Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival celebrated in the winter. Outside of Israel, the festival is often considered as the Jewish equivalent to Xmas but this does not do justice to this wonderful festival that is a festival in its own right, with its own history, symbolism and traditions. Unfortunately, as with many other religions, Hanukkah has been commercialized and each year we find another Hanukkah accessory that we “simply can’t live without.” Sometimes, one just needs to go back to the roots and renew the appreciation for a festival in the simplest way, in order to realize the preciousness of it so we would like to present a list of ten lesser known facts about this wonderful festival, in the hope that it will bring back some of the glory to this special eight-day-period.
- It is interesting to note that the war of the Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire was the first ever ideological war in the world! In their merit the Hasmonean dynasty was founded which ruled between 164 and 63 BCE and reasserted the Jewish religion after years of persecution.
- If we’re already on the subject of the Maccabees; this rebel army was not made of seasoned warriors who were trained for warfare- rather it was a thrown-together band of academic, pious men who were simply driven by their beliefs.
- This was also the first war to be fought on roads as opposed to organized battlefields. The Maccabees used stealth warfare to attack their enemies and until this day the caves that they hid in and attacked from can be visited close to the city of Bet Shemesh in Israel.
- Many celebrate this holiday without actually knowing why they’re celebrating it! In fact, after the Maccabees defeated the Seleucids, they rushed to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem. Included in this rededication was the lighting of the primary candelabrum and in order to do so, they needed a sealed flask of oil that had a seal of the High
Priest still intact. This was no simple demand considering the shameful state of the defiled Temple but they managed to find one and this little flask kept the wicks burning for a miraculous eight days. Many of the traditions of Hanukkah are based on this miracle, including lighting a personal candelabrum and eating oily foods.
- Two miracles occurred in the Temple- the first was that they found
sealed, intact flaks of oil and the second is that the oil lasted for an amazing eight days!
- The game of Dreidel that is associated with Hanukkah involves a spinning top with four sides. On each of the four sides is a different Hebrew letter and each letter dictates a different action. This game originated, according to Jewish tradition, during the time of the Maccabees when Jewish people would hide and study Torah, which was forbidden by the Seleucid Empire. When Greek soldiers would come searching for those disobeying the laws, the students would hide their books, pull out spinning tops and make it seem that they were enjoying a gambling game.
- The minimal way to observe the tradition of lighting a Menorah on Hanukkah is lighting a single candle every night of the holiday in each household. However, the Jewish people wish to beautify the tradition and took upon themselves to light eight one more candle each night, until by the eighth night one has a fully-lit Menorah with eight candles.
- There is a strong communal aspect to the holiday of Hanukkah which can be felt from the laws of the holiday. Some examples of laws that express this communal spirit are;
- If one only has the exact number of candles needed for lighting on all eight days of Hanukkah and he finds out that his friend has no candles it is better for him to share what he has with his friend even when that means that he will not have what to light in the last few days of the festival.
- One needs to light the Menorah in a place where it can be seen by others and at a time of night when someone can hear you recite the blessings and others are still around to see the candles.
- The original Menorah in the Temple was made of a single block of gold. Modern Israeli artists and scientists attempted to create a Menorah of solid gold and the result is an incredible Menorah that stands in the old city of Jerusalem and was reportedly coated in gold instantaneously using electricity.