Tonight, December 8th, at sundown began the Jewish holiday, Chanukah, The Festival Of Lights.
Over 21 centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) and their emperor, Antiochus. He outlawed the study of the Torah and the observance of its commands, seeking to Hellenize the Jewish people. A small band of faithful Jews, greatly outnumbered, defeated the mighty Greeks armies and drove them out of the land. When they reclaimed the Holy Temple on the 25th of Kislev (the lunar-based Jewish calendar), they wished to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum) only to find almost all of the oil contaminated by the Greeks. All that was left was enough to last one night, and it would take eight days to make new oil under conditions of ritual purity. Miraculously, that small amount of oil burned for eight days and nights, and the holiday of Chanukah was established.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, and to remind us that G-d blesses those who stand up for truth and justice. one of the ways we celebrate is to light the Chanukah menorah on each of the eight nights of Chanukah. The menorah has nine spaces for candles, 1 for each of the eight nights and one for the Servant Candle (the Shamash) which is used to light the other candles.
Other Chanukah Traditions
We add two special prayers, the Hallel and the Al Hanissim, to our daily prayers, to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
We eat traditional foods fried in oil such as latkes (potato pancakes) with applesauce, sufganiot (strawberry, jam-filled doughnuts), fried apple fritters and more. These foods have their origins in the first years Chanukah was celebrated and are meant to remind us of certain miracles associated with the events of Chanukah itself.
We play with the dreidel. This is a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin. These letters are an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham: a great miracle happened there. See more HERE.
We give Chanukah gelt, small gifts of money, to children for the purpose of teaching them to increase good deeds and charity. There is deeper meaning behind this tradition which is explained in more detail HERE.