Hannukah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.
Let’s see some interesting facts about it!
1. The name “Hanukkah” derives from the Hebrew verb “חנך”, meaning “to dedicate”.
2. On Hanukkah, the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple.
3. Many homiletical explanations have been given for the name:
4. The name can be broken down into חנו כ”ה, “[they] rested [on the] twenty-fifth”, referring to the fact that the Jews ceased fighting on the 25th day of Kislev, the day on which the holiday begins.
5. חנוכה (Hanukkah) is also the Hebrew acronym for ח נרות והלכה כבית הלל — “Eight candles, and the halakha is like the House of Hillel”.
6. This is a reference to the disagreement between two rabbinical schools of thought — the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai — on the proper order in which to light the Hanukkah flames.
7. Shammai opined that eight candles should be lit on the first night, seven on the second night, and so on down to one on the last night (because the miracle was greatest on the first day).
8. Hillel argued in favor of starting with one candle and lighting an additional one every night, up to eight on the eighth night (because the miracle grew in greatness each day). Jewish law adopted the position of Hillel.
9. The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched menorah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night.
10. The typical menorah consists of eight branches with an additional visually distinct branch. The extra light, with which the others are lit, is called a shamash (Hebrew: שמש, “attendant”) and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest.
11. Other Hanukkah festivities include playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods such as doughnuts and latkes.
12. Since the 1970s, the worldwide Chabad Hasidic movement has initiated public menorah lightings in open public places in many countries.
13. The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah.
14. These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) which came from the Palestinian canon; however, they were part of the Alexandrian canon which is also called the Septuagint (sometimes abbreviated LXX).
15. Both books are included in the Old Testament used by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, since those churches consider the books deuterocanonical.
16. They are not included in the Old Testament books in most Protestant Bibles since most Protestants consider the books apocryphal.
17. Multiple references to Hanukkah are also made in the Mishna (Bikkurim 1:6, Rosh HaShanah 1:3, Taanit 2:10, Megillah 3:4 and 3:6, Moed Katan 3:9, and Bava Kama 6:6), though specific laws are not described.
18. The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud, committed to writing about 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees.
19. Rav Nissim Gaon postulates in his Hakdamah Le’mafteach Hatalmud that information on the holiday was so commonplace that the Mishna felt no need to explain it.
20. A modern-day scholar Reuvein Margolies suggests that as the Mishnah was redacted after the Bar Kochba revolt, its editors were reluctant to include explicit discussion of a holiday celebrating another relatively recent revolt against a foreign ruler, for fear of antagonizing the Romans.
21. The Gemara (Talmud), in tractate Shabbat, page 21b, focuses on Shabbat candles and moves to Hanukkah candles and says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned.
22. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day.
23. They used this, yet it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready).
24. The Talmud presents three options: The law requires only one light each night per household, A better practice is to light one light each night for each member of the household, The most preferred practice is to vary the number of lights each night, Except in times of danger, the lights were to be placed outside one’s door, on the opposite side of the mezuza, or in the window closest to the street.
25. Rashi, in a note to Shabbat 21b, says their purpose is to publicize the miracle. The blessings for Hanukkah lights are discussed in tractate Succah, p. 46a.
26. Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees or Israelites over the Greek-Syrian ruler, Antiochus about 2200 years ago.
27. A Menorah is a special nine-branched candelabrum, also known in Hebrew as a Hanukiah.
28. Each night of Hanukkah, an additional candle is placed in the Menorah from right to left, and then lit from left to right. On the last night, all the candles are lit.
29. A dreidel, or sivion is a four-sided top that has a Hebrew letter on each side.
30. During Hanukkah, families eat latkes(potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), or other foods which are fried in oil, to celebrate and commemorate the miracle of the Festival of Lights.
31. In Yemen, children went from house to house, tins in hand, to collect wicks for the Hanukkah Menorah.
32. In Germany, the eighth and last night of Hanukkah used to be very special. All the leftover wicks and oil were lit in giant bonfires. People sang songs and danced around the fire, often until the small hours of the night.
33. Traditionally, Hanukkah is a time when children are encouraged and rewarded for their Torah studies. Consequently, it became fashionable to give the children Hanukkah money and presents during the holiday.
34. During the eight days of Hanukkah, the entire Hallel (psalms of praise) is said.
35. Except in times of religious persecution, the menorah was placed outside the front door or, as is the custom today, displayed in the window of every Jewish home.
36. During the eight days of Hanukkah, the passage “Al Hanissim”, expressing thanks to God for the miracles of Hanukkah, is inserted into the prayers.
37. Savings bonds, checks, and small chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil-these are the modern incarnations of the traditional gift known as Hanukkah gelt. “Gelt” is a Yiddish term for “money”.
38. Hanukkah is celebrated in the home beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.
39. In ancient times, oil was used in the menorah. Over time, candles were substituted for the oil.
40. Whether you spell it Hanukkah, Channukah or Hunnakah, you’re correct.