Hanukkah is a celebration that takes place over the course of 8 days commemorating the re-dedication of the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC. The story of Hanukkah addresses the events surrounding the Jews having risen against their Syrian-Greek oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt, as well as a miracle that took place following the battle.
Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and is celebrated on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev. Hanukkah, also know as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for 8 days and includes lighting the Menorah, as well as eating traditional holiday foods, playing holiday games and giving gifts.
The Story of Hanukkah
The events that brought about the story of Hanukkah took place during a rocky time in Jewish history. It was around 200 BC in the land of Israel (also known as Judea at the time) where King Antiochus III who was the king of Syria came to power. This king had allowed the Jews to continue practicing their religion, but his son, King Antiochus VI upon taking the throne did otherwise. He outlawed the Jewish religion and stated that no Jew was to practice Jewish laws and ordered that they worship the Greek Gods instead.
In 168 BC, King Antiochus VI sent his soldiers to Jerusalem where the soldiers massacred many, as well as destroyed the city’s Second Holy Temple. In doing this, King Antiochus VI also had soldiers erect an altar to Zeus and sacrifice pigs within the Jewish temple’s sacred walls.
It was then that a large rebellion took place by the Jews against King Antiochus’ monarchy. The Jews were led by the Jewish priest Mattathias (Matisyahu) and his 5 sons. When Mattathias passed in 166 BC, his son Judah, also known as Judah the Maccabee (The Hammer) took charge. Judah had grown the Jewish army from 3,000 men to 6,000 men. It continued to grow, but not more than 12,000 men. The Syrian-Greek army had 50,000 which made it seem impossible for the Jews to win the battle.
Within 2 years of Judah’s leadership, the Jews had successfully driven the Syrian-Greeks out of Jerusalem and won the war. He then called on his followers to cleanse the Holy Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah. The Menorah is a gold candelabrum that has 7 branches. It represents knowledge and creation and this Menorah was meant to be burning every night.
The story of Hanukkah and the holiday celebration surrounding it involved the re-dedication of the Second Temple by Judah the Maccabee and the Jews with him who witnessed a miracle. When they took back the temple and tried to light the Menorah, they saw there was only enough oil to keep it lit for one single day. After lighting it, it miraculously flickered and stayed lit for 8 nights which allowed them to find a new supply of oil. Because of this amazing and miraculous event, the Jewish Sages proclaimed a yearly 8-day festival called Hanukkah.
The story of Hanukkah is all based off of a miracle of just a little bit of oil lasting for 8 days, not really about the victory of the Jews winning the war. The victory is what led them to witness the miracle of Hanukkah. The miracle of the oil burning 8 days along with the events of the Maccabees winning the battle against the Syrian-Greeks is the reason why the Jews celebrate Hanukkah every year on the 25th day of Kislev. This Hebrew date changes yearly on the Gregorian calendar, but always falls during the months of November and/or December. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights is celebrated by all Jews around the world.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on CELEBRATING HANUKKAH AND CHRISTMAS.