Hanukah is a twofold celebration: we celebrate the military victory of the small Hasmonean army over the much more powerful Greeks (who had outlawed Jewish ritual practice and were forcing Greek culture upon their minority populations), and we remember the miracle of the lone flask of ritually pure oil found in the Temple which lit the menorah for eight days instead of the expected one. These events took place in the year 165 BCE, after the Tanach (Jewish Bible) was completed. The books of Maccabees (which recount only the military victory) are not part of the Jewish canon.
It is not a universal Israeli tradition to give presents during hannukah. The holiday focuses on the ritual act of lighting candles. Additional customs include eating an abundance of fried foods, the most popular of which is the Israeli sufganiya (do not translate this as “donut” or you will be disappointed). Sufganiyot are sweet fried dough with a bread like consistency, usually with a meager filling of jelly, caramel or chocolate. It is also popular to play games with chocolate coins, particularly the international favorite, dreidel.
The Hebrew word for “hanukah menorah” is actually hanukiah. A menorah is Israel’s national symbol and recalls the menorah of the Temple which had six lights (really seven if you count the middle one). A hanukiah has 8 lights (really nine).
Leave your childhood dreidels at home! Driedels used in Israel have the letter peh instead of shin. The letters on the driedels outside of Israel stand for “a great miracle happened there,” while the letters on Israeli dreidels stand for “a great miracle happened here.”
|What is hannuka? The rabbis taught: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev commence the days of hannuka, which are eight, upon which there shall be neither mourning nor fasting. For when the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all the oil that was there. It was when the might of the Hasmonean dynasty overcame and vanquished them that, upon search, only a single cruse of undefiled oil, sealed by the High Priest, was found. In it was enough oil for the needs of a single day. A miracle was wrought and it burned eight days. The next year they ordained these days a holiday with songs and praise.||מאי חנוכה? דתנו רבנן: בכ”ה בכסליו יומי דחנוכה תמניא אינון, דלא למספד בהון ודלא להתענות בהון. שכשנכנסו יוונים להיכל טמאו כל השמנים שבהיכל, וכשגברה מלכות בית חשמונאי ונצחום, בדקו ולא מצאו אלא פך אחד של שמן שהיה מונח בחותמו של כהן גדול, ולא היה בו אלא להדליק יום אחד, נעשה בו נס והדליקו ממנו שמונה ימים. לשנה אחרת קבעום ועשאום ימים טובים בהלל והודאה.|
Why would the military victory be left out of the Talmud’s description of hannukah?
What miracle are you grateful for?