This is an historical epic, of giant proportions, important to all peoples on the planet. It happened in Judea, the land of Israel, 2,200 years ago
Hanukkah* (Hebrew for “dedication” or “consecration”) marks the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after its serious, purposeful desecration by the Seleucid-Greek (Assyrian / Syrian) force of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and commemorates the “miracle of the sacred oil.”
After all, twenty-five years into his reign, around 175 BCE, in the occupied land of Judea, (where the Jews had dutifully paid their taxes etc, to their oppressors, but held to their own religion and traditions), Antiochus IV Epiphanes inexplicably looted the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews were massacred throughout the land, and Judaism was effectively outlawed. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple.
But, guess what? Mattathias the Hasmonean, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led the Jewish rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known to history as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”).
Also, the Makabi (Maccabee) revolt was sustained for years, an amazing accomplishment against the world’s most dominant army, but in the interim, in 166 BCE Mattathias died. Judah, the youngest, but a brilliant general and tactician, took his place as leader of the Revolt. By 165 BCE the Jewish war for Religious Freedom was finally successful, against the Seleucid monarchy, the ‘greatest’ army-on-earth at the time.
The facts are: at the re-dedication of the Temple, following the victory of the Jewish Makabi fighters, there was only enough consecrated olive oil, in a cruet still sealed by the High Priest, for one day’s light to fuel the Ner Tamid, the “eternal flame”, which must glow above the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple.
Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil, for this sacred task.
So, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication. It is always celebrated beginning on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, but as Judaism has a lunar calendar, it can fall on any different 8 days between the end of November and the beginning of January, on the secular calendar.
Today is the 6th day of the festival this year, and tonight we will light the 7th candle, for the “day” always begins in the evening, as it says in Genesis ‘ … and there was evening and there was morning, the 1st Day”.
Frankly, the Hebrew’s successful Maccabean Revolt in 2nd Century BCE, became Humanity’s first war for religious freedom, and the first guerilla war where a vastly out-numbered and only lightly-armed people (Jews) defeated the ‘world’-dominating army (Greeks – in this case, the Seleucid Greek branch of Syrian generals). In this sense, this Holy Day belongs to all people, everywhere, always, because the Cause was for religious tolerance, for the first time in human history.
Quite simply, the festival is observed by the kindling of the lights on a special candlabrum called the “Hanukiah”, or “Hanukkah Menorah”.
One extra candle or oil lamp’s wick is lit on each night of the holiday, refilling the candles or oil lamps each 24 hours, and progressing to all eight lights alight on the final night. Each night, the candles are placed and lit from right to left, in succession.
As you may know, this menorah is different from the 7-branched giant menorahs which were stolen by the Roman Emperor, Trajan, and then they were sent to Rome from the Temple in Jerusalem, later in Jewish history. They are “lost” to the Ages, now.
And, remember, the extra light on the Hanukkiah, is called a “shamash”, (Hebrew: “guard” or “servant”) and is always lit first, each night. The shamash is used to light the other wicks.
A separate, distinct location on the menorah, (usually higher or lower than the others) is where you will locate the Shamash.
Further, the purpose of the extra light is to follow the Talmudic (Tracate Shabbat 21b-23a) prohibition against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than proclaiming and meditating on the Hanukkah history. Their candles’ light is sanctified and holy. So, the Shamash’s light is the one that is “used” if any daily activity happens near the candles. **
By the way, the story of the Makabis’ Deeds is not in the Old Testament, as that document had been codified centuries earlier in the Great Assembly, but the story was kept in the Septuagint, to remember their heroism over the nearly 2,200 years since then.
In addition, at this time, we also remember the courage of 2 Jewish women:
1) the martyrdom of Hannah and all of her seven sons. According to the Talmudic story in 1 and 2 Maccabees, a Jewish woman named Hannah and all of her seven sons were tortured and executed by Antiochus’ for refusing to bow down to a Greek god-statue and to eat pork; both would be in violation of Jewish law.
2) the heroism of Judith (Yehudit), the daughter of Yochanan, the High Priest, sister of Mattathias the Hasmonean Maccabee and aunt of Judah Maccabee.
In the Book of Judith we learn that the Greeks were camped surrounding the village of Bethulia, and they cut-off the water-supply to the village in their siege, while waging the larger war to conquer all of Judea. The villagers’ situation was desperate, so Judith, a pious widow, told the city leaders of her plan to save her people. She planned to go to the Greeks and surrender to the general, Holofernes.
He was smitten by her beauty, and he intended to seduce her, but her plan triumphed. She patiently plied him with wine and fine cheeses, and then killed him when he was in a drunken stupor.
When the Greeks saw their general dead, they were overcome with fear, while the Jews immediately launched their successful attack on the army. The town was saved and the Assyrian-Greeks were defeated.
Indeed, in Judith’s honor, Jews eat cheese pancakes (latkes) and other dairy delights at this time. (By the way, the acidic cheese can be ameliorated and pH balanced by using sweet potatoes or leeks or squashes in other more-alkaline latkes or dishes, at the same meal.)
Latkes are made because the centerpiece of remembrance is to use Olive Oil. But it can be used just as well in wonderful Sephardic vegetable salads or in a delicious Venetian Jewish Olive Oil Cake, as in can be represented by fried food, like latke pancakes.
