Is Hanukkah The Jewish Christmas

Hanukkah Home 1
Credit: Introspective Pics

Ask a Gentile (non-Jewish person) what Hanukah is, and they will most likely reply with a question; "Is it the Jewish Christmas?" [5] While the answer to that is no, the response is understandable as this minor Jewish celebration often falls close to Christmas and it includes gifts, bright lights, and food.[2]

 Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of "Kislev" or "Chislev" in the Jewish calendar (a lunar calendar regulated by the cycles of the moon). Depending on the year, Hanukkah may be celebrated in November or December of the secular calendar (based on the movement of the earth around the sun).

 The story of Hanukkah recalls a dark time in the history of the Jewish people, and after God had delivered them, they rededicated the Temple. When they found only enough oil to rekindle the sacred flame for one day, God miraculous provided enough oil to rekindle the sacred flame for all eight days of the rededication. The celebration of Hanukkah is in remembrance of that miracle from God, and the focal point of each evening is the lighting of candles and prayers.[1]

Hanukkah - Feast of the Dedication


Star of David(70111)
Credit: Introspective Pics

The story of Hanukkah is not found in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures that consist of three divisions: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings).[1047]  But, Hanukkah can be found in the Apocrypha (a set of books written between approximately 400 B.C. and the time of Christ).  Apocrypha means hidden. These books consist of 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, the Rest of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, (also titled Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Additions to Daniel, The Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 and 2 Maccabees.

The book of 1 Maccabees gives an account of the persecution the Jewish people endured during the Syrian occupation of Jerusalem: "The Books of the Law which they (the Hellenists) found, they tore into pieces and burned. Wherever a book of the covenant was found in anyone's possession, or if anyone respected the Law, the decree of the king imposed the sentence of death upon him." Month after month they dealt brutally with every Israelite, they put to death the women who'd circumcised their children, hanging the newborn babies around their necks. They also put entire families to death.

During the time of the Second Temple period, the Greek kings outlawed the Jewish religion and forbade Jews from studying the Torah and practicing their traditions.[1050]  The Jewish people were under foreign domination, and the Syrian occupation brought pressure upon the Jewish people to adopt Greek culture and customs. The Syrian ruler, Antiochus IV, enforced his arrogant belief in the superiority of the "Greek way of life," known as "Hellenism." It included idolatry, exalted man’s wisdom and encouraged intellectual pursuits. The Hellenists despised Judaism and had nothing but disdain for the Jewish religion and traditions. The followers of Hellenism sought to “civilize” the Jews by forcing them to follow the Greek way of life. Any Jewish individual that refused to assimilate into the Greek culture was considered an enemy of the state. The practice of worshipping the God of Israel became a crime. Jews were slain, and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was defiled. In a display of utter contempt for Judaism, Antiochus IV sacrificed a pig in the Temple and offered it to the Greek god of Jupiter.

A group of Jews, faithful to the God of Israel and who refused to follow Greek culture or their idolatry, fled from the cities into the hills and formed into bands of guerrilla fighters. One cluster was lead by a man named Mattathais, and his five sons. This group considered fighting on the Sabbath permissible for self-defense. In the past, Greek soldiers would attack Jews on the Sabbath and prevail because the Jews would not fight back. This new group of Jewish fighters grew in numbers, and when Mattathias died his son, Judah, took charge. Judah's nickname was "Maccabee," meaning "hammer" because he was "God's hammer to smash the Syrians." Soon the entire group was known as the Maccabees and after three years of fighting, the group, led by Judah, triumphed over Syria.

 When the Maccabees retook Jerusalem, they demolished the polluted altar of the Temple and built a new one. The rededication of the Temple date was on the 25th day of Chislev/Kisleve, the same date Antiochus issued his decree three years earlier.[1049]  When Judah dedicated the Temple, only a small amount of consecrated oil, enough for one day, was found for use in the sacred lamps. The priest lit the oil on the first day of worship. The next day, there was enough oil for the second day’s worship, and the miracle was that the small amount of consecrated oil lasted the entire eight days of worship and celebration.[4]

The Story of Hanukkah - YouTube

The Festival of Lights

Hanukkah Hanukiyah
Credit: Introspective Pics

The observance of Hanukkah occurs in the home, and the most significant event is the lighting of the candles each evening, which represents the miracle of the eight nights of oil. Most people think the Hanukkah candles are placed in a "Menorah," however, in reality they are placed in a "Hanukiyah." A menorah holds seven candles while the Hanukiyah holds nine.

