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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Chanukah?

Hanukkah, a Hebrew word meaning “dedication,” is an eight-day holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Greek Seleucids in 164 BCE along with the military victory of the Maccabees, a group of zealots who fought for the right to practice Jewish ritual. Known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is an eight-day festival that begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, typically in the month of December.

How do we celebrate it?

One of the most recognized symbols of Hanukkah is the menorah or hanukkiah, the eight-branched candelabrum. Every night, one new candle is added to the menorah and lit a shamash, or helper candle, from left to right, until eight candles burn on the last night of the holiday. Jews will often celebrate with public candle lightings, Hanukkah songs and by playing dreidel, a spinning top game resembling roulette where participants typically compete for coins or chocolate coins.

What does it mean?

Like Passover, Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the liberation from oppression as well as freedom of worship and religion. While Hanukkah has an element celebrating military victory, there is a theological tradition which explains that the liberation would not have been possible without the miraculous support of the Divine.

What is the history behind Chanukah?

Beginning in 167 BCE, the Jews of Judea rebelled against the oppression of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire. Judah the Maccabee, the eldest son of the priest Mattityahu (Mattathias), was the military leader of the first phase of the revolt. In autumn of 164 BCE, Judah and his followers were able to capture the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a pagan shrine by the Seleucids. The temple was rededicated to the God of the Jews and and eight-day celebration modelled after Sukkot ensued. Later rabbinic tradition ascribed the length of the festival to a miraculous small amount of oil that burned for eight days.

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