In truth, Jewish recipes are from all over the world, for in the 2,000 years of the Jewish Diaspora, Jews have become the first global culture. Jews have been in Italy and Greece since before Greek or Roman Empire times, and traveled to the far reaches of North Africa and wild-Europe, including Spain, during and after the Roman Empire; Jews traveled all the way to India, Burma and China (and maybe Japan) long before European “explorers” did. Jews traveled to the Americas before Columbus (it is believed he was a “Marrano” Jew whose family had been forced to convert to Christianity, and maybe that is why he knew so firmly that “America” [“something”] was there to be “found”). And it was the Jewish navigator, from Columbus’ crew, who stayed behind as the “first”, “official” European to reside in the Americas; he stayed as an ambassador of the Spanish. ***
Back to the celebration — typically three blessings (“Brachot” singular “Brachah”) are recited during the candle-lightings of the eight-day festival. On the first night, Jews recite all three blessings; on all subsequent nights, they recite only the first two. The blessings are said before or after the candles are lit.
The candles are always placed and then lit from right to left, in succession.
After the prayers, the family has dinner, opens gifts and plays the dreidl game (savivon, in Hebrew). The letters on the savivon are the initial letters for the words “A Great Miracle Happened Here”.
Hanukkah “Gelt” (gold-foil covered chocolate coins) are hidden around the house for the children to find and eating potato latkes (pancakes) with appleasauce and sour cream (smetana) have been Northern European tradition since the Americas were “discovered” (again) 500 years ago. Chocolate and potatoes were American foods newly introduced to Europe. But there were long-standing treats beforehand, using other foods, as in the dairy latkes mentioned above and the delicate, coin-size sugar-syrup and rosewater-soaked pastries of the Mid-east and the North-East and Southern Mediterranean Rim Jewish communities (all the areas of the Jewish Sefardim). There are many favored Hanukkah recipes, from Jewish communities throughout the world, not just potato latkes!
To foster Understanding about what is being said, in the hope that barriers to Understanding are broken down, I am including the prayers.
The first blessing
Sung all eight nights just prior to lighting the candles:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah lights.”
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’o’lam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik neir (shel) chanukah .
The second blessing:
Sung all eight nights just prior to lighting the candles:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors, in those days, at this moment.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’o’lam, she-asah nisim la-avoteinu, bayamim haheim, (u)baz’man hazeh.
The third blessing:
Sung only on the first night just prior to lighting the candles:
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’o’lam, sheh’heh’cheh’ya’nu veh’ki’yeh’ma’nu, veh’he’g’a’nu laz’man ha’zeh.
After kindling the lights – “Hanerot Halalu”
While the lights are kindled the Hanerot Halalu prayer is subsequently recited:
We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.
Hanneirot hallalu anachnu madlikin ‘al hannissim ve’al hanniflaot ‘al hatteshu’ot ve’al hammilchamot she’asita laavoteinu bayyamim haheim, (u)bazzeman hazeh ‘al yedei kohanekha hakkedoshim. Vekhol-shemonat yemei Hanukkah hanneirot hallalu kodesh heim, ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtammesh baheim ella lir’otam bilvad kedei lehodot ul’halleil leshimcha haggadol ‘al nissekha ve’al nifleotekha ve’al yeshu’otekha
As Hanukkah is also a lesson in conservation of natural resources, today’s Jews carry on a long tradition of trying to respect and repair our Earth – Mother. This is the doctrine of Tikkan Olam – The Repair of the World.
In that spirit, you can read more about the Green Menorah Covenant at:http://www.shalomctr.org/node/1186
May we always be Grateful.
As Hanukkah draws to a close this Wednesday, before sundown, other peoples all over our planet look forward to their Holy Days and celebrations, many of which are timed to highlight the Winter Solstice, and Humanity’s longing for the return of the ‘Light to the World’.
May you enjoy the time spent with family and friends, and use some of this time for Reflection. Each of us crafts this world, with our thoughts and with our deeds. You are the instrument of positive Change. Please make it so.
Best to all — Em
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* Hebrew: Hanukkah is also spelled Chanukah or Hanukah
** Please read more about the traditions online, and there are lots of Jewish (even Hanukkah) recipes, at Epicurious.com, New York Times and www.jewishfood-list.com
*** Current archeology shows evidence that groups of Europeans who last lived in France became “native” Americans founding communities on the mid-Atlantic Eastern seabord and down thru the Mississippi Valley to establish or contribute their technology to the famed Clovis Culture in New Mexico; other Europeans became “native” Americans in the Northwest of the US — as evidenced by the latest ancient skeletal remains of Kennewick Man in Washington state — along with Asians from Siberian Tribes who became the larger contributor to ethnic Native Americans; Jews (travelled to America’s Southwest, as evidenced by ancient petroglyphs, written in very ancient forms of Hebrew; they possibly used the same natural routes Spanish explorers “found” centuries later); the Norse Vikings (visited and settled a tiny piece of Eastern Canada’s tip of PE Island and Nova Scotia as “Vinland”), and possibly Egyptians (to the Mayan areas of Central America, bringing their mathematical technology) and certainly, the Chinese (to the middle of Mexico’s western coast) — all came to the Americas BEFORE Columbus did under the Spanish flag.
(c)2007 Em https://diabetesdietdialogue.wordpress.com
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