Human Resources | News Article

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Spiritual Health: Hanukkah – Eight-day Jewish holiday beginning Dec. 12

In this holiday season, we remember some of the Holy days of our neighbors and friends and learn about the beauty of diversity in this Season of Light. This message comes through our Mountain States Center for Diversity.

The Holiday Traditions. The primary ritual associated with Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah each night after sundown. One light is added each night until all eight candles are lit on the last night of Hanukkah. After the candle lighting, families sing traditional hymns and songs. The custom of giving children Hanukkah gelt (money) is an old one, and recently in America the giving of gifts has played an increasing role in Hanukkah. It is customary to eat foods fried in oil, such as grated potato patties known as “latkes,” as a reminder of the miracle of the jar of oil (read more below). It is also an old custom for the children to play games with a four-sided top called a “dreidel.” Each of the four sides has a Hebrew letter (with points attached to each) that stand for the words “Neis gadol hayah shem” – which means “a great miracle happened there.”

The Story. The short version of the common story is that it celebrates the victory of the brave Maccabees against the Greeks and the miracle of the cruise of oil. Following the conquest of Alexander the Great, the land of Israel eventually came under the control of the ruler of Syria. In 167 BCE, Antiochus decreed the Hellenization of all the people under his rule. One day the Greeks came to the town of Modi’in and set up an altar. They commanded the Jews to bring a pig as a sacrifice to demonstrate obedience to the decree.

Mattathias, an old priest, was so enraged when he saw a Jew about to sacrifice a pig that he killed him. He and his five sons then fought the Greek detachment, retreated to the mountains, and began a guerrilla war against the Greeks and their Jewish allies. After the death of Mattathias, one of the sons, Judah the Maccabee, led the successful fight against a series of armies sent by Antiochus. Finally, he and his followers liberated Jerusalem and reclaimed the Temple from its defilement by the Greeks.

The Miracle. The Maccabees could find only one small jar of oil, enough to last one day, but when they lit the temple menorah with it, a miracle occurred and the menorah burned for eight days. Hanukkah is the most historically documented of all the Jewish holidays. We have early sources for the story in the First and Second Books of the Maccabees and in the works of Josephus. The problem is that in none of these accounts do we find the story as outlined above that includes the jar of oil.

It is speculated that the answer lies in the history of the festival. At first it was celebrated as a reminder of the victory of the Maccabees. Only later did the miracle of the jar of oil come to dominate the military victory. The shift in focus is probably due to two factors: First, the dark history that the rulers who followed Judas Maccabee, the Hasmoneans, left behind. They became Hellenized themselves, were thoroughly corrupt, and actively opposed the rabbis. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in the early centuries under Roman rule, the rabbis may have felt it necessary to censor a story of successful revolt by a few Jews against a powerful enemy. Hence they sought to minimize the military significance of Hanukkah.


Visit Mountain States’ Center for Spiritual Health on the intranet on the left side under “Departments” and then “Spiritual Health.”