Chanukah is just six weeks away. It begins on December 16, 2014. My next few blogs will be about Hanukkah.
I think its easier to understand information when it’s presented in short chunks, so I will use the question and answer format for this blog entry.
Q: Why do we celebrate Hanukkah?
A: In the second century BCE a small band of Jews, known as the Maccabees, defeated the Greek army that controlled Israel. The Jews rebelled when the Greeks tried to force them to forego their religion and adopt Hellenism.
The second miracle that happened on Chanukah was that, when the Maccabees liberated the Temple, they only found enough pure oil to light the Menorah for one day. As the Menorah was lit daily, this was a problem. However, the small amount of oil they found burned for eight days and nights, enough time for a new supply of pure oil to be produced.
Q: What is the meaning of the word Chanukah?
Chanukah means dedication. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple, they rededicated it and the altar within it to the service of the Almighty. It had been defiled by the Greeks for pagan worship.
The word Chanukah in Hebrew can also be spilt into: Chanu- meaning they rested, and Kah-here. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters spelling Chanukah is 25. On the 25th day of Kislev, the Hebrew date of Chanukah, the Maccabees rested from fighting and rededicated the Temple.
Q: What does Maccabee mean?
A: It may come from the Hebrew word for hammer or hitting, or it may be an acrostic for the Hebrew words-Mi Kamocha Ba-Elim Hashem- Who Is Like You Among the Mighty, G-d.
Q: Which is correct English spelling- Hanukkah or Chanukah?
In Hebrew, Chanukah is pronounced with a type of guttural ch sound which English does not have. H is the closest English language sound to it. So both are correct.
Q: How do we celebrate Chanukah?
A: Each of the eight nights of Hanukkah we light the menorah, adding an additional candle or light each night. The menorah can be lit using either candles, or oil and wicks.
Q: Are any special foods eaten on Hanukkah?
A: It is customary to eat foods fried in oil, such as latkes and donuts.
Q: Why do we play Dreidel on Hanukkah?
A: When the Greeks ruled over Israel, they disallowed the study of the Torah, a crime punishable by death. Jewish kids were taught Torah in caves to avoid being seen. When a Greek patrol was spotted near the cave, the children would begin playing with their tops or dreidels. Playing dreidel reminds us of their bravery.
The four Hebrew letters on the dreidel stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” A Great Miracle Happened There- meaning Israel. In Israel, kids use a dreidel with the Hebrew letter Pey, substituting for the Shin, making the phrase, “Nes Gadol Hayah Poh,” A Great Miracle Happened Here.”
Q: What does Dreidel mean?
A: Dreidel comes from the yiddish word drei, or spin.
Q: Why do we give gifts to the children on Chanukah?
A: Originally, children received Chanukah gelt (money).
One explanation for this custom is that Chanukah gelt was distributed to avoid embarrassment to the poor by enabling them to buy oil or candles for the Menorah.
Another explanation is that Hanukkah sounds like the Hebrew word for education, hinnukh. In late medieval Europe, families gave their children money to give to their Jewish teacher on Hanukkah as a show of their appreciation. In time, the custom also included giving coins to kids to encourage their Jewish studies. Today, Chanukah gelt is sold as chocolate candies in the shape of coins.
Yet another reason is to commemorate the coins minted by the Maccabees after their victory.
Giving gifts is an adaption of the Christian custom of gift giving during this season.