Hannukah in a Nutshell

December 5, 2023

By Rabbi Michael Teyva Cohen

The Jewish Holiday of Hannukah, called the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees against the Greek Empire in the 3rd century B.C.E. It falls on the 25th of Kislev, which sometimes coincides quite closely with Christmas. [1]

Jews remember Alexander the Great as a benevolent ruler, but Alexander ruled briefly before dying at the age of 36. After his death, the successors of his Empire sought to impose Greek ways upon nations subject to their rule. They forbid the study of Torah on pain of death and placed Greek idols in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Greeks sacrificed pigs there, abominations to the Jews. 

One Priest named Mattathias stood up to them and to the Jews who followed their bidding. He rallied Jews to his side to fight the Greeks. Mattathias had 5 brave sons. The eldest, Judah, was a particularly successful warrior who defeated one Greek army after another. When he was killed in battle, the name by which the people called him, Maccabee (The Hammer), was given to the entire family. Judah’s brothers led the revolt after his death and defeated the Greeks.

When the Jews liberated the Temple, they undertook to cleanse and purify the place that served as the center of the Biblical Jewish religion. But almost no purified oil could be found with which to light the Menorah (the sacred candelabra). It took 7 days to purify oil for this purpose, but the remaining oil would last a day at best. Yet, the Maccabees went ahead and lit the Menorah. The Talmud relates the miracle that the small vessel of oil somehow burned for 7 nights and days, lasting long enough for new oil to be pressed into service.

Today, we remember the defeat of the mighty Greek Empire at the hands of the determined and faithful Maccabees and the miracle of lights.  Hannukah is celebrated for 8 nights and days. We light menorahs created to hold 8 candles – one for each night – and a 9th which we use to light the others. Our tradition is to light one candle on the first night and then increase the number each night of the holiday. We add to the festivity with prayer, song, and food! Residents bring their Menorahs to the common area to share with the community. Come join us!

[1]  [Hannukah doesn’t always coincide with Christmas in the Gregorian calendar because the Jewish calendar is set according to the movements of the moon, with adjustments for the movement of the sun.


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