Little known facts about Chanukah

  • Posted: Sunday, December 9, 2012 12:28 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, December 9, 2012 9:37 a.m.

Chanukah is a Jewish holiday that occurs around the same time as Christmas, making it one of the better-known holidays of Judaism. Although Chanukah is now much about flickering candles and eight days of celebration, there are many lesser known traditions and facts about the holiday.

To non-celebrants, Chanukah is commonly considered the “Jewish Christmas.” However, the holiday actually predates Christmas by several years and has a very different origin than what Christians celebrate at Christmas. Also, even though Chanukah is more talked about than other holidays, including Rosh Hashannah or Yom Kippur, it is considered by some religious scholars to be of less religious significance than other holy days. In fact, for most of its history, Chanukah was a very minor holiday. However, from the late 1800s on, its popularity grew. Eventually Chanukah became one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays. The story of Chanukah isn't even mentioned in the Torah. The events that led to the holiday occurred after the Torah period in 164 BCE.

Here are some other lesser-known facts about Chanukkah

• Although many people refer to the Chanukah candelabra as a “menorah,” a true menorah has seven branches to hold candles and is associated with the Temple. The nine-branched candelabra that holds Chanukah candles is known as a “Hanukkiah.”

• Chanukah can be spelled in many different ways, including Hanukah, Hanukkah, Chanukah and Chanukkah.

• Chanukah is a communal holiday. It is best to light the Hannukiah where others can see it and hear you recite blessings.

• Chanukah is based on the struggle led by the Maccabees, a Jewish tribe family, against the Hellenistic overseers of the Land of Israel. Hellenized Jews, including King Antiochus Epiphanes, had decreed that local religions, including Judaism, cease practice and that their traditions be outlawed on penalty of death. Hellenistic rituals and sacrifices defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which eventually had to be cleaned and rebuilt.

• Jewish tradition concerning Chanukah isn't cut and dry. As said, it's not included in the Torah, and much of the history of Maccabean events survived into modern times only through texts written in Greek. For the classic Jewish view of Chanukah origins, individuals must turn to the Talmud, a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history. What can be found is this: “On the 25th day of Kislev [begin] the eight days of Hanukkah, on which lamentation for the dead and fasting are forbidden. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oils in it, and when the Hasmonean dynasty prevailed over them and defeated them, they searched and found only one bottle of oil sealed by the High Priest. It contained only enough for one day's lighting. Yet a miracle was brought about with it, and they lit [with that oil] for eight days. The following year they were established as a festival, with Hallel (prayers of praise) and Thanksgiving.”

• It has been said that the Maccabean war was the first war of ideology. The Maccabees weren't warriors by nature. They were pious men stirred to action by beliefs.

• There are actually two miracles associated with Chanukah. First is that a flask of oil was found at all. The second is that the scant amount of oil found was enough to light the temple for eight days.

• Chanukah is celebrated on the same day each year according to the Hebrew calendar. But because the Hebrew calendar doesn't correspond to our modern calendar, the day seems to fluctuate.

• Gift-giving was not traditionally associated with Chanukah, but rather a few sweets or money were exchanged. Eventually it grew into a gift-giving holiday.

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