This list, taken from one of web’s leading search engines, reflects the 10 most asked questions related to Hanukkah. I take full responsibility for the answers and look forward to you adding your own.
1. When does Hanukkah begin? Hanukkah began on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which corresponds this year to the evening of December 1st. The Jewish calendar day begins at sundown.
2. Why is Hanukkah eight days long? Hanukkah lasts 8 days for two reasons, one well-known, and the other much less so. According the better known story, the holiday last 8 days in honor of the period of time during which an amount of oil which should have lasted only one day, continued to burn in the newly re dedicated Jerusalem Temple’s menorah (sanctuary candleabrum).
According to a lesser known account in the Book of Maccabees (part of the Apocrypha — writings which are part of the biblical canon for Catholics, but not for Jews and Protestants), when the Temple was taken back by the Jews, they celebrated the eight day holiday of Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret (Tabernacles), which they had not been able to observe when Pagans controlled the institution. There is a good possibility that was the basis for declaring the new holiday of Hanukkah as an 8 day festival.
3. What is the story of Hanukkah? The story of Hanukkah is that of a four-year war in the land of Israel, which lasted from 167 bce – 163 bce. Some accounts portray a battle between oppressed Jews and imperialist Selucids who became increasingly harsh with those living under their rule.
Other accounts tell of what was essentially a civil war between those Jews who collaborated with the Selucids and those who did not. Among other issues was the increasing assimilationism which the former group saw the latter group as supporting and even imposing. The holiday celebrates the re-taking of the Jerusalem Temple and the re-establishment of it’s service, I’m accord with biblical teaching.
4. What is the miracle of Hanukkah? The classic miracle story of Hanukkah is that of the oil which lasted longer than it should have — eight days instead of one. Another possibility is that the miracle was that people dared to light that tiny bit of oil and trust that somehow things would work out.
Perhaps the enduring miracle which Hanukkah celebrates is that there is always more light than we first imagine and that the fuel to create it is really there when look hard enough and dare to trust its power.
5. Are Hanukkah and Chanukah the same? Hanukkah, Chanukah and all of the other alternative spellings refer to the same holiday. The variations are a function of spelling a Hebrew word, especially one with sounds which are not part of the English language, with another alphabet.
6. Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah? Jesus, in all likelihood did observe Hanukkah. Without entering into a debate about the historical Jesus, we can assume that virtually all Jews living in the first century of the Common Era would have celebrated Hanukkah. How they would have observed the day is more open to question, and they did know about dreidls (the spinning top associated with the holiday) or latkes (potato pancakes), both of which are Yiddish words!
7. Why do people play with a dreidel on Hanukkah? The origins of the dreidel and the tradition of playing with it on Hanukkah are shrouded in mystery. But it’s safe to say that the joy of a victory, especially of a very small army over one much larger, put people in a playful enough mood, and made them feel sufficiently lucky (dare I say blessed?), to play a gambling game, which dreidl was, and for some, still is.
8. How do you say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ in Hebrew? Want to wish someone a happy Hanukkah in Hebrew? Tell them, Hanukkah Sameakh! You could also wish them, Khag Urim Sameakh, a happy festival of lights.
9. What is a menorah? The Menorah was the seven-branched candleabrum which stood in the Jerusalem Temple, having been built, according to the Hebrew Bible, by Aaron (brother of Moses and first High Priest of Israel) when the Israelites were traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Menorah is also a word commonly used to describe the nine-branched candleabrum used on Hanukkah. The nine branches correspond to the eights nights of the holiday, plus one for the candle used to light the others.
10. What is the most important Hanukkah custom? According to tradition, the most important Hanukkah practices are lighting the menorah and singing praise to God for the liberation brought by way of the victory.
One could certainly argue that the most important Hanukkah practices are whatever acts help us find the light in our lives and in our world, empower us to help others do the same, and celebrate those moments when we have done so.
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About Windows & DoorsAuthor, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, Brad Hirschfield is the author of You Don’t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Listed as one of the nation’s 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and a regular commentator on Court TV, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and the co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula.
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