Guest Post from Reiza Mara

December 17, 2006 at 2:33 pm | Posted in religion | 3 Comments

 Chanukia with 3 candles for day 2

Chanukah commemorates the first war fought over the right of religious freedom.  It’s actually a minor Jewish holiday.  Since it falls around Christmas each year, though (it’s the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar which changes slightly every year.  So Chanukah can fall anywhere from late November through early January), it tends to become a bigger deal as it competes with Christmas.  There is, however, a great deal of spiritual significance to the 8 day period.  In the lessons of Chanukah, we find great strength.

Over 2300 years ago, the Syrian king Antiochus ordered us to worship the Greek gods.  Many refused.  A group lead by Judah Macabee (Macabee meaning “the hammer”) fought against the much larger armies.  Miraculously (or surprisingly depending on who you ask), they won battles even though they were greatly outnumbered.    

On the 25th of Kislev, the Macabees reclaimed the temple which had been destroyed by the Greeks.  In every synagogue, there is a Ner Tamid, an eternal light which always remains lit.  It hangs above the ark as a symbol of G-d’s constant presence..  The Macabees found only enough oil to keep the temple’s Ner Tamid lit for one day, but it would take them eight days before they could get more.  So they lit the light and miraculously, that small amount burned for 8 full days. 

We celebrate Chanukah to acknowledge G-d’s constant presence and to remember (and be inspired by) our ancestors’ dedication to Judaism and the G-d of Abraham. 

We light a menorah to commemorate the day.  Here’s a link that explains the menorah lighting:  http://judaism.about.com/cs/chanukahgeneral/ht/hol_chan_light.htm  

A menorah MUST burn to fulfill the requirements of the law.  You also should have one displayed in a place where it can be seen—a window preferably.  An electric menorah will not fulfill the burning requirements, but, you can have a real menorah with candles or oil on your dining room table and an electric one in your window (which is how we do it). 

And here’s an interesting note, Jewish women are to do no housework while the Chanukah candles burn.  I actually never looked into the reasons behind that until now.  So hey, I’m learning something new too.  Here’s what I found:

The reason is twofold.  First, the Syrian-Greeks were especially vicious to Jewish women.  Secondly, Judith (Yehudit) was instrumental in the Jewish victory.  She got a Syrian general drunk and then decapitated him.  I had actually heard the story before (it’s a favorite among Jewish Feminists), but I didn’t realize that was a reason behind the “no housework while the candles burn” thing. 

Chanukah is not for dieters.  We typically have lots of foods fried in oil to celebrate the miracle of the oil.  That means donuts and latkes ( http://www.jewish-food.org/recipes/latkes.htm) among other things. 

You’ve probably also heard about dreidels.  They’re tops with a Hebrew letter on each side.  The letters are Nun, Gimmel, Heh, and Shin which stand for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” or “A great miracle happened there.”   If, however, you live in Israel , your dreidel will have the letter Peh instead of Shin because the line translates to, “A great miracle happened HERE.” 

This link explains how to play and shows you the Hebrew letters : http://www.babaganewz.com/holidays/index.cfm?cat=23&sub=dreidel

This one tells you a bit more about why each letter means what it does:

http://www.amfi.org/dreidl.htm

Check this out.  You can play a virtual dreidel game:  http://www.jewfaq.org/dreidel/index.htm

There are lots of Chanukah songs, but the Maoz Tzur is really the Chanukah song to top all Chanukah songs.  Here are the lyrics:

http://www.torahtots.com/holidays/chanuka/maoztzur.htm

So there ya go.  That’s Chanukah in a nutshell.  It’s not a major holiday, but even 2000 years later, there are lessons that are still very valid in our everyday lives.  The true miracle of Chanukah lies not in the candles, but in the perseverance of our people and the grace of G-d. 

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3 Comments »

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  1. Thanks for the detailed run-down and links. My brain must have developed at least 20 or so new creases in it.

  2. Big thanks to Reiza Mara! That was quite useful!

  3. Great info. Thank you for posting about this it has given me new light on the subject.


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