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What Is Hanukkah?

What Is Hanukkah?

With a Medley of Chanukah Links

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Chanukah -- the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev -- celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d.

When they sought to light the Temple's menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.

On Chanukah we also add the Hallel and Al HaNissim in our daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to G‑d for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few... the wicked into the hands of the righteous."

Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there"); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.

Click here for the complete story of Chanukah, and here for a comprehensive "How To" guide for the observances and customs of Chanukah.

Video: The Chanukah Battle Continues

Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Discussion (72)
December 5, 2016
I just moved and my new neighbors are Jewish, so this has been very helpful. I now know when but what Hanukkah is. Way cool!
Samwise
Eugene
February 17, 2016
Cool
Helped me lots, would definitely recommend 10/10 :)
Zach
Melbourne
December 12, 2015
Thanks for the overview, it was very insightful.
Michele
USA
December 10, 2015
what is chanukah? I thought it was hanukkah?
JElaine
Washington
December 8, 2015
Happy Hanukkah to everyone celebrating around the world!
stan
MONTREAL
December 7, 2015
Responding to IOVAN re text sources
Here is my 11/26/13 comment that will answer your question:
The series of historical events leading to the celebration of Hanukkah appear in the Books of the Maccabees, which records the origins of the Hanukkah story and of the Hasmonean dynasty, are represented by Josephus in the Jewish Antiquities, Book 12 Chapter 5 through Book 13 Chapter 7. These chapters are primarily a compressed version of the First Book of Maccabees, supplemented by some material from the Second Book of Maccabees War 1 37-47, with some additional changes made by Josephus.

Please consult Jewish sources only when researching Jewish subjects. Thank you.
Bat-Ami
Pleasantville, NY
December 7, 2015
Happy channukkah - i dislike having to show negative apreciations but I feel I should raise the following criticism : why aren't the founding texts anywhere listed ? The article itself is very good, however.
lovan
Kansas city mo
December 7, 2015
It is very nice to know things about other religions as they all believe in God and similar principles
Firas
December 7, 2015
What a wonderful story of victory, baruch Hashem..

Happy Chanukah...
Arnold
Philippines
December 6, 2015
I love these stories of triumph , so inspiring, g-d bless
Marchello Bollatti
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