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December 02, 2010 - Image 34

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2010-12-02

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Spirituality

HOLIDAY 101

Chanukah 101

Elizabeth Applebaum
Special to the Jewish News

S SS

W

hen: Wednesday eve-
ning, Dec. 1, with the
last candlelighting
Wednesday evening, Dec. 8. On
the Jewish calendar: 25 Kislev
until 2 Tevet.

The name of the holiday: In
Hebrew, chanukah means "dedi-
cation" and is a shortened form
of the phrase chanukat ha-bayit
("dedication of the house [that is,
the Temple] ), or chanukat ha-mizbeiach
("dedication of the altar").
What we're celebrating: The survival
of Judaism in the face of a vicious assault
by pagan forces.

Historical Background
From 336 B.C.E. until his death in 323
B.C.E., Alexander the Great conquered
the entire Persian Empire, which includ-
ed ancient Israel.
After Alexander's death, a series of
internal wars tore apart his empire, sec-
tions of which were then ruled by his
generals. The Land of Israel became part
of the kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter of
Egypt, where the Jews were allowed to
freely practice their religion.
Then in 200 B.C.E., King Antiochus III
the Great of Syria defeated his Egyptian
rival; Israel was absorbed into the
Seleucid Empire (named for Alexander's
general, Seleucus I Nicator). During this
period, a significant portion of the Jewish
people became hellenized, or absorbed
into the mixed Greek-Near Eastern cul-
ture, and tried to transform Judaism into
a religion and culture compatible with
the predominant paganism of the empire.
Although Antiochus III guaranteed his
Jewish subjects the right to practice their
religion, his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes,
supported the the hellenized Jewish faction.
In 168 B.C.E., while Antiochus IV
began his campaign to conquer Egypt, a
rumor spread in Israel that he had been
killed. A pro-Egyptian Jewish force con-
quered Jerusalem and expelled the main
hellenizing Jewish faction, the Tobiads,
to Syria. The Tobiads urged Antiochus to
retake Jerusalem.
Antiochus led his army into Israel
and sacked Jerusalem, killing tens of
thousands of Jews; then he made Judaism
illegal. Those who praCticed any aspect
of Judaism, such as the dietary laws,

34

December 2 • 2010

.114

Chanukah, on the left. Yet the candles
are kindled from left to right, light-
ing the newest candle first.
Candles should be lit as soon as
it gets dark, but any time before
midnight is acceptable. The
main purpose of lighting the
menorah is to publicize the
miracle, so it is traditional to
place the menorah in a window or
in a part of the house where it will
be visible from outside. (Though
if this is impossible, simply place
the menorah in a convenient place in
your home.)
According to tradition, each mem-
ber of the household has his or her own
menorah; but many families use one only
menorah.
The candles should burn for at least 30
minutes. On Friday night, the menorah is
lit before the Shabbat candles; and they
must burn for at least 30 minutes after
Shabbat has started.
Menorahs come in all styles and
sizes; and while no rule governs what
a menorah should look like, the rabbis
emphasized that it should be designed in
such a way that an observer can easily tell
which day of Chanukah it is by glancing
at the candles — which is why tradi-
tional menorahs have candle holders in
a straight line. If someone cannot find or
afford a standard menorah, he or she can
place candles in individual cups in a row.

Shabbat,
circumcision or
Torah study, were
immediately killed. Scores of
Jews lost their lives.
Antiochus also
decreed that the
Jewish Temple in
Jerusalem be dedicated
to the Greek god Zeus and ordered that
pigs be sacrificed on the altar and that
pagan rituals and orgies be staged.
An old Jewish priest, Matityahu, and
his five sons, Yochanan, Shimon, Eliezer,
Yonatan and Yehuda, began an armed
insurrection. Garnering wide popular
support among traditional — and most-
ly rural Jews — they gathered soldiers.
Despite having inferior weapons and
being hugely outnumbered, they fought a
successful guerilla war.
Matityahu died in 166 B.C.E., and
his son, Yehuda (Judah), known as ha-
makabi ("the hammer"), took over the
campaign. By 165 B.C.E., Judah and
his followers defeated the Syrian forces
and their hellenistic Jewish allies, took
Jerusalem and the Temple and re-estab-
lished Jewish sovereignty in the land of
Israel.
Yehuda ha-makabi (Judah Maccabee),
by then the leader of his people, declared
his victory a miracle. To express his
thanks to God, he announced an eight-
day celebration — to make up for the
eight days of the recent Sukkot holiday
that the Greeks had outlawed.
The Talmud later gave a further expla-
nation for the eight days of celebration:

After
Judah
Maccabee
and his army
conquered Jerusalem,
they cleansed the Temple of
pagan statues and symbols
and tried to light
the golden six-
branched temple
menorah that was to
burn daily. Despite a search of the entire
Temple, they found only one jar of lamp
oil with the seal of the Jewish high priest.
They filled the menorah, and during the
eight days needed to produce more con-
secrated oil, the original oil continued to
burn, which was recognized as a miracle.
It was then decreed that the anniversary
of the dedication of the Temple would be
a permanent holiday observed by lighting
an eight-branched menorah for eight days.

How To Celebrate
Candles on the menorah, also known as
a chanukiah, are lit for eight successive
nights. Originally, olive oil — which burns
more cleanly than any other oil — was
used; but as Jews dispersed into northern
lands where olive oil was difficult to find,
candles came into use. (Today, most Jews
use candles.)
Only oil or candles are allowed for the
Chanukah lights; electric menorahs are for
decorative use only.
Light one candle the first night, two
candles the second night and so on, until
the eighth night, when eight candles are lit.
The candles are placed in the menorah
from right to left, with the newest candle,
for the corresponding successive day of

Chanukah Rituals
When you light the menorah, recite
two blessings (three on the first night,
to include the She-hecheyanu). As you
light the candles, recite Ha-Neirot ha-lalu
("These lights"). After lighting, many sing
the traditional hymn, Maoz Tzur ("Mighty
Rock").
Chanukah candles may not be used for
any purpose other than looking at them.
So it's not proper to use their light to read,
light a cigarette or other candles, etc.
To avoid using the Chanukah lights, it's
customary to include an extra, ninth light,
called the shamash (or service light), so
that if we accidentally use the Chanukah
lights, we can rely on the shamash as the
source of light. Most Chanukah menorahs
have a holder for the shamash, which is
placed higher or lower than the other can-
dles. The shamash is lit first and is then
used to light the Chanukah candles.
Each day during Chanukah, the morn-
ing prayer service includes the recitation
of the Hallel prayer. Torah portions from

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