Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights & Dedication

General Knowledge  •  19 Dec, 2023  •  48,279 Views  •  ⭐ 3.0

Written by Shivani Chourasia

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Hanukkah, also referred to as Ḥanukka, Chanukah, or the Festival of Lights, is a pivotal Jewish holiday commencing on the 25th day of Kislev, usually aligning with December in the Gregorian calendar, and celebrated over eight days. This festival is a profound reassertion of Jewish faith and values, principally honouring the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The ritualistic lighting of candles marks each day. Despite its absence in Hebrew Scriptures, Hanukkah has evolved into a widely celebrated and deeply cherished observance in Jewish tradition.


Historical Context of Hanukkah

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The festival of Hanukkah memorializes the victories of the Maccabean (Hasmonean) forces over the armies of Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BCE) and the consequent rededication of the Temple on Kislev 25, 164 BCE. The narrative, as told in I Maccabees, part of the Apocrypha, paints a vivid picture of Antiochus IV's invasion of Judaea, his efforts to impose Hellenistic customs on the Jewish people, and the desecration of the Second Temple. The Maccabees, led by Mattathias and his son Judas Maccabeus, stood out as the first Jews to fight for their religious convictions. Following their victory, Judas Maccabeus orchestrated the cleansing and rededication of the Temple, establishing an annual eight-day celebration of this event.

The Menorah and the Miracle of Oil

The Miracle of the Oil at Hanukkah and How Many Branches Does a Menorah  Have? -

Central to Hanukkah is the tradition of lighting the menorah, stemming from a miraculous event recorded in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b). According to the narrative, Judas Maccabeus found a small jar of oil in the Temple, just enough to last a day. Miraculously, this oil continued to burn for eight days. This event laid the foundation for the eight-day duration of Hanukkah. The debate between 1st-century scholars Hillel and Shammai regarding the procedure for lighting the menorah underscores the tradition's ancient origins.



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Traditions and Practices of Hanukkah

7 Hanukkah Traditions to Celebrate the Holiday in 2023 - PureWow
Image Credits: NPR

At the heart of Hanukkah celebrations is the lighting of the menorah each night. The menorah, with its eight branches plus a spot for the shammash candle, is progressively lit, with an additional candle illuminated each night. The menorah, initially placed outside homes, is now lit indoors, and blessings are recited during the lighting. The Hanukkah observance includes several liturgical practices, such as daily Scripture readings, Psalm recitations, and the singing of specific hymns. Almsgiving is customary, and prayers, including the ʿal ha-nissim, are recited daily.

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