What does Hanukkah mean? What is the purpose and importance of Hanukkah? Information about the beliefs about Hanukkah.
HANUKKAH, or the Feast of the Dedication, is a minor Jewish festival, falling on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev (November-December) and celebrated for eight days. The holiday commemorates the Jewish recapture of the Temple in Jerusalem under Judas Maccabaeus in 164 b. c. from the Syrian Greeks, who had defiled it with pagan worship. According to legend, the Jews found a cruse of consecrated oil in the Temple, only sufficient to keep the Eternal Light burning for one day. However, by a miracle, the oil lasted eight days, until a fresh supply could be obtained. The Apocryphal Books of the Maccabees refer only indirectly to this “miracle” (I Maccabees 4:52-59). The principal source for the story is to be found in the Talmud.
The central act of celebration at Hanukkah is the kindling of lights in an 8-branched menorah, or candelabrum. An extra branch, called the shamash, or minister, is used to kindle the other lights. On the first evening of Hanukkah one candle (or oil wick) is lit on the extreme right of the menorah. On each successive night another candle is added. This ceremony has given the holiday its alternate title of “Feast of Lights.”
The festival is distinguished by liturgical additions, especially the singing of Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages). Another custom, particularly popular among children, is the spinning of the dreidl, or 4-sided top, on which is inscribed a mnemonic for “a great miracle happened there.”
To Jews, Hanukkah symbolized their steadfastness of faith under oppression. In the modern state of Israel, there has been a tendency among all but the most orthodox Jews to reemphasize the military implications of the festival. In the United States, largely as a result of the fact that the holiday occurs near Christmas, Hanukkah has developed a significance out of proportion to its original minor status in the Jewish calendar.