Chanukah at Beth David December 3 - 10, 2018 (25 Kislev - 2 Tevet 5779)
Shabbat 21b, Babylonian Talmud
Chanukah is celebrated on December 3 – 10, 2018 (25 Kislev – 3 Tevet 5779)
Lighting of the first candle is December 2, 2018
Chanukah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, commemorating the Jewish recapture and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE.
Antiochus IV was in control and began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son, Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Seleucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle of the oil.
The religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a hanukkiah that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammus candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited: l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year). After reciting the blessings, the first candle is then lit using the shammus candle, and the shammus candle is placed in its holder. Candles can be lit any time after dark but before midnight. On Shabbat, Chanukah candles are normally lit before the Shabbat candles, but may be lit any time before candle lighting time (18 minutes before sunset).
Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Chanukah candles and the shammus) are lit. On nights after the first, only the first two blessings are recited; the third blessing, she-hekhianu is only recited on the first night of holidays.
Chanukah Traditions, Symbols, and Activities
It is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Ashkenazic Jews, this usually includes latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts, called sufganiyot. Unknown to many, cheese is also a holiday food. Based on a story from the Book of Judith, which takes place in Maccabean times, Judith tricks the Assyrian warrior into eating salty cheese and making him thirsty. To quench his thirst, she gives him wine. Once the warrior is intoxicated, Judith takes his sword and beheads him. When the Assyrian soldiers find their leader, beheaded the next morning, they fled in terror.
Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimel, Hei, and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham”, a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil.
The letters also stand for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game! There are some variations in the way people play the game. These are the basics: everyone puts in one coin. A person spins the dreidel. If it lands on Nun, nothing happens; on Gimel, you get the whole pot; on Hei, you get half of the pot; and on Shin, you put one in. When the pot is empty, everybody puts one in. Keep playing until one person has everything.
The Chanukah Menorah, dreidels, latkes, jelly donuts are staples for the holiday.
Hag Sameah is Happy Holiday. For the really sophisticated, use Moadim l’simcha, which stands for festivals of joy.