Hanukkah candles must all be in one row, and each flame is to be separate and distinct from the others (flames should not be intermingled). The ninth candle is called the "Shamash" or "Shammos" which means "Servant" and it is used to light the other candles. This ninth candle is set apart or above the other candles.

The candles are lit at sundown, with the exception of Friday (the Sabbath), when they are lit prior to the Shabbat candles. The Hanukkah candles are placed from right to left, however, they are lit from left to right. (It is a good idea to put the candles in the freezer prior to using them because it lengthens their burning time. [4]) On the first night of Hanukkah, three blessing are said prior to lighting the candles. On the following nights, two blessings are recited.

The hanukiya is to be placed somewhere that it can be seen from outside the home. The Talmud, however, states if its presence will provoke danger the hanukiya may be put someplace out of sight.

Traditional Scripture Reading

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Hanukkah is Judaism’s first post-biblical holiday and the only one on which there are eight consecutive days of Torah readings taken from the story of the dedication of the Tabernacle.

First day: Numbers 7: 1 – 17; Second day: Numbers 7:18 – 29; Third day: Numbers 7:24 – 35; Fourth day: Numbers 7:30 – 41; Fifth day: Numbers 7:36 – 47; Sixth day: Numbers 7:42 – 47; Seventh day: Numbers 7:48 – 59 (if Rosh Khodesh: Numbers 7:48 – 53); Eight day: Numbers 7:54 – 8:4.

Hanukkah on Rosh Khodesh: Numbers 28: 1 – 5, plus appropriate reading for the sixth or seventh day. Shabbat Hanukkah: Regular Shabbat reading, plus reading for the day of Hanukkah on which it falls. Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7. Second Shabbat of Hanukah: Regular Shabbat reading (always Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17), plus Numbers 7:54 – 8:4. Haftarah: 1Kings 7:40 – 50. Shabbath Rosh Khodesh: Regular Shabbat reading, Numbers 28:1 – 15, plus reading for the day of Hanukkah on which it falls.[4]

Shake it Off Parody of Hanukkah Song

Traditional Foods, Gifts, and Games

Hanukkah Table
Credit: Introspective Pics

Oil-rich foods are served during Hanukkah. Dishes such as potato latkes (shallow-fried pancakes of grated or ground potato, flour and egg) are served with applesauce. "Loukoumades" (deep fried dough soaked in sugar syrup or honey and cinnamon), and a "sufganiyot" (a ball-shaped deep-fried donut pierced and injected with jelly or custard, and topped with powdered sugar) are also enjoyed on Hanukkah.

Another food associated with Hanukkah is cheese. The Maccabees were inspired by Judith, who killed the evil Holofernes by lulling him into a stupor with a heavy meal of cheese and wine before decapitating him. (The Apocrypha Book of Judith 13:2 and 6 – 8)

Gifts are also given as an expression of joy, and one can find a model for that tradition in the Book of Ester. During Purim, the Jews sent gifts to one another as they rejoiced over the defeat of Haman’s plot to destroy them.

A well-known Hanukkah game is “Dreidel” or spinning top. The game is played using a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters “nun,” “gimmel,” “hey,” and “shin” are acronyms for the words “nes gadol hayah sahm” ("A great miracle happened there). (*Note, in Israel the shin is replaced with “pay,” which means here.) Players use the dreidel to gamble for nuts, chocolate or pennies.[4]

Hanukkah ~ Feast of the Dedication

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“Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with gladness and joy for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.” (1 Maccabees 4:59)[3]

Happy Hanukkah!

2011 Hanukkah Postal Stamp
Credit: US Postal Service

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