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The Jewish holiday Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in ancient times. It is known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah is celebrated in the month of Kislev, which usually falls in December. The festival lasts eight days.

Hanukkah started during the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, but instead of imposing his own belief system on the Jews who lived in this region, they were allowed to continue practicing their religion if they wanted to.

The Jews were able to practice their Jewish beliefs and erect temples. This situation persisted until Antiochus IV assumed rule from Alexander and unleashed a program of oppression and terror directed at the Jews. He forbade them from practicing the Jewish religion, and those who refused were killed. Temples were desecrated, and pigs were sacrificed at the altar, which was considered sacrilege since pigs are non-kosher animals.

A group of Jews revolted against Antiochus IV’s tyranny and stormed the Temple, which was the seat of the Jewish religion.  Because the Temple had been in enemy hands, they needed to rededicate it. During the rededication, oil was placed in a menorah to burn through the night. A miraculous thing happened the night of the rededication. Much of the oil was defiled during the oppression, so the Jews only had enough for one night. But the lamp stayed lit for eight days, exactly the amount of time they needed to prepare more oil.

The Jews believe this to be a sign. Now, every year Jews reflect on the miracle that took place during the rededication of the Temple. They light the menorah for eight days, they eat fried foods because they are made with oil, play with a dreidel, and parents give gifts to their young children.

Takeaways

  • Hanukkah is a time to reflect on an historical event in the Temple.
  • It is not a religious holiday, as it’s not found in the Jewish scripture.
  • Children play with a dreidel because they used to do so during the reign of Antiochus IV when they were being watched to make sure they weren’t practicing their religion.
  • Hanukkah recognizes the miracle of the oil.

Last reviewed by Eva Benmeleh, PhD. Review Date: September 2020

References

  1. Jewish Virtual Library. Hannukah.

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