gifts was not
originally part of the observance of
Chanukah. Under the influence of
our celebration of Christmas, the
American Jewish community has
extensively incorporated both the
exchange of gifts and the use of
holiday decorations into the Festival
of Lights. Children naturally delight
in these features of Chanukah in
America while enjoying the more
traditional elements of the

celebration meant for youngsters:
the giving of distinctive Chanukah
coins (gelt) and playing with the
dreidel, a four-sided top inscribed
with Hebrew letters representing the
phrase, "A great miracle happened

This great miracle was not
simply a one-day supply of oil
lasting for eight days. The most
profound cause for celebration is
the unswerving fidelity of the Jewish
people to their God and to their
religion in the face of an oppression
notorious for its harshness and
cruelty. Chanukah is a wondrous
reminder of the people's willingness
to preserve their relationship with
God even at the cost of their lives.
Chanukah's spirit of total dedication
to the Lord is an important part of
our heritage as Christians.

We join our Jewish brethren in
prayers of thanksgiving to God for
their faithfulness to him. We add
our own prayers of gratitude for
their gift of Jesus to the world. And
we ask the Lord to help us reflect in
our own lives the same spirit of
dedication and loyalty that, for two
thousand years, has characterized
the Jewish observance of

Reprinted with permission from Liguorian
Magazine, December 1987.



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