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Talking About Hanukkah
Are you ready to learn about Hanukkah/Channaukah/Hanuka? When you transliterate
holidays, no one knows how to spell them, but who needs spelling. The
music for this page is an original klezmer composition
by Israel Gimel. I am using it in accordance with the Fair Use clause of the
US Copyright law. Click here to
A GREAT MIRACLE HAPPENED HERE! Hanukkah is called the festival of lights
because it commemorates a small miracle that followed a great victory. The
Macabees, the Hasmonean priests, and their allies waged a successful guerilla
war to oust the Antiochus IV, the puppet dictator installed by the Assyrian
Greeks in the 2nd century BCE.
After the battle the victorious forces found the Temple (This is the Second Temple
dedicated by the prophet, Ezra) defiled. They cleaned it, rededicated it, but had
only enough olive oil to last for one day. They sent messengers to get more oil, and
the tiny pot of oil burned for a miraculous eight days. That is why there are eight
candles in the menorah.
IT'S NOT JEWISH CHRISTMAS! Before Antiochus IV, the Jews had been a conquered
people for quite some time. They administered their own civil laws and practiced
their religion and put up with the loss of their freedom. What is said about those
who surrender freedom to gain security? Antiochus IV decided to force the Jews to
adopt Greek ways and to abandon their faith and bow down to idols. He forbade the
teaching of the Torah to children. He defiled the Temple by sacrificing swine there.
It took the Macabees, a priestly family living in Modim to rise up and take on the
scion of what was then a superpower. The Macabees fought not only Antiochus' army but
also his allies, Jews who were "secular," who had adopted Greek ways. Freedom
of religion in the modern sense would have to wait until the Englightenment. Still, were
it not for the Macabees and their victory of Antiochus, monotheism might have died out
in the Middle East. Were there no Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas.
DID YOU SAY HANUKKAH IS ABOUT A CIVIL WAR! I sure did. The Macabees won. They restored
the faith with the blade of the sword and even established an INDEPENDENT
kingdom of Israel for a brief while. The kingdom unfortunately was sandwiched between the Assyrian
Greeks at one end and the Egyptian Ptolemies at the other. The Kingdom survived briefly by playing
one superpower off against the other, but in the end all five Macabee brothers were killed in battle
and the Jews again became a subject people. Our religion, however, did survive.
This is not the story the rabbis will tell, but you can read it for yourself in the
Apocrypha, available in nearly any academic library. The Apocrypha is a group of books that did not
make it into the Jewish and Protestant versions of the Bible.
SO WHAT ABOUT DREIDLS, LATKE'S, and the MENORAH? This is both the stuff of fun and legend.
The menorah holds eight candles, well actually nine. The elevated candle at the center of the end, is the
shamash or servant. He lights all the others. Every night during Hanukkah, one lights the
shamash and one other candle. Each night, one lights one more candle than the last until on the
last night, the menorah blazes with all eight candles plus the shamash.
The dreidl was a clandestine toy for teaching children Hebrew letters during the time of Antiochus. The
letters on the dreidl spell out an acronym that means "A great miracle happened here!" The dreidl
can be played as a kind of betting game with nuts or even pennies used in the pot. It is a game with absolutely
no strategy but lots of fun.
Latkes are potato pancackes. They and other foods made with oil are traditional Hanukkah fare to celebrate
the miracle of the oil. You surely are not going to celebrate a bloody civil war that ended partially
in defeat. That is way too ordinary.
SO HOW CAN I GET IN ON THE FUN? Light a menorah. Eat oily foods. Listen to Hanukkah music and klezmer
tunes, and of course attend services and read up on the real story behind the holiday. Knowing
the history behind your tradition doesn't kill it. Remember that long ago Judah Macabee and his brethren
fought and died for the right to practice their faith, so practice yours proudly. Oh and Hanukkah starts at
sundown on December 19th 2003.
SO WHAT'S WITH THE KITTY HEAD MENORAH? Well we Jews are a tiny minority and while there are
tons of Christmas graphics around, there are really not a lot of graphics for Hanukkah, and certainly
not as many artistic, interpretive and fun ones. This page besides telling the "true" story
of the holiday also helps fill a crying need. Feel free to adopt any of the graphics, especially the
mighty Macabee cartoon doll. As far as I know he is a one of a kind. Enjoy the graphics, and have
a great Haunukkah.
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